Today as I pondered my upcoming trip to India I had this strange excitement come over me, it was that feeling of being excited to go home. This got me thinking, how is it that going overseas feels like coming home? I'm sure it's not the backpack wardrobe, the uncomfortable beds or the challenge of not being able to achieve simple things in a timely manner, so what could it be?
I did the math and to my surprise in the last 3 years (since making the decision to leave the corporate world) I've spent almost 50% of my time overseas, mostly in Bali and India. The longest stretch I've been home for was 8 months. No wonder I'm confused about where home is!
Each time I've returned to Australia its been with the thought 'this will be my last trip for a long time, I'm ready to settle, I should throw away that old backpack, it won't make it through another trip', yet here I am once again with a plane ticket, that same old backpack and a visa for India in my hand.
All of my trips in the last 3 years have revolved around yoga, each one has been a deep inward journey, the type where you are constantly working on yourself, observing, learning and growing. What can I say I love the work and being immersed in the practice!
In the last 3 years, yoga has literally become my life. It's now far more than a hobby, its my grounding, it's my job and pretty much everything I do somehow links to it.
I'm in this yoga thing 24/7 and if I'm to be honest at times it's hard to switch it off, to find that division between my own personal practice and what I'm putting out there as a teacher.
When back here in Australia I often find myself moving through my own personal practice only to find a cool sequence of poses that I feel the need to write down, to share. I'm taking myself out of that personal experience to put my teacher hat back on. In this dual role, I spend less time in my yoga zone connecting with my innermost self.
When I'm fully immersed in my personal practice, living and breathing it without thinking about how I will share it, I feel most at home, deeply connected to the internal and external worlds.
They say that 'home is where the heart is', overseas feels like home to me because this is where I allow myself the space for my heart to be free, to connect deeply with what I'm passionate about, the practice and teachings of yoga. I get to selfishly absorb myself in the practice, to live it and breathe it, day in day out.
By no means is it always a walk in the park, often its really hard work looking that deeply but on the other side of the struggle is always that feeling of knowing myself more intimately that I did before, that deeper connection to the self, the place where home resides.
Around 11 months ago I left Australia on a solo adventure that I hadn’t planned in any real detail, this was a first for me – surrendering to the unknown.
I left in search of something else – I just had no idea what that something was….
The adventure started with a family holiday in Phuket, Thailand. It was here that I learnt the importance of compromise and making time for the things I need to keep me balanced.
I’d just spent the previous few months living a really healthy clean lifestyle; I was getting ready for yoga teacher training. My idea of a holiday and that of my dear parents can sometimes differ greatly. In the past this would've caused me lots of angst. This time though I approached it differently, simply respecting the fact that we have different ideas/lifestyles, neither of us need to change, nobody is right or wrong - it simply is what it is. I made sure that I took the time out to do the things that I needed to do (yoga, running, meditation) and could then happily sit at the beach sipping coconuts all day eating fruit/corn while everyone else drank beer and ate burgers. In the evenings I'd enjoy a few social cocktails (even though I was supposed to be detoxing pre yoga training) and at the end of the day we'd all happily retreat to bed. The new approach certainly worked and its now here to stay.
From Thailand we flew to Singapore as a family. It was in Singapore that I was reminded of the extremely fortunate childhood that my brother Brett and I had. It was like stepping back in time 20 years to when we were children visiting the zoo, the aquarium and were sitting around the dinner table together. It was in Singapore that the importance of my family was really reinforced; I cherish the time we share together and love them all dearly.
It was then off to Balian Beach in Bali to undertake 5 weeks of yoga teacher training with Alicia Cheung and Oliver Reinsch of YogaWorks. I learnt more during this 5 weeks that I thought was physically possible. Not only were we learning anatomy, sanskrit, philosophy, asana alignment and how to teach we were also taken on a deep journey into ourselves - this was perhaps the most challenging part of all. Some of the key things that I learnt during this 5 weeks (even though I could spend a day writing these alone) were:
After the training a small group of us decided to stay together and hang out in Bali for a little while longer. We spent some time in Ubud and then went on a surf trip visiting Balian, Canggu and the Bukit. It would be fair to say that the time we spent together was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. In such a short time we formed a really beautiful, supportive, loving, connected sangha (community). I learnt so much from these beautiful souls, but the power of deep connection with other humans was the big one. Somehow I'd been missing this - perhaps because my own walls were previously blocking it.
The most profound learning came from an amazing morning surfing with Scott. We caught waves, formed a band, made up songs, created seaweed jewellery and generally had a ball. Scott re-introduced me to a version of myself that I don't recall seeing for sometime, one where there is no inhibition, absolute contentment, pure joy. This was an extremely valuable experience, I know exactly what created the conditions for me to feel this way. I therefore have a recipe to create the ultimate version of myself, I simply need to source the ingredients.
From Bali I headed to a small place called Dhamma Ketana around 10km from Chengannur in the South of India. This would be where I'd get my first taste of Vipassana Meditation, a whole 10 days of it. It seemed like a logical next step and a great way to spend Christmas given that I wouldn't be with family/friends. For 10 continuous days I spent 10.5 hrs in seated meditation. To say this was a challenge would be a huge understatement, again the lessons were coming thick and fast. I wrote a whole blog on this experience so won't dive back into detail but the greatest learnings were:
The following month was spent in a place called Varkala in the state of Kerala on the south west coast of India. During my time surfing in Bali I managed to pick up an injury to one of the stabilising muscles on my right side, I thought it would pass with rest during Vipassana but this injury unlike everything else did not pass - the inflammation got worse and the discomfort only increased. I headed to Varkala for some more rest and to seek treatment. This was not part of my broad plan, I was in India to practice and study yoga but here I was unable to hold myself in a plank position. Some of the lessons from this month were:
The next stop was two weeks in Goa on the central west coast of India. Goa had always been part of my broad plan, I wanted to immerse myself in learning Ashtanga there. I was still in no state to learn Ashtanga so again adapted my plans. I headed south to Palolem Beach and continued my immersion into chilling out and holidaying with a side of yoga rather than the other way around.
After Goa it was time to put my yoga student hat back on. I headed to Chennai on the east coast of India for a 4 week immersion at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM). The program was heavily focused on yoga as a tool for healing (perfect!). We undertook daily asana, pranayama and meditation practices, vedic chanting classes and attended lectures on philosophy, application of yoga and the tools of yoga. This was a truly incredible learning opportunity. My perspectives on a whole range of topics were challenged on a day to day basis (covering everything from arranged marriage to foot placement in trikonasana), it was great to hear things from an Indian perspective and then compare this to how things are viewed in the west. The time I spent at KYM has significantly influenced the way I practice and also my approach to teaching yoga.
Living in Chennai for a month was a really intense experience, I haven't felt that immersed in the authenticity of a place since I was in Rwanda back in 2007. Chennai has this knack of taking you on an emotional rollercoaster every time you walk down the street. It goes a bit like 'oh no that looks like a squashed dog on the road, oh how sweet there is a man bouncing a puppy on his legs, are you serious did that man just slap that women in the face, oh how cute look at those kids playing together and so on'...and you've only walked 800m! It was my time in Chennai that really re-enforced just how much abundance is present in my life, I really begun to feel gratitude towards the seemingly little things (like being able to retreat to a quiet place or lie down at the beach, having a pillow to put my head on at the end of the day). I was constantly amazed by the beauty, friendliness and kindness of the people I met. On our days off I would stroll the streets of foreign neighbourhoods interacting with the locals I met along the way, I learnt here in India that a simple authentic smile can speak so many words.
From Chennai I headed to Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka had been on my list of must see destinations for as long as I could remember. I was craving the ocean so headed straight to a place called Midigama on the south west coast, here I could surf until my heart was content. After Midigama and a day trip to Galle I headed inland to Kandy, the cultural heartbeat of the island. It was a really short two weeks but from the very first train ride I was completely taken by the place, I knew that I'd need to come back some day. The people were lovely and the scenery was stunning, untouched beaches and tea plantations as far as they eyes could see.
While it was a short few weeks, it was very intense, I learnt so much. The greatest lesson of all was the preciousness of life. I had the great pleasure of meeting a lovely guy by the name of Torge, we surfed together, went on a whale watching trip and hung out. The day after the whale watching trip he suffered a massive heart attack while surfing, he didn't make it, life taken away in he's early 30's. It really hit home for me that we just don't know what's coming, every day truly is a gift and we need to treat it as such. Again this reinforced the importance of my family and friends, I promised myself that I wouldn't hold back on telling people how feel, I'm going to live this life with no regrets.
After Sri Lanka I headed back to Bali, this seemed like stepping back to the western world after my time in India and Sri Lanka, initially it was a short 2 weeks spending time with my beautiful family. We visited Canggu and Ubud and it was in Canggu that I met Chris and the team at Ngeluwungan Villa.
In this short few weeks things begun to manifest in front of my eyes. I got the call from work (my engineering job) offering me a relocation or redundancy payment as our little office was due to close. This was a seed that I planted much earlier, when I left Australia it was with the thought that a redundancy offer while travelling would be the best possible outcome, and here 5 months later it had arrived. Now I would have the financial means to set up the business that I'd dreamed up during Vipassana, there was also no need to rush home, for the first time since being a child I was completely free with no commitments or obligations. One of the key things I learnt here is that when we are are very clear about what we want, these things will manifest, it only takes time. Things then begun to unfold further with Chris asking me to manage his villa while he visited he's partner Alona in the US, here was my reason to stick around in Bali.
The next stop was a quick trip to Singapore to undertake 6 days of Stand Up Paddleboard training. Again I met so many amazing people from all over the world but it was the guys from Singapore that I became great friends with. During those few days we learnt all about water rescue, paddling technique, and lots of new skills. I went into the training with the intent of simply getting a piece of paper to certify me as a SUP Yoga Instructor although enjoyed the paddling instruction so much that it became part of my business plan. Here I learnt that an open mind can show you doors that you never knew existed. I now have so much diversity in my business offering that I give myself every chance for success.
After Singapore I headed back to Canggu in Bali to look after the villa for a few weeks. This was a huge learning curve for me. I've managed lots of stuff before but had never done so in a foreign country and an area completely out of my expertise! Quickly I learnt about the significant cultural differences between Australia and Bali, I also came to realise that there are many different sub-cultures in Bali alone. Some of the key lessons that I learnt during this time were:
Once Chris returned to Bali he asked me to stay on and I was more than happy to do so. We came up with a plan where I would teach yoga at the villa, look after guest activities and set up/manage some social media platforms. He's an incredibly creative, intelligent guy, he's taught me so much about business, marketing and managing people expectations - these are lessons that I will translate in my own business.
While in Canggu, I was searching for a yoga studio where I could practice, I was stoked to come across Samadi. It was at Samadi with the lovely teachers Damien and Andrea that I finally began to learn the Ashtanga primary series. The Ashtanga style reintroduced some fire back into my practice, I'd very much lost this since the injury and my time in India practicing more passively.
It was during this two months of daily Ashtanga that I began to see my yoga practice in a new light. It's really difficult to explain in words, perhaps you could say that the spiritual side of the practice really started to shine through, this was the most beautiful gift - I now get to enjoy this on a daily basis.
I was still surfing almost daily but was soon to be taught another valuable lesson about over-doing it, making intelligent decisions and letting go. Somehow while surfing I replicated the injury that I had on my right side, only this time on the left. The severity was nowhere near as bad with only a few weeks rest needed, but it certainly alerted me to a problem. I went back to the basics:
That's not to say I no longer get out on the surfboard, just not every day and not for 2 hours at a time. If I feel like it I'll paddle out, catch a few waves and come back in.
I'd let go of surfing but was still battling with letting go of my engineering career, I had lots of great offers coming through for engineering work back in Australia but at the same time I knew that waSUP Yoga & Fitness absolutely had to go ahead. I was overwhelmed with options, my normal spreadsheet analysis wasn't bringing forward any answers, I honestly though that I could do it all, part time engineering and run a new business. That was when I decided to do some Life Coaching with Andrea at Samadi to help make sense of it all. It was after our first session and a simple homework exercise of writing down an ideal day that I came to realise that attempting to do both jobs would take me exactly where I was before I left Australia - overworked, exhausted and unfulfilled. Quickly I learnt that I can't do it all. The detachment to engineering was then instant. It was during this exercise that I learnt, when we are clear about our values it becomes easy to guide ourselves in the right direction.
While I enjoyed my few months learning Ashtanga I got to the point where I felt that my progression had significantly slowed, I was no longer inspired and wasn't learning as much as I would've liked. I needed to get back to the style of practice that I was most passionate about and constantly inspired by, Vinyasa. I wanted to soak up as much yoga as possible as I won't have this available to me when I get home. It was with these things in mind that I decided to treat myself to a two month yoga immersion in Ubud, my spiritual homeland. This would see me spending much more time on the motorbike (it's around 1hr away) but I didn't mind the driving.
One thing that's become clear to me in my travels back and forth is that so much of our experience is dictated by our own state of mind. Here in Bali I've found myself really enjoying lengthy road detours and getting stuck behind slow cars or in traffic, this is a great opportunity to see new areas and notice things I'd otherwise miss. When I leave here I'll be making a real effort to continue cultivating an attitude of appreciation/opportunity rather than frustration in circumstances which would normally cause stress, after all why should it be any different in Australia?
My Ubud destination was a yoga studio called Radiantly Alive, this place has been a real pillar of inspiration for me, it was here after a Transformational Breath workshop with Daniel almost two years ago that I knew with absolute certainty that I needed to get out of my work as a consulting engineer, this trigged everything that has taken place since. For the past two years I've used this studio as my retreat space, its where I go when I need to feel inspired, to reconnect to myself and to my yoga practice. It was here that:
Bali is such an incredible place, it keeps drawing me back in. I had no idea that I'd stay here this long, it's been a truly wonderful experience - I'd do it all over again. So much of my personal evolution has taken place on this small island, it now feels just as much like home to me as Australia.
I've met so many amazing people during my travels creating memories that I will cherish forever. I'm so grateful that I met Chris and Alona here in Canggu, they took me in like a family member, I've enjoyed every minute with them and the awesome team at Ngeluwungan Villa.
With just over a week left here in Bali I'm preparing to close the pages on this chapter of my life, one that was filled with travel, rapid transformation, much learning and growth... I had no idea what I looking for when I left Australia but I now see that I have everything I need...
In just under one month I will launch my new business waSUP Yoga & Fitness, my personal manifestation of all the things that I'm passionate about. For the next six months I'll be pouring my heart and soul into waSUP. I'll also be gathering the ingredients for the ultimate version of myself that I discovered during our Bali surf trip.
I return to Australia re-energised, focused and feeling more balanced and internally connected than ever before, it's from this space of internal contentment that I can now put myself back out into the world in service to others. I can't wait to see what the next six months brings, it's going to be one hell of a ride - rock on!
Mandy Habener (Dumas)