Tag Archives: yoga

Yoga Camp, Silence and Balinese Healing

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Ubud
Traditional Balinese dance that includes an all male chorus and of course a fire walker
Traditional Balinese dance that includes an all male chorus and of course a fire walker
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Offering at the water temple
Offering at the water temple
I’ve been traveling for nine months. That feels significant for so many reasons not the least of which being that in that timeframe, many people experience one of their most epic life changes and are welcoming a new a baby to the family. So spoiler alert to those of you who were hoping I was getting knocked up while out not the road, but no I’m not having a baby. But these 9 months feel like so much has changed in my life physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially.

While I have spent my whole life being a caretaker to others, I never quite pictured myself getting pregnant and becoming a mother. So many people have said “you’d be such an amazing mom” etc. which I always take as a major compliment. I guess I felt that I have made many sacrifices in my life and know what it’s like to love another human being to the point that you are willing to put your own needs way behind that of your loved one’s and maybe not even understanding what my needs were until after a decade of therapy. So during this time, in many ways I nurtured that young Korean girl who felt like she didn’t have a time in her life to be completely and utterly free and experience joy without obligation and responsibility. I’m past the stage where I’m learning how to walk, but for the first time, I’m learning how to fly.

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I don't love rice just because it's delicious but also because it's so beautiful
I don’t love rice just because it’s delicious but also because it’s so beautiful
Bali is a perfect place for this phase of my trip not only in terms of how much “touristy” stuff I did or didn’t want to do, but it was a great lesson in how far I’ve come these past 9 months and how much farther I’d like to go (geographically and otherwise). I started by going to a remote town on the eastern most part of Bali called Amed. I arrived really late to Amed after a 17 hour commute from Myanmar including a three hour drive from the airport through winding, dark and mountainous roads to arrive to a hut sitting in the pitch black of night with no one there to check me in. Ahhhh the “adventure” of international travel! Luckily, my hut wasn’t locked and it took me some time to figure out how to turn the light on in there but I was so tired that I basically threw myself on the bed and passed out.

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Black sand beach of Amed
I spent two nights in Amed and it was a sleepy and very chill introduction to Bali, a place that so many people including Trip Advisor ranks as their #1 travel destination. When I arrived in Amed to an unlocked pitch black hut, I wasn’t sure I made the best call, but with the dawn of light, I saw that I arrived in a beautiful black rock covered beach with only a few people around and not much other than the sound of waves, roosters (obvs this is the national anthem of every SE Asian country) and some workers at nearby homes/hotels.

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Everywhere you go in Bali there are beautiful gems like this

I was starting to relax into a blissful state when I grabbed lunch at the beach shack cafe next to my hut when a large man wearing a speedo 3 sizes too tight with a severely sunburned belly approached me. He introduced himself as Yvgeni and said in a thick Russian-sounding accent “where you from?” He then sat down and started a one-way conversation explaining that “America is an OK country, pretty clever” but how we really get ahead because we take advantage of less fortunate countries. And that was followed by a somewhat lengthy lecture on the merits of Vladimir Putin and his incredible strength and “he is true leader and would not let Soviet Union crumble making everything terrible”. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer with a complicated personal history with Russian government/police and the woman who has been “crying Putin” since 2004, it was like crampons on a chalkboard listening to Yvengi extol his virtues.

The expressions on some of the sculptures are everything
The expressions on some of the sculptures are everything
As vocal as I have been about the mistakes that America and our government has made that resulted in terrible outcomes for developing countries, I do that with pride and patriotism understanding that I am a citizen of a country where I can be free to voice my protests. And although I have encountered many people who have wanted to talk about US politics especially with the recent Trumpism of it all, I knew that this particular discussion would not be so open and pleasant. So I took deep breaths and tried to channel my newfound patience and zen, but after a torturous 20 minutes of Yvengi ranting about the greatness of Putin and how he makes everyone’s life so much better, I COULD NOT TAKE ONE MORE FUCKING MINUTE OF THIS.

I responded “well you’re right that America has made its mistakes and taken advantage of developing countries, but are you honestly trying to say that RUSSIA does not do that? Hmmmm… I am also going to have to disagree about how ‘great’ Putin is as a leader to his people. Yeah some people have really benefitted, most notably Putin and his billionaire friends. But many people have and continue to suffer and unlike in America where I can openly talk about how much I disagree with my current President’s actions, that’s not something that can happen in Russia unless you want to be mysteriously murdered or imprisoned”. I then finished my banana smoothie, smiled and trotted away to go and resume zen at the beach.

Apparently my remarks did not discourage comrade Yvengi from chatting with me as he came into my hut the next morning while I was in the shower (yeah about those non locking doors…) then drunkenly came up to me in the afternoon and asked if I wanted to go and get a massage with him. I looked over at his wife and two daughters and back at him and replied “NYET, cpacebo” (Russian for “NO THANKS”) and that was the end of our chats.

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My friend Marc and I both living the tanned and relaxed life
My funky hotel in Seminyak
My funky hotel in Seminyak
My next Balinese experience was in the hip and happening town of Seminyak. The highlight of this time was reconnecting with an old friend of mine from the XM days, an XM-OG, Marc. Marc’s been living in Bali the past few years so he’s a resident expert and VIP of the island. My XM friends fall into a pretty unique category of friendships in that we have known each other so long, been through so much, created and lost something something together and many are like family to me. I haven’t seen Marc in so many years so I was looking forward to catching up with him but admittedly intimated by the social media version of his life comprised of sexy scantily dressed women at various restaurants and clubs around town. People who don’t believe that I am an introvert, you should see my EPG and MRI during these type of get togethers. While I was very much looking forward to seeing Marc, when he set up a “big night out” with his Bali crew, the charts were trending up to a code red for anxiety and dread.

Outside a temple in Ubud
Outside a temple in Ubud
Note to self: don't ever complain about how hard my job is. This lady is carrying a load probably half her body weight up hundreds of steps in the high hills.
Note to self: don’t ever complain about how hard my job is. This lady is carrying a load probably half her body weight up hundreds of steps in the high hills.
The night was an intimate gathering of just 15-20 of Marc’s close to non-close friends and acquaintances and most of the guests were young, hot Russian ladies and their husbands. The crew was friendly and everyone seemed very excited to hang out with each other and although I was happy to hang with Marc who was glowing in with his tanned and healthy Bali lifestyle, I couldn’t help but think to myself “I wonder when I can make my Irish exit?” One of the most random parts of the night involved a guy who offered to give me a handwriting analysis and here are the highlights:
– Not many people know much about me or my personal life. I’m a very private person who only shares what I want people to know.
I don’t like these type of social situations
I really care about what people think about me
I’m horny
I mean, I think the first 4 things are probably fairly obvious based on my body language alone. That last one may have been his attempt to get some (spoiler alert: he didn’t).

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One of my summer camp favs Brynn
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Cathy the Canadian and Amber (pronounced Amba) from the UK/UAE
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Namaste my Blooming Lotuses
The last part of my time in Bali was spent in Ubud, including spending a week at a yoga and mediation retreat. As recapped from my blog about India and my experience in Meditation Prison, I was hoping that this time around with beautiful surroundings and creature comforts, I’d have a better go of it. However, my main priority for retreat was to get some good downward dog in and stretch my travel-fatigued, stiff body.

The shala was straight out of a yoga magazine, open air facing the jungle, khaki colored mats arranged in a perfect semi circle and there were about 20 women of all ages from all over the world in our yoga gear (my yoga gear also my hiking, walking and pajama ensemble). The beautiful young yoga instructors wore white and beamed at each of us.  They were angelic and like friendly aliens welcoming us and declared in whispery voices “We love you guys so much” and asked us to introduce ourselves.

At the wonderful water temple with my pals Samantha and Cathy
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How can you not feel zen here?
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Ummmmm… did she just say ‘we love you guys so much’? I wanted to get up right then and there and politely but firmly let them know that I have to go. This is not my jam. I mean, I’m Korean. My mom and I didn’t exchange regular I love you’s until I was like 30. Our culture isn’t exactly famous for emotional expression unless you count inflicting guilt. But I convinced myself to stay because I really did need the stretch. We all shared our expectations and motivations as to what brought us here and despite our varied ages, races, countries and backgrounds, there were so many commonalities. Many were here to find peace, to heal, to mediate, to do something for themselves for the first time, and other personal growth motivations.

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My camp roomie Alice from Indonesia and my wacky friend Karen from Cali
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Thanks to Alice had the best meal in Bali!
It was a supportive and fun group of women. In between meditations and sun salutations, we shared stories about her lives and loved ones. I realized how long it had been since I was able to just hang out with a group of funny, smart and kind women and it made me a bit homesick for my crew and family. And maybe because I was spending so much time alone, I found it really energizing to be around this safe supportive group and was on. Apparently that made me fairly likable and before they week’s end, some of my new friends encouraged me to become a stand up comedian, host a TV talk show, write a book or become a public speaker (only for gigs that let you curse of course). It was all beyond flattering and truthfully made me feel pretty damn great about myself.

Ummm WTF is Elizabeth Gilbert's photo?!
Ummm WTF is Elizabeth Gilbert’s photo?!
I also had a real-life Eat, Pray, Love experience here with a couple of my new friends visiting a Balinese healer.  Sadly, Ketut, the famous healer from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book who also appeared in the weak film adaption with Julia Roberts passed away in 2016.  When my one of my new friends said she was going I thought it would be a fun new cultural experience and it certainly did not disappoint in that sense.

Nyoman the Balinese Healer predicting my huge career as a singer
Nyoman the Balinese Healer predicting my huge career as a singer
My girl Ashly from Cali getting her happy reading
My girl Ashly from Cali getting her happy reading
Cathy with the lady who dressed us in sarongs for the reading
Cathy with the lady who dressed us in sarongs for the reading
Nyoman, the healer who took over his family’s business was smiley, positive, liked to giggle and incredibly complimentary.  He took time to chat with each of us and gave us a palm reading.  He told me that I should “be happy. Don’t be sad. Sad is bad.”  He also told me that I should be a singer and when I couldn’t help but laugh in response, he said there was something about my voice and how others liked to listen when I spoke or sang.  I’m feeling great about myself, but I don’t think I’m ready to drop an album anytime soon, but I naturally enjoyed what he said about my words having a positive effect on people and felt like a theme throughout my week with my new yoga friends.

I was feeling so zen during this yoga and meditation week that even when an earthquake welcomed us during our morning tea whilst some of the resort employees and guests were starting to panic, I sat there quietly sipping my tea. All of this positivity had a dramatic effect on me and by the end of the week, it was me declaring my love for the group in the final yoga circle.

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These guys should definitely scare the evil away from Bali
My last few days in Bali was during their national holiday called Nyepi, which is a Day of Silence when all businesses close and families get together to observe fast, silence, no using electricity or leaving their homes.  What a remarkable kind of holiday when everything literally stops and the point is to reflect and observe silence to welcome the new year.  There is a massive celebration the day before with parades, shouting, dancing and floats with monsters with the intention that all of this noise will scare away the demons so that on the day of silence all of the evil has left the island.  I also met a couple of fun and friendly American ladies one of whom turned out to be good friends with one of my best friends!  I observed silence and reflection that day and thought about how impossible but amazing it would be if we did this in the U.S.  Can you imagine a whole day when everything just stops and we just spend the day in silence surrounded by our loved ones?

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Sri Lanka: Soul, Surf and Snakes on a Tuk Tuk 

Perfect sunsets over the Indian Ocean

Going to Sri Lanka was a surprise to me since I hadn’t really planned or considered going there until I was forced to book a ticket at Dubai airport trying to get to India, but it was one of the best unplanned decisions I’ve made on this five month journey. And the next two weeks in Sri Lanka were full of surprises and the country is now among my list of favorites.

I spent a few days in Colombo, the capital city. You don’t find many positive travel reviews of Colombo as many sites warn you that it’s hectic, crowded and most people land there and head straight for the mountains of Kandy or the beaches in the south. I enjoyed my time in Colombo and after a month in India, I didn’t find it too crowded or hectic. Everything really is relative.

I was going to head south to a yoga and surf retreat about 30 minutes from Galle and needed a few things for the trip so it was nice to be in a city where I could run some errands. I searched for a new swimsuit as mine, along with most of my clothes at this point, was starting to look ragged. Turns out that looking for a bathing suit in a country that’s predominantly Buddhist and Muslim is challenging unless I want to wear a dress in the sea, which didn’t seem very practical for surf lessons. Once I abandoned my swimsuit search, I spent the rest of my time doing a bit of sightseeing and visited a famous Buddhist temple where I attempted to practice Vipassana meditation (made it 45 minutes of the hour but then I HAD to get up to check out a Buddhist drum performance), practiced yoga at a gorgeous studio near my B&B and checked out a very cool art exhibit which led to an unexpected and thought provoking conversation with one of the artists.

Offerings at Buddhist temple

 

I’m a little obsessed with monks

While at the Colombo Biennale Art Exhibition featuring international artists, I was asked by a young woman if I would attend a “performance”. I agreed and when asked to leave my purse with her, I took a leap of faith and left it with her and entered through black curtains into a dark room. I couldn’t see anything, but as soon as I entered, someone took a photo of me and the flash was blinding, there was this rhythmic, hypnotic foreign music playing and a woman’s voice called out to me as she took me by the hand and began to dance with me. While we swayed to this music, her hands landed on my hips and then she gently twirled me around, and began asking in a calm and seductive voice, a series of questions such as:

“Are you a terrorist?”

“Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend?”

“How much money do you have in your bank account?”

“Have you ever stolen anything?”

“Are you telling the truth?”

The questions and frankly, the entire experience was unsettling. I was surprised at myself as I answered the questions but I was so uncomfortable and increasingly agitated, but at the same time the music, dancing and this mysterious stranger’s voice had the opposite effect. After the “performance” was over, I had a chance to speak with the artist Venuri Perera and she was much younger and her face was sweeter than I expected. Her piece titled “Entry/No Entry” was about the immigration/passport control experience and as someone who has spent the past five months going through this process, her piece really reflected the awkward and uncomfortable dance quite perfectly. She shared her perspective as a person who holds a Sri Lankan passport, which I learned was one of the “bottom 10” passports in the world, prohibiting her from being able to enter many countries when she has been invited to study or exhibit her work. It was a humbling reminder of the privilege of being an American and having most international doors opened to me. It also added to my growing concern that we maintain positive international relations so that this continues, but understanding that the doors must open both ways. I worry about America abandoning our founding principle of being a country of immigrants and welcoming those who are escaping tyranny or just looking for a better life.

The talented artist Venuri Perera

After booking my Sri Lanka flight, I knew that I would be spending my birthday in the country and asked myself what I would want to be doing on my 43rd birthday on my own. I’ve been practicing yoga for over 20 years, sometimes religiously and sometimes not at all, but I always feel so much better when I am doing it with some regularity. So I looked up yoga retreats and found one called Soul & Surf, which combines yoga with surf lessons. I recalled a hilarious and memorable trip to Costa Rica to go to surf camp with two of my closest friends Andy and CaroLu back in 2008 and thought “perfect”. I loved surfing and always wanted to keep doing it, I’m sure I’ll still love it! So I headed to the southern coast to a beach town called Ahangama for what I was certain would be 7 days of a perfect balance of relaxation and physical challenge.
Ummm… turns out Soul & Surf was less Soul and definitely more Surf and I was once again going to experience early morning wake ups and physical exhaustion that, while different from meditation prison there were also some uncanny similarities. And it turns out that muscle memory doesn’t last for 8 years without practice and I am a disastrous surfer. The first day or two, most of the first timers (the majority of the group) were struggling, but as more and more people started to progress and I felt like I was regressing, I started to beat myself up harder than the waves. I kept thinking to myself “how did I get up the first time in Costa Rica? Maybe I’m too old to do this?” It was a mind-fuck and for the first time since I started this adventure, I felt defeated and inadequate. Thankfully, there were some really fun, hilarious and amazing people in this group and they kept me laughing and from taking all of this “fun” too seriously. I also realized that this was the first time in my trip that I came into a situation with specific goals and expectations, which is probably why I was feeling like a failure. Being a goal oriented person my entire life and then changing the script the past five months, it’s easy to go back to your old habits and I think that’s ultimately what kept me made from standing on the board. I managed to get both feet on the board several times, but those moments were so brief that I never caught that surfer’s high that I remembered from Costa Rica.

My two fav instructors Gus (middle) and Jelly (yeah female surfer!)

Once I reminded myself that I was actually here to have fun and that I am not here to become a pro surfer, I had a great time. Well, except for the time that my friend Jen and I were pummeled by wave after wave until a baby tsunami hit us and took us down during a surf relay challenge (yeah, Soul & Surf = intense). And then a couple of days later, my board flew into the air and landed on my head giving me a bump and pretty sure a minor concussion and that’s when I retired my board and just hung out with some of my favorite girls for beers on the beach aka my professional sport. It turns out I wasn’t the only one struggling with surfing and also wanting to take the intensity down a level. My new friends Michaela and Rachel and I all enjoyed relaxing with cold beers, talking about life, love and travel. I began referring to us as the Bad Girls of Surf Camp and by the end of the week, pretty much the entire group was ready to drink with us and mend their bruises, rashes, sore muscles and clogged ears. And despite my lack of prowess on the board, I loved the daily yoga and time spent with this group of gorgeous and interesting international friends. Shout out to my Villa 2 girls: Kinda, Alice, Maddy and Jen!

This really says it all about my surfing. Me and Jen post tsunami.
Last night at surf camp!

 

One of the craziest and most hilarious surprises of the trip was when Jen, my British surf camp wife and I were in our tuk tuk heading to Galle for our field trip, our one “free” day. Just a few minutes after we got in the tuk tuk, our driver, a sweet-faced and constantly smiling man named Annura pulled over to the side of the road, got out, came back to us and calmly beckoned for us to get out. Jen and I looked at each other with confusion and hesitated uncertain as to why we would need to get out in the middle of the street when Annura politely motioned us out. We complied and then noticed that he had a small broom in his hand and proceeded to move the broom close to the steering wheel where there was a SNAKE!! After he got the snake out on the road he told us to go ahead and get back in. Jen and I sat back in with trepidation and after she peered over her side of the tuk tuk, she yelped, “OH MY GOD! It’s coming back in! It’s under the wheel!” And we both leapt out. The next few minutes were spent watching Annura and other locals try and find the snake inside the engine, all of us laughing nervously and then they managed to get it out by squirting a bit of petrol on the engine, which drove it FLYING away from the vehicle. Don’t worry animal lovers, no snakes were harmed in the making of this comedy.

While the guys search for a snake, Jen and I take a minute for a photo.
Where’s Samuel L. Jackson when you need him?!
Gorgeous Galle Fort

Another wonderful surprise in Sri Lanka was that my niece Jinna was there at the same time, surfing the island with her boyfriend Tom. Jinna’s in her twenties and after suffering the tragic loss of her dad a few years ago decided to quit corporate America and take her talent in photography and social media to see the world. You should check out her beautiful videos and posts at projectinspo.com, but be warned these gorgeous images and people may cause you to want to quit your job and pick up a surf board. Unlike me, Jinna has completely taken to surfing and surf life and by looking at her radiant face, toned physique and fierce tan, I see that surf life has taken to her. When I think back to some of our times together in NYC where both Jinna and I lived before our nomadic chapters, I recall seeing the sadness of loss and grief on her face, it’s so gratifying to see the light shining so brightly within her now.

Jinna in full surf and happiness mode.

I spent my last few days in Sri Lanka staying in Galle Fort, a small and gorgeous little town not far from Soul & Surf High School. I spent one really fun night hanging out with the founding members of the Bad Girls of Surf Club, Rachel and Michaela (and Dani, Michaela’s friend). The last day/night I spent alone having a chance to reflect on all that has happened from India to Sri Lanka and to watch one of the most memorable sunsets I’ve ever seen. As I took in my last sunset, I had my final Sri Lankan surprise, which was a conversation with a local guy for about 10 minutes which resulted in about 25 text messages, phone calls and declarations of LOVE. We literally talked for 10 minutes about Sri Lanka, my surf camp experience and the U.S. and then he proceeded to try to convince me to have tea, take a drive, etc. and wanted to walk me back to my hotel, all of which I politely declined. He wasn’t a creep and didn’t say or do anything inappropriate except for calling/texting and declaring his love, but it was a good lesson for me that it’s not culturally insensitive to say no to giving out my phone number.

One last beer for the Bad Girls of Surf Camp

I cannot say enough positive things about Sri Lanka. The people are warm and kind, the island is beautiful, the food is spicy and delicious and there are surprises from start to finish. I look forward to seeing what lies ahead on the rest of my adventures in the east.  

Sunsets are good for the Soul