April 30, 2012

What I Learned on the Yellow Brick Road to Bali & Back. ~ Chaz Russ

Thank you, Bali.

Running 17,246 miles away (round trip) helped me find what I could have found in my own heart’s backyard.

As a teacher of yoga, I believe it is necessary to be as honest and authentic as possible. Pain, confusion, surrender, growth, joy and love are all universal experiences. What I suffer through and dance with, so do my students. Consequently, I tend to be quite “sharey” with my internal process, and reveal some intimate details about my life.

I’ve found this to be really helpful in washing away secrets and shame, breaking down barriers built against living our best lives and to tending to the gardens of evolution. We all feel less alone when we give our experience a name and share it with open-hearted people on the same path.

About two weeks ago, I started to share more of my personal experience.  I talked about my need to transition from “running away” to “running toward” things. Disillusioned and dimmed of my light, I felt spiritually bankrupt. The yoga and spiritual community in LA wasn’t even coming close to satiating my spiritual appetite. No mala bead necklace, mantra, “hari bol!,” yoga class, kirtan, New Age mega church, yoga festival, or photo taken with a famous “speerchal” person made me feel more connected to that deep sacred space within.

My feet were tired and claves throbbing, from running. Spiritual shin splints had set in. I knew I needed to rekindle my spiritual fire. But how?

Bali! Or, so I thought.

When confused or afraid, I often call in the troops. I talked to family and friends. I meditated. I consulted with my magi astrologer, Magi Helena (she’s been right every..single..time..) and my friend and psychic, Alice Runyon (She’ll change your life. No joke.) They both gave me the green light and told me I needed to do this.

For years, I’ve wanted to visit Bali. After all, Bali is the love in Elizabeth Gilbert’s acclaimed “Eat, Pray, Love.” Seeking and finding symbolism can often blaze the trail. Elizabeth was 32 when she embarked on her journey; call it a strange coincidence, but I am 32. A woman that takes my morning flow class at the YogaWorks in Tarzana is Elizabeth’s publicist; in what felt like a rite of passage, she loaned me a signed copy of Committed (Eat, Pray, Love’s follow-up.)

All arrows pointed due Indonesian. Its lush green fields beckoned in my mind’s periphery. The soft moss growing on stone spoke to my heart. So, when given an opportunity to go, I grabbed it.

All too often we find ourselves running away from things, experiences and people that scare us. Strangely enough, Bali scared me. I still believe that in order to grow and evolve, we need to stop the running away; instead, sometimes we need to run toward the things that represent what we’ve needed: joy, adventure, love.

So, for 23 traveling hours, I ran toward Bali.

I ran toward the joy I thought I’d find there, the myth, the fantasy, and the business opportunity. I ran toward the sacred. If I couldn’t rekindle in Bali, where the hell else could a girl find her spiritual spark?!

No words could ever describe Bali. Breathtaking. Literally. The beauty. The diesel fumes. The heat. The humidity. The sweet friendships formed with amazing people. The morning Ashtanga above rice fields. The black magic. The incense. The richness in its ritual and religion. The roosters, ceremonial cymbals, prayer call, barking Balinese dogs.

After five days there, I felt like I got out of my trip what I originally intended, and I don’t mean sunburn, “Bali belly,” exhaustion, covered in mosquito bites, including five on my ass and literally ants in my pants. Oh, and that gecko that chose to fall on my head while in the shower. Hyperventilating and in dire need of a bag to breathe in, I think he beat me in the “startled” department. I also helped in the opening of a yoga studio there. Radiantly Alive is going to be the biggest and best yoga studio and holistic center on the island. Can’t wait!

The truth is that people in Bali, in the presumed spiritual Mecca of the world, are just as human as our LA brothers and sisters. The even deeper truth is that in my running toward Bali I was running away—maybe from LA, maybe from nonsense, maybe even from myself.

I realized I missed the foods I like eating. I missed not sweating after getting out of the shower. I missed my bed and sleep and my friends and family.

I needed to reignite my relationship with my spirituality and I did just that, but it didn’t require yoga, or chanting, or praying in temples, or a photo opp with the esteemed Keytut, or petting monkeys, or the beach (Balinese beaches are heaven, by the way.) I found Keytut in every smiling Indonesian child. Monkeys bite. The Jew-fro, beach-producing “do” isn’t really a good look for me. Dehydrated from severe stomach issues, my temple was the bathroom floor of my pretty villa. My prayers sounded something like: Dear God, Please let me survive this. I love my life. I really do have lots to do.

Ironically, I had my Elizabeth Gilbert “bathroom floor moment” while in Bali. I realized that my Bali is the joy I receive teaching in the States. It’s the folks that happily and religiously take my yoga classes. My Bali is hanging with my BFF Ellen and going for a jog in the Topangan hills. My Bali is yelling at the TV screen while watching a Lakers game with my mother and brother. It’s fixing my grandmother’s hair and going to the movies and eating popcorn.

My Bali is being stuck in traffic on the 101.

I wasn’t going to stay in Bali simply for the sake of saying I stuck it out in Bali, for the t-shirt, or, for the perceived uphill, self flagellation rituals people think are necessary for spiritual birthing. It took more courage to leave Bali than it would have sticking it out there in the name of “spiritual awakening.”

So, what am I trying to say?

I’ve learned that no amount of distance or running away or traveling to exotic or foreign lands will help heal hurt or feelings of isolation or confusion. No amount of frequent flier miles, accrued jet lag, parasites, or money spent will lessen the blow. I’ve learned I can “do Bali” all by my lonesome in the privacy and comfort of my home in the States.

This all said, I understand that some may need to travel to a Bali in order to find their mojo again. In fact, I needed the amazement of Bali for the very same reason.

My dear friend and professional traveler Georgina (graduate from the very prestigious Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs) wrote me:

“Sometimes we romanticize places that seem so exotic compared to the hum drum of our daily lives, but we forget that there is a comfort and simple joy in buying our latte from the same guy every morning, having good sushi when we want it, and central air conditioning. Maybe what you were supposed to find in Bali was a deeper appreciation for what you already have?”

She is so right.

In part, I had hoped that Bali would help me get over some stuff. It’s done the opposite—it’s made me realize even more what I want, what I need, what I deserve, what has been there all along: Home.

You don’t have to go all the way to Italy for the pasta, or trek to India for prayer (“I pray at red lights,”  says my mom). We don’t need to chase, or run away, or even run toward. There’s no reason to. There’s no reason to ask Glinda the Good Witch for help. We’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas. The drag is that we have to learn this for ourselves.

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” —Dorothy

So, I ask you: What is your Bali?

Perhaps finding it is simply a matter of searching your own backyard. Spare yourself the jet lag.

Read more: The Gift My Father Gave Me.

Chaz Russ: (E-RYT-500, T-500) founder and former owner of Sisters Yoga Fresno, CA, a devoted yoga teacher of 8 years and practitioner for over 18 years, Chaz believes yoga should not be serious, as life is serious enough. Achieving highest honors, Chaz graduated from Rutgers College with a degree in Genetics and Microbiology. While pursuing her PhD in Genetics, Chaz felt a deeper calling. She credits her guru Mike Noury, (Gurmukh) of Yoga of India, for encouraging her to share the gifts of Yoga through yoga teaching. Voted “Best LA Yoga Instructor, 2010” (LA Family Magazine) a lululemon ambassador (Calabasas,) a Yoga Gives Back Ambassador, featured on the Dr. Phil Show and in the film Discover The Gift, (featuring HH Dalai Lama, Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith, Marianne Williamson and others,) Chaz loves teaching, writing and living yoga. Her joyful and vigorous classes are a fountain of fun. Through groovy, eclectic music, creative vinyasa and simple, yet powerful spirituality, Chaz’ classes provide a forum for release and an opportunity for soul transformation and growth in every student. Although she takes a lighter approach, she is serious when it comes to capitalizing on the healing benefits yoga affords. So much of this life and our yoga practice is about raising our consciousness, freeing ourselves from the cages of our egos and feeling our connectedness. Come celebrate yourself with Chaz and open your heart door to the beaming light that is within us all! For more information on Chaz, her classes, yoga studio business consulting or transformational retreats, please visit www.yogawithchaz.com.


Editor:  Tanya L. Markul

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