Yoga and dance teacher Tammy Hayano recently returned to New Life Foundation to offer her Hanuman Yoga, Massage, and Dance Retreat with her co-facilitator Justin Green. It was something of a homecoming for Tammy as she had previously volunteered at New Life Foundation during its very early days. In this interview, she chats to us about the latest chapter in her New Life journey, including what she’s learned about recovery – and herself.
This is not your first time at New Life – so what’s your relationship, your history, with this place?
I came the first year New Life was open, I think it was only in its sixth month running. I was doing a year travelling and volunteering and wanted to come to Thailand so I looked up the profiles of places on the WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) site. New Life came up and the facilities looked fantastic – it also had the least amount of work hours so I was very motivated. All the others were offering eight-hour work days in the hot sun, maybe a sip of water in between each break, no contest! But then I saw that New Life was a mindful recovery centre and I had little experience in this centre of the population so it was a concern for me. Luckily I was travelling with a friend who is in recovery and my friendship experience with them got me to the place where I thought: “I’m going to take a leap and go here. I can always leave if I don’t like it”.
So I arrived and I was very, very nervous at first. There were probably about four people here and a lot of the first questions I was asked was if I used or was a user. Having no experience in these kinds of conversations I didn’t know really what was appropriate and I was so concerned about making a faux pas or offending someone. I also felt like a minority because I was the only one who was not a user and it was really weird to be a minority in that.
But you know what, I got over that and I thought, “We’re all just people, I don’t think they’re judging me because I haven’t used and I’m not judging them because they have”.
So there we were, people from different backgrounds, different age groups and different countries working and living in a small community, shooting the breeze, making jokes, cooking meals together, working in the fields together, spending downtime together and getting to know each other.
I stayed about two weeks and I made some really great friends who I am still very much in contact with. It was an incredible experience and when I left I started telling people about New Life, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever stopped telling people!
What did other people think when you told them you spent time at a recovery centre?
I especially mentioned it to the Kripalu yoga community in the US where I volunteered at and they were very, very enthusiastic about the place and experience I had. In fact Sabrina, someone I volunteered with at Kripalu, came here and was a life coach for I think about nine months or so. It was great because it worked out really, really well for her and now things are coming full circle and I’ve brought another person from the Kripalu community, [retreat partner Justin] and he loves it here. I’m very excited to try and bring out another very good friend of mine who is in recovery. He does slam poetry and I think he would just be such an influence on the community here.
So it’s two-and-a-half years since you were here, why did you choose now for your return?
I always knew I would come back but just wasn’t sure when and was always thinking in what capacity I would return, then the retreat just kind of fell into place. It was actually pretty spontaneous, I have retreats in different parts of the world and these are planned six months in advance and usually have 23-page contracts to negotiate. For this retreat it was maybe about four weeks ago I contacted Julien and we sorted it out over email and telephone calls – we know each other, we trust each other, we support each other, so it was set up without fuss. It was interesting because people say I’m organized to a fault but it shows you don’t have to plan so much in order for things to happen and this was just one of those things that just happened organically and it couldn’t have worked out better.
So New Life has given you a big life lesson second time around?
Oh yes, definitely.
So what did you take away with you from the first time?
With Hollywood you have movies with characters who are drug addicts and alcoholics and the filmmakers attach a stigma to it – by the way it’s poked fun of, in how the characters are portrayed physically, and what their stories are.
Buying in to that stereotyping could make it a little bit intimidating to come here but then you meet the people here and realise that they could be somebody from work or a friend of a friend who you met at a party. I think knowing that when I looked at the faces, people are just people and you never really know anyone’s story.
You just don’t know. That reminder was fresh coming here again looking at all these amazing people who have such great courage in opening their hearts. They have such wisdom, they’re laughing, they have such fullness and love of life and yet they just happen to be in recovery.
The realization that we’re all human beings – that we all struggle and while our struggles might look a little different it’s something that’s connecting us – that realization was such a powerful, incredible one for me.
How has that impacted your life?
When I started telling people I was going to be doing the retreat here I sensed that same hesitation and, “Umm, what’s Tammy doing?”, the same thing I probably felt before coming here the first time. So now I’m the one that wants to break down the stigma, to open up more talk about recovery.
And when you’re ready to listen people are often ready to tell their stories. I’d been having a conversation with a girl I’d been friends with for five years about a different friend who was very open about being in alcohol recovery and suddenly she confessed that she was also an alcoholic. I was completely floored. I mean she was a very close friend of mine for five years and I didn’t have a clue!
In retrospect it made sense and she said she rarely told anybody just because of that stigma. It was an interesting moment because I thought, “Wow, in those five years I wasn’t good enough of a friend,” but then I realized that was all about me. It took both of us to be ready and to be open and when it happened, it felt really, really good.
Another really good friend of mine has started writing a blog and his message is, “Let’s break down the stereotype. Let’s not hide our stories, let’s tell people because the more people we tell, the more acceptance and education there is, that we’re just people too”. His words are so powerful and I’m so inspired by him.
What feelings are you taking away with you from New Life this time?
Often when places grow they get too much into the business side of it, or it starts to look like all other places, but this place is different.
I remember the first time I was here being in a meeting with one of the staff who asked me questions about my opinion of the place and what could they do to improve it. I was very surprised to be asked and I thought, “Gosh, I’m just a WWOOFer volunteer”. I really admired him for opening up and saying, “Hey we want your input, it counts”.
And that essence, to remain humble and never to lose the core values of the place, I got the sense that it’s still that way. That’s pretty special and it hasn’t gone that way and so I know in my heart that in the years to come, no matter how big it gets in terms of the number of people or what other potential growth there is, the core values will always stay. For that it’s a place I really, really value and respect.
NB: Interviews and testimonials on our blog have only been edited for length and grammatical accuracy.