Lessons Learned from Yoga in Koh Phangan!
A Journey to Authentic Re-connection: Balancing Yin and Yang
Wow! I’ve just returned from two weeks of absolute indescribable bliss on the Thailand island of Koh Phangan. As I sailed up to the picturesque island – with clear sea, beautiful sand, blue sunny skies and its pretty little blue and red boats – and plopped my feet into the water to land at my destination, words cannot describe the beauty and charm of Haad Yuan, the secluded bay I ended up on for my two-week yoga retreat. I can only describe it as ‘spacious;’ I guess, that’s what I was hoping for when I planned my yoga retreat at Pure Flow Yoga Retreats – after all, I practice yoga to find space in my mind, body and soul. However, I didn’t really expect to find the spaciousness in the way I did!
I’m not going to pretend it was an easy journey; I think that’s mostly how these blog posts go, right – stories of the paradise yoga retreat? But for me it was a journey of authenticity, so, challenges are celebrated in this post.
However, what I will say is that I landed back on Sunday, but I realise now that my head hadn’t quite caught up with me and was still in the clouds, so it’s been a bit of a culture shock coming home to the busy pace of life. It’s weird, as mostly you’d expect it to be the other way round; but in a place that now feels more like ‘home’ than home itself, it’s the opposite of jetlag: worse going west!
What makes it so special, you ask? Well, that question I pondered myself… It could have been any number of beautiful things – the paradise-like sand, sea and sunshine as I lay in the hammock on the secluded beach (they actually showed the movie ‘The Beach,’ on the beach, in Thailand – I have to say that wasn’t so relaxing), the beautiful surroundings – Pure Flow was set on an island made from quartz crystal – the healthy, yummy salads, the gorgeous views, or even the Thai hospitality. There are a number of reasons you’d choose an adventure in Thailand; all of them special. For me, though, it was about the journey of authentic connection: to myself and others. And, as a wellbeing consultant, that’s what I want this story to focus on because, as a homeopath especially, life is about reconnecting to the truth of who you are and undoing all the suppression of life.
The First Lesson: You Are Not Your Story, You are Within the Spaciousness
We all have our stories. I went with a million aims of exploration and an intense schedule in my head of when I needed to achieve things by – I have always been someone who tended to burn myself out. I.e. I took the business of the West to the East. I soon remembered that doesn’t wash in such a laid back culture…
Some people think we wellbeing specialists are super-chilled all of the time – and on the whole we probably do listen to our bodies more than many people. However, there are still times when we get over-loaded and, as it happens, on this occasion, I was stuck in my head when I arrived. For me, arriving in a place, alone, stirred up a lot of my ‘story’ – something I’ve recently been learning about with my lovely life coach, Mandy Spray! I felt vulnerable, I didn’t trust myself to venture out and that spiralled into feelings of inadequacy and frustration – even anger at myself for not achieving my set plan of exploration. This was my first insight! I journalled, and realised I had travelled to the other side of the world, by myself, with an exploding boat (long story!), poisonous snakes, where I had to walk across rickety insecure bridges in the dark, in a strange place, into the jungle – and I was cross with myself for not feeling able to do it! It was ok to be scared; even more, it was ok not to explore until I’d settled, landed and grounded. What I realised was that I was seeking growth through a practical exploratory sense, and actually finding it in an emotional one. I separated my thoughts from the truth and that’s when I began to settle in to the yoga (which, in the jungle, surrounded by monkeys, was an exciting and beautiful adventure in itself!).
As uncomfortable as it was at first, as I did this, I realised that I had been doing exactly what I did at home: crowding my own space with too many ‘to-do’s’, too much action and unnecessary challenges – like many of us do. Even in Thailand, I wasn’t allowing myself any space. We are so used to filling our space that we don’t know what to do with ourselves when we get it. And, furthermore, as much as I tell this to my clients, I fell into my own trap: you don’t get space until you CREATE it for yourself. So, I did. I started to begin to enjoy the expansive playfulness that the beauties at Pure Flow Yoga were sharing with us.
Lesson Two: Surrender and Dare to Be Brave
The first week ended up being quiet. I managed to sink into the somewhat uncomfortable space of silence, and surrender. In yin yoga and also through intuitive vinyasa flow, I let go of my need to explore (and perhaps my want to rely on others to support me in exploration) and I listened with love and gratitude to the teachings of Ellanah and Selina, who were beautiful, nourishing souls and yoga teachers. Every day we would journal and share, in our sacred circle of meditation, how we were feeling, and then the day would be tailored to suit the group’s feelings. We sang kirtan mantras to Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, and flowed through fear. It was a safe space to grow and nurture ourselves.
As I began to let go, I noticed I started to explore the island, by myself, without even making plans to! As I settled into exploring, it didn’t even make its way into my celebrations in my journal as it no longer seemed such a big deal when I dropped my high expectations of myself. I dared to be brave, starting to drop out of my head and into my body, which is what yoga aims to create – the spacious expansion of yourself. I hung upside down in aerial yoga, embodying this sense of letting go. I was connecting to ‘me’.
Lesson Three: Connection on All Levels
Without realising, I began to settle into mindful observation of everything – the food tasted amazing when you truly began to notice it, the pretty cat that came and sat with me was so beautiful, the power of nature was so amazing, I felt so lucky to be sitting on the beach in the hammock. I began to observe the differences between how my mind, body and soul felt and gradually they began to align. We had an exercise to eat our food more mindfully and it truly made me feel more gratitude. As I started to appreciate everything, the world began to support me so much more than when I was just fighting against it.
Lesson Four: If Your Soul Wants to Dance, then Dancing is Restful and Resting is Stressful!
In the second week, the groups changed and this group wanted to explore a bit more, so I got to enjoy some time exploring. I wondered; if I’ve now relaxed into spaciousness, am I over-crowding my space? By this point, I had enjoyed a lot of massage, a lot of relaxation, a lot of journaling and I remembered something I read in ‘Finding Your Own North Star’ by Martha Beck: “if your soul wants to dance, then dancing is restful and resting is stressful.” I wanted to dance now; it was time to explore. So, I did – and met some wonderful people along the way – some of whom I ended up treating with homeopathy (but that’s for another story involving a box jellyfish, Homeopathic Apis and Urtica Urens, an American, a Russian, very limited English, and a restricted verbal exchange which went a little like this: ‘Trump’ – ‘Putin’ – ‘the remedy has worked’! Global homeopathy at its best!).
Interestingly we also explored ‘inner dance meditation’ which was interesting to create heightened awareness – I’m sure I learned more than I even realise, on a subconscious level.
Back to the learning… At this point, we had to write a letter from our bodies to ourselves and vice-versa. What that showed me was how unsupported my body felt from all of the pressure I put on it back in England. I wrote back to it and apologised for not listening to it. I think that was a turning point: the realisation of how it actually feels to listen to yourself. That, right there, is connection to your truth. When you look at these tiny details and just notice what you don’t normally notice, it heightens your awareness and begins to reconnect you to yourself. It’s a good exercise to try – give it a go!
My Magical Truth: No Going Back
The problem is; once you start to do that, it’s hard to go back. So, for me, the magic of this trip was more than just two weeks of yoga – which most of the Western World often thinks of as just ‘fitness exercise’. It was the realisation of how to follow your heart, instead of your head, into what it loves and your body into what it needs: how to dive deeper into your truth. How to stop suppressing your truth in a world which demands of you all of the time.
As a yoga teacher myself, I often get frustrated about how people separate ‘meditation’ and ‘yoga’ into two different categories as if they are separate entities (another blog post will follow!). I like to debate about how there are ‘8 limbs of yoga’ and that meditation and physical asana postures are just two of these. What is interesting, now I reflect, is that I feel like Pure Flow, for me, was actually about self-observation and spiritual discipline – one of the Niyama’s (the second limb) is Svadhyaya (self-study) and I feel like this is what I got most out of this particular retreat. Deeper understanding of and connection to myself was the journey for me in Thailand.
Special People: Holding Space for Connection
I couldn’t have achieved this without the people; however. Pure Flow’s team, and the connection within the groups with the special people on the retreat, were what held space for this development. If there’s one thing I can end with as a piece of advice for wellbeing, it is to find that place of connection to people who can really hold space for you to learn. They are out there – seek them out! As ‘namaste’ means: we are all connected.
Our Group of Connection
So, bizarrely, on the Full Moon party island of Koh-Phangan – an island full of contrast which is, in parts, as much about retox as well as detox – is exactly where I found that space. In its sweet juxtaposition of both peacefulness and noise, I managed to learn valuable lessons about balancing the inwards and outwards journey between space and exploration in my own connection with myself! Perhaps that’s exact why – the island embodies the journey of balance between yin and yang, after all…
Love and blessings,
Nicole Barton – Wellbeing Writer
PS – If you’re keen to go on a yoga retreat, why not check out the beautiful place I went to on their website – use voucher code ‘wellnesswriter’ to get 10% off: https://pureflow.yoga/our-thailand-yoga-retreats/
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