When I was reflecting on my 2018 (using my most wonderful My Shining Year workbook) one of the standout experiences was creating and delivering the first Karma Yoga Retreat in Laos with my sister-in-law Tiak Saysana.
Early on in 2018, in fact I think it was around New Year, we floated the idea of teaching a yoga retreat in Tiak’s home country, a country I have visited a number of times over the last 12 years and completely fallen in love with, Laos.
Making dreams a reality
It seemed perhaps an idea that was a little far-fetched… Tiak had just recently finished her yoga teacher training, I had only a year before moved to regional Victoria, there were no well-known yoga retreat centres in Laos, it’s not the easiest country to get to… But like every great idea it just kept popping into my head as if it was fully fledged as a thing. I could smell it, taste it and see it happening in my mind’s eye.
Within a couple of months we were researching locations. Tiak’s heart was set on taking our students to Southern Laos, a less-traveled part of the country with temples, mountains, forests, coffee and of course the heart of Laos, the Mekong river (meaning the Mother river in Lao).
The location of Tiak’s honeymoon, La Folie Lodge, turned out to be the venue we had dreamed of when they were, not only open to but, excited about hosting us for a yoga retreat. Set on an island in the middle of the Mekong close to the San Phan Don (four thousand islands) with no cars and an incredibly friendly and relaxed village vibe, the La Folie Eco Lodge combines luxury with simplicity.
We put our vision out there, a 6 night yoga retreat in private luxury bungalow accommodation in a beautiful location. But much more than this. It was the creation of a space to connect with a deeply spiritual culture. An opportunity to learn about Buddhist philosophy and to create a meditation practice. It was a place to reflect on the practice of karma yoga and to embody it by giving to the local community supported by La Folie. For Tiak and I this wasn’t just a yoga retreat hosted in Laos. This was to be an unique opportunity to experience Laos through the practice of yoga. Intimately combining yoga philosophy, Buddhism, travel and sustainable development principles.
A unique gift
I truly believe that we don’t have to be complete experts in something to have a unique gift to share with the world (thanks Sam Harris for this insight).
Tiak and I met when she married my husband’s brother. At the time it was a whirlwind introduction at a beautiful and fun Lao wedding and we weren’t yoga teachers back then. Later on when Tiak and family moved to Melbourne we started to spend more time in each others company.
We both have a background in international development through study and work. Tiak grew up as a Buddhist, I practice Buddhist meditation. We both have a love of travel, of experiencing new places and people. We are both deep thinkers and have a strong drive to make a difference in the world. We both have a love for the tools and philosophy of yoga as a way to support people to create that positive change.
Tiak has a passion for her country and for supporting the people of her country through tourism and supporting local producers. She has deep knowledge of yoga and Laos and of combining these through the practice of karma yoga (the yoga of action).
I brought experience in creating and teaching retreats, in marketing and a business and website ready to host our own idea.
We couldn’t put this together without each other.
I think when you have so much excitement about an idea that rubs off on people. We were joyful to find that our amazing students wanted to share this experience. And so in October 2018 a group of nine Australians joined us for the inaugural Karma Yoga retreat in Laos.
Despite being a long journey from Melbourne to Champasak in Southern Laos (via Bangkok and transfers through the Thai border) everyone agreed that the extra effort to get there was rewarded by the uniqueness of the location.
From the moment that I stepped on the boat from the banks of Mekong at Champasak I found myself in awe at the natural beauty of the surroundings. Coming from the mountains of North East Victoria (as many of our participants also do) I found the mountains of Phou Kho made me feel almost at home (despite the humidity!). Seeing the deep and wide expanse of river meeting the lush tree covered mountains I felt an immense power of place. As though Mother Earth was displaying Herself in all her glory. A very fitting place for What Phou, the UNESCO temple built by the ancient Hindu Khmer as an offering to Shiva and later converted to Buddhist use.
Arriving at La Folie Lodge I was once again awe-struck by the beauty of the facility and the hospitality of the staff who were going out of their way to help us to make this a wonderful retreat. Guests arrived, shared first impressions and made connections with other guests. We started to move through the schedule we had created, the practices we had envisioned, the activities we were so excited to share. As the retreat became a real, living thing and no longer words on a screen or ideas on a mind map, it felt more and more that the universe had conspired in bringing us all together in this space.
As happens when you travel, when you retreat, when you take time away from the distractions of life to go deep and to connect, there were moments of immense vulnerability. There were tears of joy and tears of sadness, of grief, of tiredness, of despair and then tears of joy again. The insights were large and small and life-changing and personal and varied.
We were welcomed and blessed in the traditional Lao way. We were connected with each other, with Lao culture and with all of the beautiful people and communities we met in ways that we could not have envisioned. We were nourished in a way that only immersive practice on retreat can nourish you. By stepping away from the chores of daily life, from family responsibility and from the distractions of work to be waited on, guided and enriched by teachings and experiences. And we let go, through meditation, reflection, yoga, symbolic Lao ceremony and through the act of giving. We gave our time, our donations and our hearts to the Lao community we supported and to each other.
And the partnership, the sister-in-law team, worked so naturally that it felt like we’d done it a thousand times before. We taught what we were called to teach. We had our own area of expertise. We held space when we needed to and took our own time to refill our cup when it was time for that.
And then it was over. So quickly yet not in a way that is easily forgotten. I know that when you go deep and you give everything you have to the process and those around you (as we all did – not just as teachers) the experience will stay a part of you forever.
I also know that when you feel some idea bubble up in you (or in a collective you) and it takes shape without a struggle, and it keeps tapping at the edges of your mind all sparkly and bright and full of potential, LISTEN. Give that dream the space and the energy it needs to come into the world. Trust that little voice that says ‘this is unique’, ‘this is something that people need in their lives’, even as it battles against the other ones that question and throw roadblocks in the way.
Dreams can become reality, all it takes is a pinch of trust, a whole lot of passion, some hard work and step by step action! All worth it for the end result, an experience never to be forgotten. And as we make little changes and improvements, as we learn new things and make new connections, dreams evolve…
Karma Yoga Retreat Laos 2019 will build on the foundation we have created, yet it will be new and exciting and different and I’m so ready to bring that into the world next year. Who will be joining us for this unique experience in Southern Laos?
Early Bird pricing expires at the end of April!