Grab a cup of tea and be inspired Sharee’s philosophies and the journey she has taken to feed her soul and live a life of wellbeing and wanderlust.
Where did your passion for wellbeing begin?
I remember as a child I began to become interested in both spiritual and wellness subjects. A friend of my mother’s was diagnosed with cancer when I was about 11, and was given a very short prognosis of 3 months to live. She started working with a naturopath doing fasting and various therapies and she completely healed! That amazed me and inspired me to want to become a naturopath. Around the same time I read Jonathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay and started to become fascinated by the power of our thoughts and I soon began devouring books on all sorts of subjects from meditation, to energy healing to past life regression and nutrition. And I am still a book junkie to this day!
How did you get into naturopathy, yoga, meditation and massage?
My passion for healing continued through my adolescence and I learned Reiki when I was 16 and studied naturopathy as soon as I left school, as well as pranic healing through initiates of Master Choa Kok Sui from the Philippines. I was always dabbling in yoga and meditation for years, and travelled to India several times, but it wasn’t until recent years that I got a lot more serious about my practice and studied to become a teacher in India. Since then I have been teaching on my retreats in Nepal and at a local yoga studio.
What was the first retreat you ever went to?
When I was studying naturopathy, my college would organise an annual “camp” which was more like a retreat. It was fantastic, we would all go out into the bush for a few days and do yoga and sweat lodges and there would be guest teachers that would run workshops and seminars on all sorts of subjects from Ayurveda to Gaia Theory to Bush Flower Essences and Indigenous Medicine. We would give each other massages and play music around the fire at night. It was so much fun but at that time I never imagined that I would be running retreats of my own!
At what point did you decide you were going to run your own healing and yoga retreats? Was there an ‘aha’ moment?
There was definitely an ‘aha’ moment and it came to me on top of a mountain! I know how ridiculously cliché’ that sounds, but it is actually true. I was in the sublime, Himalayan region of Sikkim, a Buddhist state in India. I had been travelling solo around the world for almost 3 years. I was a trained naturopath and 27 at the time and beginning to feel a generalised societal pressure to “settle down”, “get serious” and “carve out a career”.
Before I started travelling I had always wanted to set up my own multi-modality healing clinic. The trouble was, I had fallen CRAZY, head over heels, in-love with travelling. Especially in India and Nepal.
One day in Sikkim I am perched on top of a mountain gazing at villages blanketed in clouds in the valleys below. I felt sadness that I had to leave soon and return to ‘the real world’. Dipak, my Nepalese friend and tour guide was sitting next to me, we had travelled overland from Nepal into Darjeeling, India and then into Sikkim together and had become firm friends along the way. At the time Nepal had only recently emerged from a civil war and was excruciatingly poor due to a major lack of tourism, and I felt really sorry for my friend having to stay behind and try to eke out a meagre living.
He asked if I could send people from my home country to Nepal and recommend him as a guide. I said I would, but inwardly I felt disheartened as I thought of people back home and how they would love Nepal but wouldn’t find it an easy place to travel in.
I knew Nepal had so much to offer: the beauty of the Himalayas, the rich Buddhist and Hindu spiritual heritage, friendly, gentle people and age-old healing traditions from Tibet and India. But it wasn’t the most organised of places and unless you were an intrepid backpacker with months to spare to find all of these hidden gems, it could end up an uncomfortable and fruitless visit.
And then it just came to me. What if people could travel to Nepal in comfort and ease but still have a truly authentic experience? What if people could travel to Nepal and experience the spiritual and healing traditions instead of the usual treks, safaris and white-water rafting? What if people could travel with both Western and Nepalese guides with experience and knowledge of the area?
In a flash it came to me accompanied by the deep inner knowing you get when you know your soul is speaking to you. I knew I had to create an incredible Nepal experience that took people on a spiritual journey. I explained the idea to Dipak, and while he agreed it was unconventional for Nepal given the nature of most tour packages, he conceded that it was a good idea and that some people would want this kind of experience. The idea was born, and though I experienced a lot of self-doubt, I followed through on it and Ashima Journeys became a reality.
What was the process you had to go through and people who you sought help from to bring your first healing and yoga retreat to life?
After the mountain epiphany the real work began. Dipak and I went back to Nepal to start months of research looking at everything from the legalities to finding the right accommodation and teachers. It was a project of passion and a big leap of faith, as we actually had no capital to start the business at all! I was fortunate that on my way home to Australia I met up with an old German friend in Thailand who was quite business savvy. I half expected him to laugh at my idea, and tell me all the reasons it wouldn’t work, but he actually thought it was a good idea and offered to build me a simple website for free. And if it wasn’t for his generosity as well as him constantly holding me accountable once I got home I may have been overcome by fear and self-doubt and just given-up.
I will never forget the day a few months later after the site was up. I got my first inquiry from an ad in a spiritual newspaper. Although the lady didn’t end up booking, it gave the confirmation I needed that at least someone out there liked the idea! And when my first two clients booked in soon after, I was elated with joy! I had officially started a business, doing something I was truly passionate about.
In October 2010 Dipak and I ran our first retreat with just 6 people. While it was amazing, it was certainly a baptism of fire. All the things that could have gone wrong, went wrong. Air India lost one of our guests luggage. Another guest got food poisoning and had to be taken to the doctor. We accidentally planned the first day of our retreat on the biggest festival day in Nepal and at the last minute our drivers and guides decided to pull out to attend celebrations. (We luckily found Buddhist staff at the last minute who weren’t celebrating the Hindu festival). It was challenging and it stretched us beyond our previous capabilities. But we rose to the challenge. Despite all the hiccups, our guests LOVED it. They shared with us that it was one of the most extraordinary experiences of their lives They asked me to design new tours in Peru and India. They sent me rave reviews and testimonials and to this day we are all still good friends. And now that we are so much more experienced the retreats run without a hitch and we take groups of up to 16 people.
How often do you run the Ashima Journeys retreats now?
The Nepal retreat takes place just once a year so I still live in Australia and just go over to Nepal for the retreat, but I also promote and take bookings for an incredible Peru meditation retreat that takes place each month that is run by a another German friend who is a highly skilled Hrdaya yoga and meditation teacher.
I don’t yet work on the business full time, but I plan to next year because I have so many ideas for new retreats as well as some online courses and wellness coaching that I would like to set up.
Tell us about your healing and yoga retreats in Nepal, via Ashima Journeys.
We have a varied demographic of men and women of all ages and walks of life who come on the retreat. However, the majority of our guests are women aged between 35 and 60 who lead busy lives and want to take some time out to get re-centred and to reconnect with their inner selves, they usually already have quite an interest in Buddhism, spirituality or yoga and like to connect with like-minded souls, as well as have an amazing travel experience.
Each year gets better and better and the new improved itinerary for 2015 is going to be our best year yet. This year we are taking guests to the beautiful lakeside mountain town of Pokhara and have factored in a lot more time for rest and relaxation. We have upgraded our accommodation so that the ambience of the surroundings truly adds to whole experience, and chosen resorts with in-house Ayurvedic spas so that participants can indulge in pampering and healing treatments whenever they feel like it.
The food is healthy, delicious and abundant! We dine buffet or banquet style for most meals and the food is predominantly vegetarian with some fish and chicken options. During the Pokhara part of the retreat the meals are prepared according to Ayurvedic principles (India’s ancient healing system) and so are balanced and filling without making you feel heavy. The resort grows it’s own fruit and vegetables and has free range chickens and locally sourced fish. Many of the meals are Nepalese style(lightly spiced curries and rice, similar to Indian cuisine but not as creamy or hot). We always have a few non-spicy dishes on the buffet for people who do not like spices.
We have designed the whole program so that is a very clear spiritual journey with workshops on Eastern philosophy, Tibetan sound healing, journaling exercises and meditation lessons. We practice daily yoga, with an emphasis on restorative, yin and gentle flow sequences. It is my aim to give participants tangible spiritual tools that they can take home and implement into their own lives.
With my passion for travel, there is no way I wanted us to be cooped up at a retreat centre, so we do a lot of sight-seeing and exploring, visiting temples and Buddhist monasteries, hiking in nature, visiting a local school and the Tibetan Refugee handicraft market as well as experiencing an incredible Himalayan sunrise on top of Sarangkot mountain.
Who inspires you and why?
I am inspired by many of the authors of my favourite books, such as:
Eckahart Tolle – Author of The Power of Now and A New Earth. In 2011 Watkins Review named him the most spiritually influential person in the world
Sri Ramana Maharshi – Indian Guru and Spiritual Guide to recommend self-enquiry as the principal way to awaken and to realise the Self and attain liberation.
B.K.S Iyengar – Founder of the style of yoga known as “Iyengar Yoga”. Considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world, and he was the author of many books on yoga practice and philosophy including Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and Light on Life.
David Deida – Spiritual Teacher and Author who writes about the sexual and spiritual relationship between men and women.
Yogani – American Spiritual Scientist
In “real life”, I am inspired by one of my best friends, Sally Sims. Sally is a holistic counsellor and actually assists me on the retreats in Nepal, and she has this natural but incredibly beautiful ability to really appreciate the fullness of each moment. I always feel inspired after hanging out with her!
What naturopathic principals do you live by in your everyday life?
I live a balanced lifestyle and eat a very nutritious diet. I am a big fan of cultivating proper self-care habits. For an hour before bed I like to:
- Stay away from electronic devices (except for my ipod playing relaxing music!)
- Burning essential oils
- Meditating or
- Read in bed.
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What about your own yoga practice?
Although yoga in the West has primarily become a physical practice, in the East, there is much more of an emphasis on meditation, and I focus most of my practice on meditation and pranayama.
I do a spinal breathing exercise and internal mantra meditation for 25 minutes at least once a day, and usually twice. I have a room set up at home with where I practice, but really it can be done anywhere.
I practice asana about 5 times a week, if I am practicing at home I like to work on specific poses or do a Yang/Yin style session, starting with some vinyasa and ashtanga poses for the first half and then deep, long-hold poses for the second half.
At the studio where I work, teachers can attend any classes for free, so I also like to do some vinyasa flow classes there, it is always important to keep learning from others.
What’s your favourite yoga pose and why?
That’s a tough question, probably savasana! We don’t lie down and relax enough in our culture so savasana always feels so nice. I also love deep hip-openers, so I relish pigeon pose too.
How do you prepare for and practice meditation in your own life, so that it’s sustainable and nourishing?
Since practicing meditation regularly, I feel ‘off’ if I ever miss a day, so I am naturally motivated to practice each day.
It took me a while to build it up to twice a day regularly, and that takes more willpower, because the mind loves to tell you how busy you are! But once you really start to feel the benefits it becomes effortless, and teaching meditation and reading books on the subject also keep me inspired, and inspiration is the key for setting up any new habit I believe.
Share with us, a ‘day in the life’ of Sharee James.
- 6.30am or 7am – I usually wake up and have a glass of water and then do my meditation and asana practice.
- 9am – 6pm – I start my work tasks. Even though the retreat is just once a year, there is promotional and admin work to be done all year, so I am often at the computer. I am fortunate to live very close to the beach, so I take a walk outside most days, or I may take a yoga class at the studio.
- 6pm – Once my partner gets home in the evening we relax and have dinner together, or maybe have friends over.
- 9 or 9.30pm – I like to be in bed or at least have my hour of chill-out time, and meditate again, or read.
What’s a ‘day on the plate’ of Sharee James?
I like to follow what I call a “Common-Sense” diet: mostly plants, anti-inflammatory (gluten-free, low to no dairy, high omega 3, low glycaemic index, no trans fats), and high raw, with adequate protein.
- Breakfast is usually a green smoothie with raw rice protein and homemade nut milk and I throw all my supplements in it (at the moment I am taking zinc, vitamin d, probiotics, iodine, selenium, magnesium and glutamine).
- Mid-morning I usually have chopped raw veggies, or sometimes a chia pudding.
- Lunch is usually a big salad with a little of some kind of carbohydrate like sweet potato, buckwheat or brown rice.
- Dinner is usually salad or veggies with some kind of good quality protein such as quinoa, lentils, mung beans, eggs or fish. If I am hankering for something sweet afterwards, I sometimes make my own chocolate with nut butter, cacao and rice malt-syrup!