The magic of Byron Bay, Australia

So here we are in Byron, the Utopian town on the East coast of Australia, 2 hours south of Brisbane and 8 hours north of Sydney.

I have spent so much time in this town over the last 7 years that it always feels a little like coming home when I visit. Of course things change, but the energy of Byron is always the same offering a variety of vibes depending on your reason for visiting. On the one hand it is a surfing town, on another it is an alternative hippie town, on the other it is a backpacking party town and yet another it is a boutique town attracting the wealthy from the city on a weekend beach break. Byron is a reminder that we create our reality depending on perspective and attitude.

For me it has always been about the Yoga. This is where I was truly inspired on my Yoga journey, a year into my practice when I sold my house and left my full time job and on a whim decided I needed to spend a few months in Byron. I am still not sure what motivated me to come all the way out here. Admittedly I had visited about 5 years previously with a friend on a holiday to Australia, and actually that had been a bit of a whim trip too.

Still I found myself here in 2004 and just fell in love with the alternative nature of the place. Everything was new to me back then and I loved the opportunity to attend classes with experienced teachers who taught this dynamic form of Hatha Yoga. Then there was the whole hippie, alternative, healing scene, what with so much Yoga and healing therapies and the markets and that back to nature, organic vegetarian vibe. For me it was heaven. I indulged from 2 to 6 hours a day and met many teachers and made new friends and contacts.

As tends to happen, at the end of that 3 month trip, plans came together so that I ended up returning to Byron 9 months later, in September 2005 to undertake my Yoga teacher training course with the inspiring Lance Schuler of Inspya Yoga whose classes I had attended regularly during my time in Byron. Now I think back it was all a little crazy, I was only 2 years into my practice so it was a huge learning curve for me. Still I loved every minute of it, even if was completely full on, 6.5 weeks of early mornings and late evenings, lots and lots of dynamic Yoga so that by the end of it I was a little too Yang.

I hung around Byron for a few more months, my brother and our surrogate little sister Claire, came out to stay and we shared a room together in a hostel down at Belongil on the beach. In fact Ross and I worked at the hostel too, I cleaned and he drove the minibus and worked in the laundry room. It was fun, we had a hostel community going on and a soft pace to life. I spent most of my free time at Yoga undertaking an apprenticeship of sorts with John Olgivie, who has been another truly inspiring teacher for me on that first Yoga trip to the town - another "coincidental" meeting, and many connections since then . I was in Byron for 5 months in the end and my practice on and off the mat developed considerably during that time.

All good things must come to an end and I left Byron to return to Guernsey and set up Beinspired, to share the teachings, knowledge and experience I had gained. I returned to Byron the year later, in 2007, as my brother was still living here, having completed a Yoga teacher training course with John. I spent 6 weeks in Byron that time, attending classes with John and even joined him down at Govinda Valley, a spiritual retreat centre near Sydney and helped on one of his residential teacher training courses. Here I was introduced to the world of the Hare Krishna and developed an interest in their cooking and loving attitude towards food.

I returned again 3 years ago while travelling around the world, and I stopped in for 3 weeks with my friend Hayley, to visit my brother and enjoy the Byron vibe. It was different that time though, life had moved on and I was visiting for such a short time and was going through my own crisis of spirit. John and Lance were overseas so I missed the opportunity to train with them but it did allow me the opportunity to indulge in the teachings of others instead. Plus the weather was pants and the weather is rarely pants in Byron!!

Anyhow here we are back again and this time with E and my folks. It is quite funny really because when Ross and I were living here we would talk about Mum and Dad visiting. They had never really understood the reason we kept returning to Byron and why we couldn't just do our teach trainings in the UK. I guess we always wanted them to come and experience it for themselves, to gain an insight into the reason we love this town, Ross for the surf and me for the Yoga. We would also walk from the hostel to town and dream of staying in one of the beach-side apartments, which were always well out of our price range.

So here we are now, the folks experiencing Byron and indeed Australia for the first time, and us staying in this wonderful villa a mere 2 minute walk from Belongil Beach where we have spent so much time in the past. Bliss! Still town has changed a little with new shops and others closing, but on the whole it is still good old Byron, maybe not quite so many people in town as it is their Autumn here and I am used to spending the summer months in town, and maybe there are not quite so many backpackers, which is hardly surprising as it is so expensive here now, well for us Brits in any case.

So we met Ross in Brisbane in the pouring rain and he drove us down to Byron also in the pouring rain - nothing like a cleansing arrival huh - and we were greeted by my Mum and my new niece, Willow. She is so cute, looks so much like my brother and has a wonderful temperament, although like all babies she can be quite demanding when she wants feeding!

So we settled in rather quickly. In fact we had only been in Byron about 30 minutes when we went for our first swim in the sea. Ah how wonderful, after months of the freezing cold sea at home, it was so refreshing, and indeed uplifting to go into the sea here instead, so warm in comparison! Plus of course the beach at Belongil is just stunning with views of the lighthouse and the hills in the background and the bright sands and clear sea.

Ah how I love the beach over here but gosh, you can only lie on the sand so long in the bright sunshine before your skin starts to burn, regardless of sunblock. Still there has been much more for us to do than simply sunbathe, in fact E and I have been action packed since we have been here, oh so difficult to learn the act of relaxation!

The first morning dawned sunny and bright and I took E along to the Byron Yoga Centre, which has moved since I was last staying here and is now in the centre of town. John is not in the town so we just chanced on an "elements" session with a lady called Ella. It was perfect for what we needed, nice and slow to slow us down to Byron pace. In fact the classes I attended those first few days made me realise how quickly my mind has been working recently as I struggled to get into the slower pace of the classes out here - just as demanding as going quickly, in fact more so perhaps as we were holding poses for longer. It was an interesting awareness, often the case after rushing around in life back home to be in a position to get away!

One day we walked up to the lighthouse, a good 1.5 hour walk from where we are staying and affording wonderful views of Byron and the hinterland in the distance, plus of course Tallows the other side. One of the conservation ladies who works at the lighthouse was peering through some binoculars and had us all staring too as she had spotted whales out to sea. Quite amazing really, they are having strange weather and sea temperatures in Byron too this year and it is apparently very early to see whales at Byron. E and I have been up again since keen to see more of the whales, but no luck yet!

We have cycled around town a number of times, been swimming in the sea at least twice a day and in the 50m open pool too, been surfing a few times which was really rather funny as the currents are so strong here at Belongil and within twenty minutes E and I had drifted a good 70 metres down the beach, and we only managed to catch a few waves in each session, pitiful really! We have walked and walked and even been running, no mean feat in this humidity.

One day Ross drove us out to Protester falls in the rainforest. It was quite a windy journey to get there, right into the gloriously luch rainforest and then a walk through the trees, E looking out for tiny frogs and snakes, but thankfully no such luck on either account! We ended up at the bottom of the waterfall, really rather impressive that someone found it in the first place as the bush is so dense with all those wonderful tropical trees, I only wish we had been able to swim in the pool beneath the waterfall itself, although I am ever so slightly jumpy about the potential for leeches.

In fact it is really rather funny, here I am totally fearful of leeches, and here I am the only one amongst us who ended up getting sucked by a few leeches. Oh my gosh I lea pt out of my skin and made quite a scene when I realised I had one hanging off the back of my calf while we were at the waterfall. Horrible things, the blood was dripping for quite some time after that. And then back at the car I realised I had another one on my leg a nd one on my hand. Ahhhh! It did make me laugh though - yet another reminder that the more we fear something, the more it will appear in our lives...and so now I am trying to be more welcoming of leeches so they leave me alone!!

We drove up to Nimbin too. Most people who visit Byron end up at Nimbin. It is the "drug" town of the hinterland, much cleaner now than it was in the past, but still a sure place to score your weed for that chilled out Byron experience! Dad got asked if he wanted to buy any, a first for him, E got asked too, so I guess they target the men. It is a funny place up in Nimbin, a really strange energy, not quite as dead as it used to be when you would see long haired and drugged up parents dragging their unkempt children around town. Now the place is full of backpackers on a day trip out. We ate some food and looked in a few of the hippie shop before heading back to Byron and taking in more views of the hinterland.

E and I took the folks up to Lennox Head one afternoon. This is rumoured to offer one of the top ten surfing spots in the world although every time I visit, there has been barely any surf. What it does have, however, is the Tea Tree Lake. This is a lake surrounded by tea trees, so that their oil seeps into the lake and makes the water look like it has been soaked in a tea bag. It is an amazing place, great for swimming as the oils nourish the skin and it feels like you are swimming through silk.

On Sunday we all went up to the market in Bangalow that week. I love the market. It has grown in size since I was last here, more like Guernsey actually with local artists and jewellery makers selling their wares, together with a plethora of clothing stalls and food stalls and all sorts of bits and bobs like crystals and fairy stuff as well as the opportunity for massages and tarot card readings, as you can imagine I love it all, especially the falafel staff for lunch and then the chai tent for afternoon tea where you can sit and drink the wonderful Byron chai while listening to people drumming. A perfect Sunday afternoon.

Other times E and I went out on our own. We visited the local town of Mullum, rumoured to be like Byron was 20 years ago, sleepy and grungy. We went for chai and coffee in Bangalow and looked around the trinket and earthy shops, which I love. We drove out to Brunswick Heads and sat in the shade reading our books and enjoying the peace and quiet of another sleepy town this time on the beach. We drove into the hinterland and out to Minyon Falls.

This really is an incredible waterfall, you drive to the top and can walk out and stand on a viewing platform right next to the falls itself and look over the edge at all the tree tops below, quite an incredible drop at 100 metres and makes me feel a little uncomfortable somehow, fear of falling and fear of doing something really irrational like throwing yourself over the rails. Strange!

Of course the highlight for me has been going to Yoga classes daily. Fortunately, too, Lance has been in town this last week, quite coincidental, a true blessing for me, 7-9am 3 days a week (most of the classes are 2 hours long out here). The first class I took E and Mum along with me. Lance has this wonderful shala on his land in the bush out towards Broken Head, a 10 minute drive south from where we are staying. He is up on a hill and is surrounded by the lovely rainforest. His shala is fantastic as the side doors open so that you can see the sun rising in the East.

That first class was packed, 25 us of squeezed into the Shala, and it was a strong class, as it always is with Lance, very present moment, dynamic, no time to think about anything else apart from your positioning on the mat and your breathe, everything else melts away, it is an incredible feeling. He took a liking to E and singled him out a few times, not great for E but entertaining for the rest of us. Mum thoroughly enjoyed the class, the dynamism of the class and also Lance's humour. She could finally understand the reason I traipsed half way around the world to train with him.

A few of the students on my teacher training course who are local to Byron were at the class and it was lovely to see them, so too my philosophy teacher, Phil, who hasn't changed a bit. Lance and Phil both teach together now on the teacher training programmes and also retreats around the world. It has been my ultimate dream for some time to eventually live like this too, I can't think of anything better than travelling to do the thing you love in the most amazing places in the world, all that natural energy and surrounding yourself with like minded souls and a peaceful energy, sharing your passion of Yoga and teaching others from your own experience. Utter bliss.

It reminds me of this fantastic quote I read yesterday, which went something like this - "Success does not create happiness. Happiness creates success. Do the thing that makes you happy and success will follow"....or something like that!

I have been to class twice more this week, really good to be taught by someone who is so knowledgeable and experienced, I have learnt loads, not only about my own body with its imbalances and restrictions, but also about how to teach the subtleties of various poses in a way I have not felt nor considered, or been aware therefore, previously. This is what I love about Yoga, it opens the mind to a different way of thinking, makes us awake and alive, conscious, in the moment, light and full of joy in our hearts.

Mum joined me for class this morning and we started with Bhajans, Phil leading as he played the guitar and we chanted the Gayantri Mantra together, the most ancient and indeed popular mantra chanted in India by millions of people every day. It is an incredible mantra that we used to chant together every morning on my teacher training course - essentially means from the dark comes light, illuminate our mind and hearts.

We joined Ross, Star and Willow out at Brunswick Heads, a wonderful little town with a lovely sheltered beach and lots of shade. Out beyond the pier there was some incredibly steep surf so we stood at the end and watched for a while and even saw dolphins swimming in the surf. Heavenly! Not so the sunburn from sitting on the beach, the sun is fierce out here!

We have eaten some yummy food, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and I love the fact that it is quite normal to be vegetarian here, although we do all eat fish and we have managed to sample some wonderful fresh fish. We had fish and chips on the beach the other day, but it was grilled fish and accompanied with a salad so nice and light, under the stars and with the moon in the distance. We have eaten at a new Hare Krishna eatery, another veggie meal, and meals at home with the family and Ross cooked for us one night too, lots of tofu, macadamia nuts, washed down with lovely Bundaberg ginger beer.

So we are off this afternoon to seek some shade, maybe a little more op shopping and just enjoying being away.

With gratitude.

Ross DespresComment