It is Joy Love Serenity Community Balance and Freedom! Lots more and you will find yours too. Bring in positive energy and you will be rewarded with an awesome safe and loving space! Has been a real epic personal growth I loved everything from friends, food, yoga, kirtan!!! service and all the dynamic facets of a public retreat.
If you feel that life is getting rather monotonous and are in search of a change of scene or climate, remember that with
over 50,000 Workaway hosts in 170 countries there are endless options out there to inspire your travel plans once the restrictions are lifted, or even within your own country in the meantime. Every month with the “
Workaway Host of the Month” blog we select outstanding projects with glowing feedback to whet your appetites!
This month we have chosen an inspirational not-for-profit organisation in a valley surrounded by forest, but just an hour’s train ride from Sydney, Australia. This yoga retreat centre in Otford is a haven for those wanting to totally immerse themselves in the discipline of bhakti yoga and healthy living, as well as becoming part of a community devoted to serving and supporting one another. After the challenges of 2020, perhaps it’s time to take stock of who you are and where you are heading. It certainly sounds like a great antidote to modern living and Covid pandemic stress. Today we have the pleasure of meeting Indu, who runs the volunteer programme there:
Hello there Indu, and congratulations on becoming host of the month!
Thank you Workaway, it’s awesome to have been chosen. Over the years Workawayers have become very good friends to us. Since its creation about 16 years ago the community has consisted of volunteers, it’s part of the spirit of how we operate here.
In so many ways the philosophy of Workaway is the perfect match for our own.
That's good to know. And what about you, Indu, would you mind telling us a little about yourself and how you found yourself in Otford?
Well, I am originally from Bosnia, but when it was time to make important life decisions, I was sure that I didn’t want to go straight into a normal working life.
I felt that I needed to get away and discover alternative ways of living, based on yogic principles… and to be part of a community somewhere.
I practiced bhakti yoga and I had heard about this centre from friends, so 6 years ago I decided to come here. I never imagined that I would arrive…and then stay here for so long! It is so far from Bosnia, but it has become my new home. It is also true that many people stay here long term, but leave once they feel ready for the next step in their life. However, in my case, I met my partner here, we celebrated our wedding at the centre and decided to stay on here and build our tiny home. Perhaps have kids here too…
So the centre certainly worked its magic for you both! What was the inspiration for creating this community in the first place?
It was set up according to the yogic principles, Ancient Vedic philosophy and practices like karma, jnana and bhakti yoga. However, in order to appeal to Western people, it also aims to be neutral rather than dogmatic in its approach. Basically,
it provides the opportunity for spiritual seekers to learn, heal and grow.
We are all yogis and can connect with that inner wisdom and true self. Yoga is so much more than a discipline,
it is a way to discover who you really are and
what your purpose is in this life, to express it, share it and support others in their paths too.
It was designed to be run by and for a community of volunteers, supported and maintained by funds generated from paying guests.
I’m glad it has become such a success. Could you tell us a little more about the Valley and surrounding area?
The valley covers 20 acres and we have a main building as well as two houses. In the past the land was used for dairy farming, but also bought by the Methodist church for community and charitable projects. At different points over time it has been a refuge, especially to women and children. At one time there was a local shelter run for aboriginals as well as a school for Aboriginal children in the village. There is
a positive and nurturing feel
about the place. The valley is surrounded by trees and, when I first arrived, I was curious to know where the coast was, as I couldn’t see it, but knew that it was close by. You just need to go up to the top of the hill, a 15-minute walk and you see the coast below, about 30 minutes away. In fact, there are plenty of hikes to go on as we are surrounded by natural parkland and have two waterfalls close-by. There is also a Hindu temple just a 10-minute drive away.
So, what kind of volunteer are you looking for and how do you decide who would best be suited to help out?
Yogis! People enthusiastic about yoga, meditation, plant-based food and leading a healthy lifestyle. This could be combined with specific interests in gardening, connecting with nature or complementary therapies such as sound healing, Ayurveda, kirtans and Yoga Nidra or deep meditation.
We receive a lot of interest and sometimes it is hard to decide, as I don’t want to say “no” to anyone and deny them of the opportunity. However, things usually work out for those who genuinely want to be here. At a meeting the other day we were discussing what it was that we looked for in a volunteer and
we decided thatit was the willingness to be of service and to turn their hand to whatever is needed
, whether that be in the kitchen, in the garden or helping with maintenance.
You ask for volunteers to commit to a minimum stay of a month. Can you explain why this is important?
The first week is all about settling in, the second week is about figuring out how everything works and by the time a month is up the person is usually completely at ease and at home. From that point they can begin to go deeper into their transformation, if they can stay for 3 months it is better…and 6 months even more so!
People can progress very quickly here and the sense of achievement they feel as a result is truly wonderful to witness! Many are able to
leave with a skill to take with them and use in the future.
I see a person from the time of their arrival until the moment they leave us and the difference in them is incredible.
Transformation definitely happens!
Transforming into the person you want to be, sounds great! As for the day-to-day routine, what does a typical day look like?
Well, it depends a great deal on what your assigned role is.
Personally I like to get up early, around 5 o’clock, as I can feel my energy rises as the sun does.
At 6:30 there is a yoga session, followed by breakfast from 8-9. The daily programme of activities/classes/workshops is accessible to both volunteers and guests. For most people their downtime -- to go for a walk or take part in a relaxing yoga respiratory class -- is from 4 o’clock onwards.
Twice a week we have meet-ups, and events such as sharing moon circles, volleyball games, a bonfire or movie night.
By 9:00 it is time for quiet and rest!
Sounds like a full day, and that you keep your activity according to the daylight hours, like our ancestors would have done.
Some people would find this a difficult regime to keep to. What do you consider to be the advantages of living in this way?
It’s normal at first to see our life here as having to abide by certain “rules”, I say “rules” as that is how they can appear at first. However, when you realise that by living in this way, in an environment free of alcohol, drugs, meat and smoke and other toxins,
you have the opportunity to experience and discover more about yourself
. We are conscious of the fact that our world can be a very harmful place, we regularly come across judgemental, critical and aggressive behaviour at work, at university and sometimes at home too.
By creating this safe space within a loving and supportive community people can really heal and grow.
What is the most satisfying aspect for you as a host in this exchange?
As there are so many of us, each with our own skills and qualities, when we come together we are able to make a transformation. This process happens every single day and it is very empowering to be a part of.
Although it makes it harder for people to leave when the time comes, it also makes people aware of how much can be done by
connecting with like-minded individuals once they return to life in the outside world again.
This is my spiritual home! It has changed my life and I feel so grateful for having experienced that...I stayed for 6 months with my family and feel connected with the people and the land so deeply that my heart is full of joy everytime I think about it.
Do the residents remain in the Valley for the duration of their stay or are they able to explore the area?
Are volunteering couples admitted or is it necessary to live in separate accommodation?
Initially the idea was to keep men and women in separate accommodation, to provide an “ashram” or shelter which feels safe, neutral and enable each person to focus upon spirituality. Sexual relationships can be distracting! But, it is down to each individual couple, as they can stay in their own tent or camper if they wish.
It’s interesting that although both men and women are welcomed equally here, the village seems to attract many more women than men. Perhaps women are more aware of their need to go on this kind of spiritual journey.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the running of the centre and your ability to find volunteers?
When the first lockdown came last year there was a volunteer community of around 30 people living here. Although we were closed to guests, we were able to transform our 2-3 months of lockdown together into a really memorable and beautiful period.
January was a difficult month as it was so difficult to find the help we needed. The country’s borders were closed, but we managed to get the word out and have had many more Australian workawayers and other volunteers from around the area recently.
Yes, I imagine that many would-be travellers are now taking a fresh look at their own countries to see what the possibilities are. I suppose it’s not a bad thing to discover more about your own culture and country anyway!
Yes, and now the borders between states have opened it has made the situation easier.
We are open for guests again, with certain safety measures in place, for example instead of singing mantras in a group, we now offer a sound-healing!
I have the feeling that after the difficult year that we have had, people have been prompted to re-evaluate their lives and to ask themselves who they really are and the path they want to take. I imagine the retreat centre will be even more in demand over the coming year.
It’s true, I have seen a huge surge in interest over the past months. Fundamentally we are a family, offering a safe place for those who feel lost or are looking for direction, inspiration and support.
From the feedback that you have received, it seems that you have achieved that many times over! Congratulations and thank you for taking the time to speak to us today…in fact it’s 9 o’clock in Sydney…almost your bedtime!
Great talking to you! That’s right -- it’s lights out and off to sleep for me now!
As we say farewell to Indu, it is easy to imagine how hard it must be for long-term volunteer residents to leave, even though they feel ready to spread their wings. This lovely feedback sums it up perfectly:
It’s hard to find any words to describe the feeling I had these days. I’ve spent lots of time here. It was hard to say goodbye to that magical place with beautiful souls. It has a special meaning, it’s a special place. I learn a lot and sometimes you give me what I was missing in my life. Thank you for trusting and supporting. Little touches in my life means a lot. It bring a lot of light. Thank you for helping me to find mine light back. I have the feeling that I found my wings. I'm ready to fly and follow my way.