I’m handing over the reins of the blog to my friend Steph (Stephanie Brookes) today. Steph and I met many years ago when our daughters were at primary school together. Steph and her husband David now live in Ubud, Bali (when they’re not travelling). Steph is a travel writer (amongst other things) and Dave is a photographer and more! You will learn more about Steph and Dave in the near future because I will be interviewing them on the blog soon. Today Steph interviews an inspiring woman by the name of Sheila Burch who reinvented her life at the age of 60 and opened up a yoga studio amongst the rice fields in Ubud, Bali. Thank you Steph for introducing us to Sheila. Links to where you can see more of Sheila and Steph can be found at the end of this post.
Ciao from me and over to Steph.
Reinventing Your Life at 60
Sheila first came to Bali in 1985 and had a strong connection with Ubud which she maintained through the years. After a career working in International schools around the world, she felt ready to settle down, but where? As she was considering the options a voice came into her head and said, “What about Bali?” and her answer was “Of course, why didn’t I think of that before?”
Sheila returned to Ubud and asked her old friend of thirty years, Ketut Marna, if he might know of someone with land to lease and was led to Gusti, who had a piece of land behind his rice fields. Sheila leased the land and fell into a series of fortunate events and her home, and yoga studio was seamlessly completed in 2013.
Tell my about your life?
I was born in Atlanta Georgia and grew up in Seattle, Washington and moved to Santa Barbara where I lived for several years. The travel bug hit and I left on a two-year backpacking trip around the world. I followed my dream of living in Paris and became a permanent resident of France and lived there for a total of seven years. Although I loved Paris, I have an innate gypsy spirit and still had the travel bug. To travel further, I need work that would take me places, so I began working in the international schools. I started in Jakarta and then worked in Ecuador, Nepal, China and Azerbaijan.
When did you first come to Ubud, Bali?
I first came to Ubud in 1985. I stayed at Mawar Homestay and became close friends with Ketut Marna, the owner of the homestay. He still runs the homestay and welcomes guests. It is a great place to get to know the inner workings of a Balinese family and immerse yourself in the culture. Because I had worked in Asia (Indonesia, Nepal, and China), I often visited Ubud during my holidays and kept in touch with Ketut. In 2008, I organized a Global Issues Summit at the newly opened Green School and spent two months in Ubud at the Mawar Homestay while coordinating the summit. I have always loved yoga and had a regular practice for around ten years at this stage of my life. While I was in Ubud in 2008, I discovered the Yoga Barn. I attended yoga classes there and met Denise Payne, a Power Yoga teacher. I decided to do my teacher training with her and completed it in 2011. I began teaching yoga in Baku, Azerbaijan at the international school where I worked. I was thrilled as I was able to introduce yoga as part of the physical education program and also offer it to the staff, teachers, and administrators. It was during this time that I decided I wanted to open a yoga studio and retire from full-time international school teaching. I just needed to find a place.
Why open a Yoga studio in Ubud, Bali?
I wanted to open a yoga studio in Ubud because there are beautiful rice fields everywhere and I thought it would be the perfect environment for yoga and meditation. People asked me, “What makes you think Ubud needs another yoga studio?” Well, I had never thought about whether or not Ubud needed another studio, I was just passionate about the rice fields, so I did it. I built the house and hung a sign on the small pathway outside and waited for my first student. My house is situated on a small footpath, which winds its way to Sari Organic Restaurant, a well-known and popular café in the middle of the rice fields. I figured people would see my sign on their way and come and inquire. And they did. I became number 1 in Trip Advisor in 6 months.
Tell me about your teaching style?
My philosophy is yoga for everybody. I wanted my studio to be an inclusive studio where everyone feels welcome. I have been running classes for three years now, and I cater to all levels. My 30 years of teaching experience helps me to differentiate my classes and meet the needs of individual students. I had a strong desire to share yoga with everybody, with the hope that my students would start a regular practice and reap the benefits that yoga has to offer. I take the mystical woo-woo out of yoga, allowing my students to have an authentic yoga experience and understand that Sanskrit words, which are used in yoga classes, is just a language, so there’s nothing mystic or woo-woo in saying Sanskrit names of the postures in class. Also, I like to explain to my students that putting your hands into Namaste is a cultural gesture and a form of respect, not a cool mystical greeting.
Yoga is the joining of mind and body, and the real goal of yoga is to calm the mind. When the mind is calm, people get in touch with a part of themselves that is not their thoughts or their feelings; they access the part of themselves which observes and watches their thoughts and feelings. That is the beginning of the “search inside yourself’ aspect of yoga. I take people to a place where their minds are calm. The rest of the journey is up to them, and I don’t talk about it. I leave the spiritual aspects of yoga up to the individual students, and if their search leads to the spiritual then it does, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. It’s an individual inward journey to the authentic self.
My yoga background includes many styles, but I am primarily Iyengar trained. My classes are Iyengar inspired Hatha and Vinyasa yoga. I spent one month at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, India studying directly with the Iyengar family.
You were 60 years old when you made this change? Tell us about that a bit more.
I just happened to be over 60 when I opened the Ubud Yoga House. I am very fortunate to be in good health. I have a positive attitude and have always gone for and achieved what I want. When I wanted to travel around the world, I packed my backpack and took off for two years by myself. When I wanted to live in Paris, I packed my suitcase and went. I didn’t speak French, I didn’t have a work permit and had about $4,000 in cash. When I wanted to continue, I found a way to do it and earn a living at the same time and I got to explore countries all over the world.
Does your business support any charities – do you give back to the community in Bali?
Yes, the Ubud Yoga House supports the John Fawcett Foundation, which provides free eye care and surgery to poor Indonesians. I had a problem with my eyes in 2009 and experience first-hand what it is like to have vision problems. I had blurred vision for over a year. I vowed to help people with vision problems, and when I opened the Ubud Yoga House, I looked for a foundation to support and found the John Fawcett Foundation. We sponsor a mobile eye unit once a year.
What about your personal life?
I do not have a partner. I started the business alone and kept company with an inspirational book, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” by Susan Jeffers. This book was always close to my side! I learned not to let fear dictate my life. Overcoming fear was my biggest obstacle, and it was through the practice of mindfulness meditation that I was able to overcome it. I now teach a mindfulness meditation course at the Ubud Yoga House.
What are the most extreme yoga classes you have heard of?
The wackiest yoga I have heard about is nude yoga and marijuana yoga retreats in the US.
What trends have you seen in yoga over the years?
The yoga scene is Ubud is big. Many people come to yoga because it is the “in” thing to do. They get all the cool clothes and try to look like a yogi. That’s OK, because if they keep doing yoga, yoga works. Their mind will calm down, and the inward journey will begin. That’s the real work of yoga whether you’re wearing Lululemon or sweat pants. Yoga is yoga.
Your Yoga studio is right in the middle of the rice fields, how is life there?
I love living in the rice fields and watching the cycles of nature. My house sits alone in the middle of the rice fields. Every day I have contact with the birds, monitor lizards, geckos, snakes, frogs, cats, dogs, chickens and rice field ducks. On my property, I have mango trees, papaya trees, coconut trees, tropical flowers, a lotus pond, orchids and a tropical garden. The rice cycle is fascinating with the various stages of planting, harvesting, threshing and watching all the ceremonies that take place around rice field. I love it when the ducks come.
Yoga Teacher and Owner
The Ubud Yoga House
Classes: 3 x daily classes Monday to Friday | 1 x week Mindfulness Meditation
This interview was conducted by Stephanie Brookes, author of “Indonesia’s Hidden Heritage – Cultural Journeys of Discovery”. Stephanie is a travel writer and her work is published monthly in journals, in-flight magazines and lifestyle magazines.
Linking up with Kylie Purtell for #IBOT