The first rays of morning sunlight shone through the thin white curtains. It's 5:30 am, and I woke up naturally without an alarm clock. After two years of waking up at sunrise, my body clock knew exactly what to do. I peeped through the bright windows to be greeted by the shimmering blue sea of Baishawan, with gentle waves caressing the sandy shore.
“Yes! A sunny gorgeous day! I can take the guests to do yoga on the beach today," I thought to myself excitedly. Swiftly, I changed into a comfortable outfit to get ready to go downstairs. As the yoga teacher and host at Origin Yoga & Wellness Retreat Center, it is my morning ritual to wake up two hours before our guests, in order to prepare for the day and before teaching the first class at 7:30 am.
I closed the doors of the accommodation area behind me, and quietly tip-toed down four flights of old marble staircase. All around are cracked, exposed walls, chipped paint, and rusted doorways to neglected homes that have been long forgotten by their owners. I‘m living inside an abandoned building complex that was left behind by wealthy owners over forty years ago. The complex consists of more than two hundred units, but only a handful are occupied. It is in this fascinating place that I spent many joyful years of my childhood with my family, before emigrating to Canada.
The stark contrast between the rustic exterior and beautifully renovated interior of our retreat center fascinates all our visitors. Many describe coming to Origin Yoga & Wellness as finding an oasis in the middle of a desert. My father, Zen Master Chang, chose this place to practice meditation and raise his family twenty years ago as he saw the true potential of this home as a hidden gem by the sea. The physical appearance of our home, my father always told us, reflects the sometimes challenging personal journey that one must make to find true happiness within.
Twenty years later, at the very place where my father was inspired to start his lifelong meditation practice, I found my calling to transformed this abandoned childhood home by the beach into Origin Yoga & Wellness, Taipei's first yoga retreat center.
Living by the beach may be many people's dream but it was never mine. Since leaving the small town of Baishawan in elementary school I never looked back.
Despite having wonderful memories growing up by the beach, I was a city girl at heart who enjoyed the finer things in life. I spent the next phase of my life in Toronto, Canada, where I worked hard to get into the best schools, and even harder to get an MBA, plus CPA and CA qualifications. My resume got me a job with a top accounting firm, where I continued to climb the corporate ladder in the hope of becoming a C level executive one day. Despite the excruciating long hours demanded in the finance industry, I enjoyed the sense of success. The ever increasing paychecks, business-class travel, invitations to exclusive events, and American Express Corporate Cards were sure bonuses that motivated me to continue making more money.
After close to 10 years of living a lavish lifestyle I was growing more and more fatigued with the rat race. I could afford many things, but they were never enough. Brand-name goods and a luxury lifestyle were a status symbol, and each time a material desire was satisfied a new one appeared.
Then one day, opportunity called to go on a trip with my family to learn yoga in India. In search of rest and rejuvenation, I signed up without hesitation. India revealed to me a whole new world full of ancient knowledge and spirituality. I was challenged as to what I really wanted out of life. Coming back from the trip, I wanted to share my learning and began to offer yoga and meditation sessions in my office. The classes met with popular demand. Many colleagues wanted to learn how to manage the stress that comes from our taxing jobs.
When everyone at the office started to know me more as a yoga coach rather than a finance manager, I knew I’d arrived at a crossroads. But my logical brain simply wasn’t ready to listen to my inner voice. After so many years of blood, sweat and tears to get where I was, I’d be mad to give it all up!
Stroke of Intuition
“Our hearts have the answer to everything,” my father often told us. During fall of 2017, I made a trip to Taiwan to visit family, we went back to our old beach house in Baishawan. After over twenty years of neglect, the house was in a bad state. My heart ached with nostalgic memories about this place, which we used to call home.
Beyond the dusty curtain, I gazed out to see a calming blue sea. Just for a moment, time stood still. A feeling of peace emerged from deep within. Both familiar and comforting, this feeling was ever present while I was living by the sea in Taiwan. This peaceful feeling was followed by a moment of insight: I needed to transform this space into a place of healing! A sanctuary! A yoga retreat center!
I could see myself teaching yoga by the beach to happy visitors from all over the world. In my vision, we would mediate to the sound of the soothing sea and everyone is happy and content.
This idea gave me so much joy that I had goosebumps.
Growing up in Baishawan, my childhood was full of magical wonders. We would swim in the shallow, clear water of the sea, pick fresh vegetables from the farm for lunch, and play to our hearts’ content in the green hills of Yangmingshan National Park. Every where from the sea to the mountain was just a short distance away. I wanted to show the world this wonderful side of Taiwan. Yoga retreat is a brand new concept in Taiwan, yet it is gaining popularity all around the world. I can feel the potential of Baishawan as the ideal place to start putting Taiwan on the map as a wellness destination.
Ripping apart my return flight ticket to Canada there and then, my decision to stay became final. I was ready to put my idea into fruition!
Did I know how to build a yoga retreat center? No! Was I ready to turn my life upside-down and start from scratch? No! Would I regret not following my heart today, ten years down the road? Yes!
For the first time in my life I made an important decision without obsessive cost and benefit analysis, and reasoning. I felt only a powerful momentum reassuring me that it was the right thing to do. I recognized this sensation as my own intuition speaking out loud. I decided to follow it.
The early stage of any startup is very much like building a puzzle: finding pieces that fit together to slowly create a picture. Being one of the first to introduce a yoga retreat in Taiwan, I was building my puzzle in the dark. Local Taiwanese were not familiar with yoga retreats, and foreign visitors don't come to Taiwan searching for one (especially one inside an abandoned building!).
The challenges of setting up a business were many, but each one taught me valuable lessons that pushed me further along my spiritual journey. I'd like to share three of these experiences:
1: The Power of Intention
When you become absolutely clear about what you want, the universe delivers. The right opportunities and resources manifest to help you achieve your goals. It sounds too good to be true, but the law of attraction works every time.
In the early days of the retreat, there would be weeks without a single booking. No matter how many poster we put up, how many pretty pictures I posted on social media, none translated into actual bookings. The possibility of closing the retreat center was always looming over my head like a dark cloud. But whenever a negative thought came through, I replaced it with a positive one. I continued to believe in and project the intention of a prosperous business. A few weeks later, I read about a popular yoga festival happening in Hong Kong. The cost for a trip to Hong Kong and purchasing a promotional booth was very high and I really didn't have enough money to do it. I contacted the festival organizers anyway to test my luck. Coincidentally, the event had a vendor who needed a partner to share the booth and I jumped at the opportunity to go to the festival to promote Origin Yoga & Wellness. I was able to secure a good spot at the festival for only half of the actual cost! It was the best decision. As it turns out, Taiwan is a favourite destination among Hong Kong travelers, and many were overjoyed to find out about the opportunity for yoga retreats in Taiwan. At the festival, I also ran into an old high school friend whom I lost touch with more than 10 years ago. I was delighted when I found out this high school friend also became a yoga teacher and has been very successful in the Hong Kong yoga scene. She introduced me to many valuable contacts and we even decided to collaborate on yoga retreats together.
Miracles like this happened over and over again to keep reassuring me I'm on the right path.
Whenever I encountered a problem, I would remind myself to shift my energy from a place of worry to a place of abundance. I made time for myself to rest and to feel good. I focused my mind on trying my best to perform whatever task I had on hand with whatever resources I’ve been given. Cultivating mindfulness in the present moment without worrying too much about the future has proven to be the most effective medicine for my mind and the retreat center operation.
2: Abundance is Everywhere
To build up the retreat center I used up all my savings that were originally intended to buy a house in Canada. When the money ran out, I had no choice but to find creative ways to sustain the business. I began by taking time to look within for all the resources I already have. With this exercise, I listed out all my friends and family, places I've been, personal possessions, strengths and weaknesses. Through this process of self-enquiry, I realized one thing: I am richer than I though! I’m rich in personal networks, rich in knowledge, rich in experiences. I consulted with my friends and family to share their knowledge. I recycled and repurposed old furniture, and took rock and drift wood from the beach to renovate the yoga center. I traded yoga knowledge for furnitures, massages, food, and much more.
Collaborations and partnerships with the right people also helped achieve things I wouldn't have been able to do alone. I even discovered my brother Edward's hidden talent for cooking during this process, and convinced him to join me on this adventure, and become a co-founder and chef at our retreat center!
3: Exercise Our Choices
The average life span of a person is about 85 years, which translates to roughly 31,000 days. When I started to examine my life on a macro level, everything became more precious. Our time is limited, and how I want to spend each day comes down to two simple choices: love or fear.
Many of my friends tell me they wish they could also quit their job and do what they love. The thing is they can! Anyone can. Everything is a matter of choice.
Transitioning from a glamorous life in Canada to a simple life in Taiwan has been a humbling experience. While I can no longer afford the things I used to, I’ve gained freedom and peace of mind.
I miss my friends and family in Canada dearly. Seeing friends "move on" in their lives, getting promotion, buying new houses, having kids, I couldn't help but feel a tiny bit of envy as I too could have had all of that if I’d stayed in Canada.
But when I truly asked myself what I wanted out of life, it was to be in love! To be in love with what I do, in love with my life, and ultimately to be able to share this love with others.
Whenever I see the ocean at Baishawan, I feel loved. Whenever I see the smiling faces of guests at our yoga retreats I am in love. Whenever I receive a thank-you note expressing how coming to Origin Yoga & Wellness has affected someone's life in a positive way, I am sharing love. Because I am choosing love, I know I've made the right decision.
Two Year Anniversary
When putting together a puzzle in the dark, we're never really sure what it will look like. But every time we fit another piece and we reveal a glimpse of what the final picture may be, the satisfaction and happiness is indescribable!
Origin Yoga & Wellness just turned two years old last month. In the past twenty-four months, we were honored to have guests from over 30 countries coming to enjoyed yoga and wellness retreats in Baishawan. We've shared plenty of tears and laughter together. We even inspired other owners to come back to Baishawan to turn their abandoned houses into a cafe, Airbnb, and a movie production studio. A small community is slowly forming, and this is just the beginning of an exciting transformation. No matter what the future holds for Origin Yoga & Wellness, I'm thoroughly enjoying the process of following my heart.