Serenity in seven minutes

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SHE wore a smile of smug serenity, the kind borne from hours and hours of meditation and, I suspect, being a gentle soul. I’m in country New South Wales for a three-day yoga treat and Basia, who calls herself a “tea advocate”, is performing a modern-day version of a Japanese tea ceremony to welcome us to Billabong Retreat.

My journey to enlightenment begins several hours earlier when my friend Jess picks me up at SydneyAirport in her clapped-out car which lacks air-conditioning in the middle of an Australian heat wave. It’s such a scorcher, I expect to see Satan himself behind the steering wheel.

Jess and I have a history of colourful trips which share an unwittingly similar theme. It’s always hot, there’s limited alcohol and we swim in interesting watering holes. In June it was Jordan’s Dead Sea, this time it’s an Australian Billabong the colour of black tea.

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I’m in the fittingly name Harmony Cottage on this 5000 hectare property replete with lotus pond. Jess is in a tent. Yoga takes place in a central yurt. I fall in love with the word yurt. Billabong is an eco-retreat where each guest is allocated 50 litres of water each day which are broken down as such:

  •  3 minute shower = 30L
  • 1 x full loo flush = 4.5L
  • 3 x half loo flushes = 3 L
  • Spare = 3.5 L

Guests are advised to save water and “shower with a friend”. If only. I perform a crude mathematical calculation in my head. If I don’t have a bowel movement for six days, I can afford another shower. Jess reminds me we aren’t here for six days, so my maths, as always, is flawed. In my spare time, I take to trading shower minutes with the other guests.

Paul and Tory von Bergen own Billabong Retreat near Richmond, about an hour’s drive north-west of Sydney. Paul, a former high-flying Londoner who made millions of pounds, lived in a penthouse and had a photo of a yacht on his desk, lost all his money in a bad business decision. He headed to Thailand where he discovered yoga, but instead of a lightening bolt, it was a gradual transformation on his path to serenity.

Rather than teaching guests the kind of power yoga that has crept into chic city studios, Paul believes yoga is about the mind. A kind of meditation yoga which dates back to 300 BC. Jess calls it Moga.

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“The fact you are twisting one way or the other way is almost here nor there, it is about peace of mind and health and happiness,” Paul says.

“Yoga was always about the mind for thousands and thousands of years. It was only really when it came to the West in the last 60 years that is has become dominated by the physical.

“For 4000 to 5000 years yoga was not about postures. It is about developing the mind. It is about neuroplasticity – the ability to retrain out minds.

“Whoever came up with that phrase ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’….that’s bullshit. It is about feeling better, living longer, happier and more contented lives.

 “As long as we’re heading in roughly the right direction, it is OK.”

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On a scorching Saturday afternoon we perform a Hindu chant 108 times – the number 108 believed to be the figure required to achieve enlightenment. I arrive at roughly the 38th Om and my mind starts to play a nasty trick. It reminds me it’s the weekend, my throat is parched from chanting, and I need an ice-cold Sav Blanc. It takes everything in my power to sit still and return to the next 70 chants by which time I forget Sav Blanc, let alone the sacred Marlborough region, exists.

Paul teaches us a simple seven minute practice that we can take home. Seven minutes to serenity. On the drive home and after a weekend of gorgeous vegetarian fare, I implore Jess to stop at the first coffee shop she can find before she drops me at the airport. I’m in the middle of a long check-in line when my tummy starts to grumble. I break into a cold sweat. Fuelled by caffeine and possibly the fact I can flush the loo all I wish, my bowels have decided upon the most inconvenient time all weekend to do what they are designed to.

I barely make it through check-in and rush to the toilet. Afterwards, I celebrate with a large carton of greasy chips and a New Zealand pinot noir. My enlightenment is tested three times on the way home. The first time, when the passenger next to me decides to shake a tin of breath mints all the way home; the second when we hit severe turbulence; and the third, when a maniac cabbie picks me up at the airport, road-raging his way to my front door. I practice breathing in and out slowly and saying “I am” over and over in my mind.

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I think back to what Paul has to say about this modern, frazzled world in which we exist.

“There is too much masculine energy in the world. We can be both, soft and strong. Women are better at that,” he says.

“I’d like to see more men at this retreat. It is the story of my life at the moment. I haven’t spoken to a bloke in three months.”

Welcome to my world Paul. Welcome to my world.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Billabong Retreat. To find out how you can achieve serenity in seven minutes, go to www.billabongretreat.com.au or better still, book yourself in for an enlightening adventure.

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The Goddess has arrived

IT’S 5am at Queen Alia Airport in Amman, Jordan, shortly after the Muslim call to prayer. And all I’m feeling is the call to Muslim man. I’ve travelled some 25-plus hours from Brisbane, via Bangkok to the Middle East and have landed with hair that resembles a sucked mango and a mouth which feels like a colony of bats are seeking asylum inside my throat.  But I can’t resist. The Arabs, both male and female, are so handsome, it’s like I’ve arrived in a parallel universe. I attempt to say hello “Salam wa aleikum” but all that comes out of my mouth is a strangled sound, and a little bit of spit. Fuelled by sleepless delirium and excitement at being back in the Middle East after nearly two decades, I ask our guide to translate to the Immigration Officer the question of whether he would like a wife. “Wait one year” comes the reply. I’m so jetlagged, I’m unsure whether I should simply stand to the side of his counter for the next 365 days or actually come back after I’ve done a few more things with my life. My travelling party rolls its collective eyes:  it’s classic Goddess.

Let me be clear: a Goddess, I am not. I’m not even Bridget Jones, more like her daggy underpants themselves. I inherited this nickname last year when I was working in Singapore, sweating out my body weight each day along the Equator, while living in Little India. The Indians there seemed to adopt a curious attraction to me, so the name arrived and stuck, as nicknames tend to do. The Global bit comes from the fact I’m a travel writer, who seems to uncanningly find herself hunting for a husband while simultaneously foraging for a story. Let’s just say, I always come home with a story.

I’ve told my friends I’m “on assignment” in the Middle East. Heck, I’ve even packed my khaki pants, just in case some mystery editor calls me up to jump over the border and cover the strife in Syria. The fact the only shoes I’ve packed are thongs shows how serious I am taking the idea of being a war correspondent. And thus instead, my travelling party and I head to the Dead Sea.

Across the salty water sits Israel. Jericho to be precise. If I squint into the sunshine, my 41 year old self dissolves and I can picture my 25 year old backpacker self, with the boyfriend who would become my husband and then my heartbreak. The image is like a mirage. But sad, I am not. Resilient, foolhardy, passionate…yes. And ready to take on the world again.

I wake up each day to find three waiters battling over who will bring me my morning coffee. I end up drinking three different cups of coffee to appease all three. I suspect I shall miss this when I wake up next week in Brisbane. The next day, my guide informs me: “Tomorrow night you will see a man dance in the desert.” “A man!” I practically shout, “and what does this man do?” I ask, barely able to contain myself, expecting something erotic and exotic in equal measure. “Not a man,” comes the reply “Amman dance.” The dance is pretty good for something non-erotic. The Arabs possess charm in spades. It continues when I go to buy batteries for my camera. “Your lips are like honey,” the dapper shopkeeper says, “I can see Sydney in your eyes.” I don’t have the heart to tell him Sydney is 1000km from Brisbane, so I would have to be Wonder Woman and not just an ordinary Global Goddess, to be able to possess this special trait.

We continue on to Petra, the desert of Wadi Rum, the Red Sea and then home. I’m right, there are no handsome Arabs making my morning cup of Joe when I wake up in Brisbane. But a bloke who calls himself Ford Falcon has contacted me and wants a date…