Well. I’m home in New Zealand, but not without great effort. I booked my flights home in a frantic interval between Laos internet failures, and ended up booking the wrong flight altogether, leaving me with two days less than I planned in Melbourne, a whirlwind yoga workshop and friend catchups, 4am wake up calls and a 12 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur Airport overnight. Pat on the back for Rosie! Life is nothing if not a messy adventure, right?
Arriving in Kuala Lumpur, after wandering aimlessly for an hour, trying to find a spot to rest my head, I discovered just the spot for me. I slept under a staircase on my overused, dubiously stained yoga mat with a security barrier propped up to conceal me, looking like a wayward homeless person. I used my scarf to cover me, popped my eye mask on and jammed my earplugs in, one hand clasping my backpack and one hand trying not to touch the ground in fear of germs. I had to move a large pot plant to get into this wee nook but it was definitely the best seat in the house.
Wearing hiking shoes and long black tights tucked into my hiking socks to try and stay warm in the freezing cold air conditioning, I rested assured that nobody would come over and try to snuggle up next to me in my hiding spot, because I really did not look all that appealing. Adoring my body was a large thin beige jumper (the warmest thing I owned in Asia), a floral mandala sarong, a flower scrunchie and a look of confusion and exhaustion on my face. Probably even as I slept.
Finally I made it onto the plane, where I promptly realised I was travelling budget style on Air Asia – they don’t even give you a glass of water… Luckily I had smuggled some peanuts on board, and I splashed out on a bottle of water to prevent severe dehydration. Two small asian women were wedged in next to me, both of whom had some small digestive problems, sneezing and belching their way through the 8 hour flight to Melbourne, but they offered me a chewy sweet thing to eat so I felt fondly toward them. Every time my neighbour burped, she would cover her mouth with her hand and gasp as if in astonishment that her body was capable of such a thing!
Shortly after lift-off, the “Happy Birthday” song came on the loud-speaker. It wasn’t clear whose birthday it was, so everyone clapped in time for a while, then trailed off awkwardly and looked around the cabin, tucked their hands underneath them and retreated into their little airplane bubbles. It was a nice communal airplane moment.
When I arrived in Melbourne, my friends met me at the airport, and one of the first things they said to me was “we have wine and cheese!” These are true friends. I shed a tear or two. Wine and cheese are two things that I love dearly and that are not readily available or of high quality in Southeast Asia. The perks of the western world.
I have returned home with the same sense of wonder that I left with several years ago, except this time I’m curious about my own country, all the things that I always took for granted now call me home with a new appeal. I’m curious about how a different version of me can integrate back into the place that reminds of everything I’ve come from.
Ahh, home. Family gatherings, barbecues, beach walks, hill walks, swimming in the river, drinking good wine, eating local produce, visiting the Saturday markets, the smell of the earth when it starts to rain, hot days and cool nights, wearing a warm jumper, sunrises, sunsets, cooking in my own kitchen with music on, late nights in the beer garden.
This incredible Southeast Asia adventure has left me with a much desired sense of balance in my life, after a long period of swaying from side to side, pretty happy, but slightly off centre (who am I kidding, I will always be slightly off-centre….I am a Gemini, after all).
Whilst working and living in Europe I went from extreme to extreme – from partying hard in Irish pubs, staying up all night socialising, laughing my arse off, meeting some incredible, adventurous, kind people and being a social butterfly, but never quite feeling my healthiest version of me, and sometimes sacrificing my physical health and the important components of self care for the ‘craic’. I never seemed to be able to nail the balance between living freely and looking after me.
So then, at the end of each Irish season I would run off to work on a yoga retreat, a farm in the middle of nowhere, or a vegan wellness centre where there was nothing unhealthy or distracting to lead me astray from my devoted practices. I would spend several months being very healthy, practicing yoga, learning about a holistic and alternative lifestyle, how to make amazing vegetarian food, barely drinking anything, creating natural beauty products and learning how to grow medicinal plants. I would go for bush walks and do sun salutations each morning and develop a radiant glow by moving my body and avoiding all stimulants and toxins. It was an all or nothing lifestyle, one that experienced both fully but couldn’t exist side by side.
I loved both parts of my life, and spending time in one made me look forward to the other, but I started to feel that these two sides of me couldn’t be reconciled – how can I be a social butterfly who likes to drink a wine, eat cheese, and stay out all night dancing, but also live mindfully, starting each day with yoga, wondering about the world and nature, getting to know my body and how much sleep and what kind of food it needs, reading about people doing inspiring things and wanting to live a big, full life?
After completing a yoga teacher training in Spain and living a pure life for six weeks, then promptly spending one month travelling around the UK with a group of heavy- drinking dudes watching the Rugby World Cup, I’d never felt more unbalanced and confused about which was more “me”. I was making decisions and doing things that felt a little incongruous with my values, but I wasn’t too sure yet what my values were.
The discovery that life doesn’t have to be all or nothing to be real and purposeful was a lesson I was only ready to learn here in Asia. Before this I was too busy immersing myself completely in the two different sides of myself, one at a time, getting to know what I liked and what I didn’t like. I like the Irish because they are great craic, they are social humans just like me. But I didn’t like how I felt physically after the long seasons in Ireland – too much partying, not enough self care.
I loved working on retreats in Europe and immersing myself in yoga and wellbeing, educating myself on all of the tools I had at my fingertips to heal and improve myself. I met some lovely people, and I also met people who I felt had taken this lifestyle so far that they were at a point of obsession, they couldn’t forgive themselves if they slipped up, they had alienated themselves from much of the community around them because of their unforgiving and rigid attitude to health and what was “the right thing to do/ be/wear /say/eat”. I found myself taking what I wanted and what resonated with me, and leaving the rest. It’s necessary to be disciplined, but I always find that people who are too disciplined are not actually that fun… And that’s just not my cup of tea.
Can we be fun, and focused? Can we be a wee bit wild, but with a sense of purpose? Can we find the point inside of ourselves that is balanced and content, no matter the environment or the situation?
Coincidentally, post- Rugby World Cup, at my point of great confusion, was when I got an opportunity out of the blue to move to Cambodia for a yoga teaching job. The universe provides the answers, because this was without a doubt the best decision I ever made, but it was also one of the hardest. Leave the comforts of western life and take the plunge by travelling alone to a foreign third world country? Ahhhh sure. For many people, going to Southeast Asia might seem like running away from real life, but for me, it felt like running towards it. It was a move that I made with absolutely no knowledge or expectation, I only knew I had to do it, because if I didn’t, I would be stuck in a cycle of partying and purifying, without understanding of the centre in which I belonged.
Asia gave me a lot of gifts. Unconditional, open smiles, that don’t ask for anything except maybe a smile back. Generosity and kindness, a curiosity, a willingness to help. Confidence that I’m on the right track. It’s the place that taught me I don’t have to fit into a neat little box, in fact, I’m much more interesting if I just go wildly and messily in the direction of my dreams, staying open to the possibility and the potential of each situation, whether good or bad.
I learnt the art of balance in my life, because people came into my world who are just like me – they believe that life should be lived fully and not just in sections, and they believe that each little piece of life can build a big beautiful mosaic of colour and vibrancy, that each complements the next, and you can’t be quite whole if you deny yourself of one piece. You will always feel the lack, the sense of imbalance, if something is missing.
I discovered the things that are important to me and perhaps to everyone, if we dig deep;
Friends – Family – Laughter – Purpose – Love – Indulgences – Challenge – Connection and Community – Kindness – Spontaneity & Wildness – Art – Creativity – Nature
I worked in places in Asia that were immersive yoga retreats but that attracted people who were just like me. Travelling, exploring, curious, but not quite ready to commit to any one part of themselves just yet. I tried to be very open about the fact that even though I was teaching them, I was learning as well, and I really didn’t have all the answers, but I did have a sense of humour about the physical hilarities of yoga and I managed to laugh at myself when I mispronounced things in front of 30 humans, saying things like “shit your hips” instead of “shift your hips” then everyone collapsing into giggles. I’ve always felt that people who don’t take themselves seriously are the best kind of people, so I shall always try to maintain this in my life.
I would work hard all week, then on my day in between retreats I would relax by the pool, have a glass of wine, eat what my body was demanding (vegan or very not vegan), sleep many hours, go dancing, whatever I wanted. The lifestyle demanded balance between putting energy out there for others, then bringing it back to myself. If I wasn’t looking after myself, I was no good to anyone else, so self care became a huge priority. I had the realisation that self care could take a lot of different forms. Some days it meant doing yoga, meditating, eating well, and sleeping 8 hours, but other days it meant skipping evening meditation to cycle down the dusty roads at sunset with my best friend and eat coconut pancakes and laugh our faces off. Sometimes it meant standing up for myself. Sometimes it meant surrendering, backing down and retreating. It meant not attaching to any of these things as “the right way to take care of myself”, but rather detaching from the idea of right and wrong, and moving intuitively from day to day.
When you arrive home from a long time away, its very easy to fall back into habits and mindsets that you thought you had left behind. I resisted doing any yoga for my first few days at home because it just felt incongruous with my surroundings. I was resisting change. I lost my balance. I felt on edge and overwhelmed and I didn’t manage to maintain my usual sunny disposition. Maybe no-one else noticed, but I did.
It is different to be home. It’s cold, it smells like trees and river, there are different pressures on my time, I have to keep appointments and dates to meet people, its all very confusing and busy and fast. There are many varieties of cheese to choose from, there are old friends and new friends, there is family, there are boxes in the garage of shit that I forgot existed, waiting to be opened and unpacked. People have different priorities and responsibilities. I kind of feel like a sham, like the wayward traveller who has returned home but doesn’t quite slot back in, and perhaps thats because I don’t want to, deep down, because I don’t want to let go of my last few years and surrender to this. But being here doesn’t discount where I was before.
The way through this transition for me is all about staying true to the things that make me feel like myself. I can create adventures here, just like I did overseas. I can surround myself with inspiring people. I can meet people on mountain tops and talk about travel as if I’m a foreigner too, and feel a little sense of smugness when I remember that actually, I belong here.
This morning I woke up, pulled on some long leggings, socks, a thermal top, made a cup of tea and lay out my mat on our balcony, looking out over the garden and up at the hill behind our house, the centre of New Zealand, and I did a practice that was no different, no more challenging, no more profound than it has been in Asia or in Europe, but it felt so, so different. Maybe because its about 20 degrees colder here, maybe because there are many more layers separating me and my mat, maybe because after my practice I go and drink a cup of coffee with my mum, and two worlds collide.
So now I am slowly surrendering to the idea that I can be anywhere in the world, in any situation or environment, and I can be sad or happy or excited or nervous, I can be beginning a day of introversion or interaction, it doesn’t matter – I can always come back to that little calm place at my centre, untouched by people or places or feelings. And when I’m in that place, I cannot be swayed in either direction. This is where I find my balance.
Home is where the heart is, and right now my heart is, officially, home.
Head to my website or Facebook Page for details on upcoming summer yoga classes in Nelson, and Thai Massage offers.