How to Begin a Holistic Lifestyle in Chiang Mai – Sara & Simba’s path to starting a peaceful retreat

Where did you grow up?

Sara – I grew up in Sweden and lived in Sweden until I moved to Thailand 3 years ago.

Simba – I am from Gothenburg, Sweden.  Sarah is from Stockholm then moved to Gothenburg.  I lived in Sweden most of my life but I traveled a lot, training different martial arts.  I had a lot of different jobs, working for 6 months, earning money then traveling for 6 months (Brazil, New York) but my home base has always been Sweden. I never lived abroad until I came to Chiang Mai 2 years ago. 

Do you have a moment from your old life when you decided; I need a change.
Sara’s Move to Chiang Mai
Simba Rolls the Dice
How did you start your holistic retreat Living with the Spirit in Chiang Mai?  
The Initial Plan
The Beginnings of Living with the Spirit

Sara – The whole name Living with the Spirit is about you connecting with your intuition and connecting to whatever universe, spirits or god you feel connected to and go with that to find your own path.  We opened up the idea of people staying here and that really worked out, people enjoy it and that’s where we get the absolute best results.  We can work deeply with people and that’s what we enjoy the most, because we are walking the path ourselves.  That’s the whole idea of living and working at the same space, its our life, its our lifestyle.  Whatever we teach we also practice ourselves.  Then when people come to do the work with us, our work is really never done. When people want to share our lifestyle within any of the areas: pain and injury, going deep with the detox or working through stress and emotions, we both do that and enjoy it the most when people come to join us on our ride.

In what ways have you connected with the local Chiang Mai community?

Sara – I had the luxury of having my brother here for many years and also my mom, she is retired and she spends 6 months a year in Chiang Mai, this year will be her 5th season. She has a small house in Doi Suket and she lives together with a hill tribe woman.  I spent my first months at that home, a farm in Doi Suket.  I was introduced to the local community straight away and to a bunch of the foreigners in the spiritual community.  It was pretty easy for us, we already a community here before we came.  As soon as we got into the city we were introduced to Gail and her organic fruit, we instantly fell in love with her and through her we also met people. But we spend a lot of time here and we are not out exploring that much.  During these two years we have gotten to know a lot of people that live here.  I would say besides the people that travel to stay here, our customers are more local people.   We don’t go anywhere, we don’t leave or go for pizza, we are here and everybody starts to know that, ok you are here, yeah we are here.

Simba – A lot of people work here seasonal as well and when you start to stay here all year round then you build different kinds of connections with people because they know you’re here, come for reoccurring events and have the safety of knowing we are always here. 

Simba – The Chiang Mai conscious community is a big Facebook group where we posted a lot of events.  It was founded by a woman that has recently passed; she was living at the farm where Sara’s mom lives.  Through that community we came in and met a lot of people into yoga, spirituality and the alternative health realm.  Medical tourism is very big in Chiang Mai, in general, so there are a lot of rehab and treatment centers for addiction.

Simba – People say how long are you going to Chiang Mai? A month, 3 months, 1 year, 6 months, people don’t really know because its inviting coming here and quite easy to stay, affordable, and people come here to figure their way out.  The history of Chiang Mai is a temple city, people came here for the mantras, and the monk chants to pass on the healing from the monks.  I feel that is a tradition that is passed onto modalities today.  People still do that but they come for the nature, they come for all the alternative healing that is here, there is also a lot of workout and fitness centers and yoga places.  A lot people come from Bangkok to leave the city and also people come from other counties to replenish and get some energy back.  The moment we came here, I was like I want to live here, I don’t want to just go there, I want to be here all the time and get that energy from Chiang Mai and provide others with that energy. 

Sara, you lived with a local Shaman, can you share some details about that experience and how it has influenced you?

Sara – I started working with two people there but I knew when I came that there has to be something else.  I felt all my life that this is not the life I want to live; there has to be another way.  I just felt my belief system was a little bit off, there has to be something else.  I know this can’t be it, this rat race thing we do in the west.  When I came here to Chiang Mai I knew that I came with a purpose of looking for something new, a different perspective. 

I went into almost complete silence for 3 months, no internet, disconnected, removed all my social media apps, only had email contact with a few people.  I went to a very secluded place in the jungle and started to be coached with different shaman practices then I was introduced to a woman living even further up the mountain and I started hanging out there a lot. That was very much a Buddhist practice mixed with a shaman reform.  I learned a different way of viewing the world so to speak, a lot of detachment, a lot of letting go of whatever social construct I had previously.  Working through a lot of emotional stuff, fears, I had a lot of fear at that point, now in retrospect and we have little bit more structure, we know that fear is one of the first emotions we start to address.  I worked through that a lot and really just coming down, connecting to something else, see what happens when you take a big step out of the social. Go to the jungle, don’t talk to anyone, a lot of stuff seems to come up.  Its not easy but it was very needed.  I did that for almost a year then I went home to Sweden and when I came back the next time Simba joined me. 

Experimenting with Detox
How do you stay educated and updated on your holistic methods?
Practice What We Teach

Sara – That’s why we do the holistic because we believe that you can’t just do one thing.  You have to work on the whole circle; you can’t just have a very good exercise program then don’t eat well and not sleep well.  We believe that we just can’t leave anything out because it too big, it just doesn’t work that way.  The emotional part is very big, the physical regime and diet are two big gateways into the emotional and vice versa, then we have the stress levels.  That’s why it’s a lifestyle because its what we believe and if you really want to work through yourself you can’t leave any aspect out.  We decided to do it full heartedly.  There are always new things to learn, we have tons of stuff we want to learn, we just keep adding stuff whenever we can.

Sara – We work with people for our own stuff and as much as I would like to try to book sessions with Simba, it’s not really happening.  I have to go see someone else and we also have teachers that we work with here, that we see for our own healing and we also collaborate with them for people that come here.  We don’t say to people that we have to do everything, if we feel that someone is more suitable for someone or we know that this person is magical and this client has a block, we can connect them.  Whatever is needed for the person to move further. 

Sara, can you share how western doctors taught you how to heal hypothyroidism and what guided you to try new methods of healing? What are some of the practices you use today?
Sara’s Transitioning Process
Simba, how did you develop a passion for helping people heal from pain and injuries?
Learning how to Heal

Simba – I started studying how to help people coming out of those injuries because I know the feeling of being in a pocket were you feel helpless and vulnerable. You go to someone and hopefully this person has the solution, they don’t and you feel more put down. 

You have to condition yourself to change your lifestyle, you have to change your nutrition. You can heal a lot of it and you can become a lot better but you have to know what to do. You have to see it as Sara said holistically, you can’t go in say Vitamin D that is what I am missing, nah your whole life is wrong and that is why at this point something is breaking.  I’m not saying it in terms of wright or wrong, I am saying you are losing a lot of energy, you are spending too much energy, rather than what you are gaining.  Then eventually something will break because you are out of balance. 

My mother is a western clinical nurse, she works at the ER with x-rays, I guess its in the family, my father is in kinesiology, he works with sports massage.  I’ve always had body thoughts around, someone is getting hurt, ok I know how to wrap it up. I know how to stop when someone is bleeding from a cut, it grew up with me. 

Simba, you grew up in a martial arts family, how do those past experiences connect with your work today?
A Traditional Martial Arts Background

Simba – My father is a karate trainer, Kyokushin, he is a 4th Dan and he is the oldest of 12 siblings, many uncles and cousins. He has always been around kids, he has always worked a lot with kids. He has lived in poor neighborhoods, lived in rich neighborhoods so growing up in the area we grew up in he was always like the extra father, extra parent for a lot of people coming from broken homes, split families.  We had a lot of people that lived with us and used martial arts to channel anger or work on their emotional intelligence, learn the community and connect to other people. Having a language of how to express themselves where they could not before because there was so much going on in their body. He was working with people back when Sweden would say your just dumb and now its ADHD, its all the other disorders that are out there. Now we have more knowledge and skills to know ok this is actually something we have to approach differently.  We can’t just expect everyone to learn the same, sitting down on the school bench, being quite, because everyone comes from different backgrounds. 

I would say martial arts helped me to see the diversity of people and how to help them and treat them to reach a common goal.  You know just to be kind, if you have more knowledge or energy or strength or whatever it is, be kind and pass that on to the next person.  I think it’s a perfect fit, the philosophy of martial arts and healing.  It comes down to what kind of martial arts it is, what’s the culture in the dojo, what’s the climate, what’s the purpose, what’s the values.  If you have old traditional values, it’s usually a lot about the teamwork and unity.  The newer ones are a little bit more sports performance, more individualistic, not necessary a bad thing but its just different.  That might be a bit different in terms of how that connects to healing and spirituality. 

Sara – There is a lot of empowerment in the self-defense part.

Simba – When you know how to defend yourself, you usually don’t wind up in situations where you have to defend yourself.  You feel the energy around you, when someone asks you something, Hey! And you don’t flinch, people see the energy and are like oh nothing and move along.  You don’t have to be aggressive, you are very assertive, you are here, your energy. You don’t get into trouble from that, it’s a big part of self defense; knowing that you can hold your own makes it easier not having to. 

Sara – Simba and I met at a MMA gym, that’s how we got to know each other.  One of the biggest things I felt after I started training was I felt a lot different about myself, I felt way more confident, and not just in the physical.  I never ever practiced it outside the gym but it’s the feeling.

How did you become involved with Chi Nei Tsang and can you talk about how you’ve grown your masseuse experiences over the years?

Simba – It was actually here in Chiang Mai, Mantak Chia is the founder of (Chi Nei Tsang) and he lives in Chiang Mai, he has his center here.  He also has a lot of different students that teach outside of the center.  As I said before my father is a sports masseuses and energy healer from many years back, he did Qigong so I was always into it. I started with sports massage and Swedish classic. There are lot things in Asia where people say that they are trained in back home but you can learn from the source here.  I was very curious and at first; it was a lot about trying it out for ourselves.  This is cool, try Chi Nei Tsang, Karsai, Reiki, just a lot different modalities that I couldn’t access back home.

Simba – I found out that wow Chi Nei Tsang is really powerful, from the traditional holistic Chinese medicine and about how each organ can govern and help you produce positive emotions and can help you detoxify a negative one.  How the tensions stored around the organs can be stored in the muscles and when you release them you can also have emotional releases.   I got into it by working a lot of it on myself and that’s how I got into nutrition in general.  I had a lot of bloating, not feeling good after I was eating, never finding a perfect diet or nutrition that I could eat to feel better or to feel strongerWhat can I do to feel better and develop the bodywork more towards something other than just muscular tension. 

Sara – The Chi Nei Tsang is very powerful, we both took the course and we use it a lot on ourselves and with the people who to come us as well.  Its super powerful, very powerful, I’ve had big experiences for myself with that technique, its amazing what it can do on an emotional level. 

Simba – Each program we do for everyone that comes here is individual but Chi Nei Tsang is something we usually start with and a questioner to see more of less where is this person.  Also for the person to start to navigate through their life, maybe their sleeping is like this and when you start to put everything together, you spend some time assessing your own life, you get a lot of the hard moments and Chi Nei Tsang is apart of that.  When you actually start to work on your stomach you get the correlation to emotions and how you can feel.  How you might come in with a shoulder ache, someone starts working your belly and with your western mind you go like, hey you are ripping me off what are you doing, I came here for the shoulder. But when you start to feel the results, you get a body connection or should I say an understanding, knowledge then it becomes fun.

Sara – That is where the spiritual connection comes in because you go whoa, wow I need to revalue everything.  There is so much to explore and that’s why its so much fun when people come to stay here and they really trust us to go deep. They have all these moments and we help them release stuff, they feel better about themselves. 

Simba, how did you become interested in helping woman with the different stages of their pregnancy and what goes it into that process?

Simba – Now our clients are more diverse, when I work here in Chiang Mai we have both male and female clients that come to us.  In Sweden when I started out, for some reason it was more or less 80% females and when you train with someone for a couple of years they build families, they start different stages of their lives.  I encountered a lot of clients that wanted to workout but were pregnant and they didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know either so I had to research and study; I took a lot of trainings to become specialized in it.  Then they started talking to their friends and I started getting more clients that were at similar stages in their life. I think a lot of it is definitely nutrition, do you have good lifestyle habits, eat well, take care of your body but also the empowering aspect of there is a lot of things you can do.   A lot of cultures are different when you talk about pregnancy and some cultures see it as almost a sickness, lying down like you are sick with the baby. In Sweden we had a winter sports Olympic athlete, she was 7 months pregnant and I think she won a silver medal.  So what you have done before you can take with you into the pregnancy, of course there are a lot of factors to it, you have to see the nurses, doctors, what does your specific case entail, what you can do and cannot do. 

Sara’s mom is a mid wife and I’ve known a lot of mid wives and they say the best labors they see are from women who are fit.  They actually exercise because the body is able to handle the pregnancy a lot better and they are able to recover better which means they can be there more for the family and for the child.  It’s an empowering aspect for the whole circle of life. I think I got into, quite similar with the injuries, no one really wanted to do it and there was a lot of prejudices about what not to do.  It was interesting, people just starting coming to ask me and I am not afraid of learning new things and working with people.  In a lot cases people say no I can’t, because if something happens they don’t know what to do.  I’m not taking risks with peoples health and it didn’t feel like a risk, it felt more like a fear and of course it can work.  The first client that came in, I told them, I’ve never done this before, you have to ask you doctors, physio and she said ok.  She had a trust in me and we worked together and it was great, she has 2 kids now, no problems, still exercising, living her life. 

Sara – There is a lot of fear around it and I think each woman knows what she can and cannot do.  You can feel it intuitively, if you just support her and of course you need to study because the body is changing but if you can be there as the knowledge support and support her to what feels good and what doesn’t. 

A Healthy Balanced Strong Mom
Can you share some philosophies that really connect with you and can you recommend some to people that want to live a more holistic life?

Simba – It depends on the area, if you are looking to go deep in spiritual practices, I would say Lujan Matus.  Paul Chek is a big one when it comes to the physical body and also he is very spiritual, a lot into mindfulness, bridging the east and the west.  There’s a lot from sleeping to nutrition to hydration, there are specialists within those fields.  There are a lot of people who are good in a lot of different areas.  I would say in general Eckhart Tolle is a big inspiration and Dr. Morse when it comes to detox and healing.  I can easier find it if someone asks about a specific thing because I can feel their energy and oh this aligns more with what you are kind of looking for, this is a person that has dedicated their life to doing it.  When it comes to trauma and nervous system release, Peter Levine and Dr. David Berceli are two big specialist in their field. 

What does it mean to be a TRE provider?

Simba – That is from Dr. David Berceli, he is a social worker traveling to different countries taking care of civilians, because after a skirmish the civilians always get the collateral damage.  Whenever there was a bomb raid they would have to go down to a bunker and Dr. Berceli made two significant findings in this bunker.  Whenever a bomb would fall down on the bunker and the walls would shake everyone would go into the fetal position regardless of culture, language, religion or color of your skin, everyone would go into the same position like it was coordinated.  After he saw that a couple of times he thought this is interesting.  He also noticed that the children and the pets that they brought down in the bunkers were shaking like leafs when it was happening. After the bomb raid was over and when they went out, they seemed not traumatized at all. They seemed unaffected, they were playing.  With the adults he noticed they were braced and not showing any emotions when in the bunker.  He asked the adults why don’t you want to show any emotions and they said they don’t want to look weak for the children and scare them or look weak to the others. 

Then he started researching and finding out that we are socially conditioned to let go of this naturally trembling mechanism that actually releases tension from our nervous system.  He devised a module of 7 exercises that can make you initiate this natural tremor and make you relieve stress and tension in our nervous system and your muscles. Also how you can guide a person and empower them to feel grounded and safe through whatever comes up in this process.  You can do it in a group sessions and you can do it for one on ones.  It is a deep explorative tool; you really connect to your body.  What ever happens in a TRE session, if you feel activated or triggered its not that we are going to trigger you by saying stuff but you are going to active your nervous system so whatever is stuck in the nervous system it might come up during the session.  You might be very angry or very sad and that’s the same thing that happens in life.  Through TRE you can learn how to regulate these emotions, let go of that tension and whenever you find yourself in a similar situation in life you have a practical skill of doing it.  We usually say its in integrative tool, it doesn’t replace yoga or meditation but it brings them together because you get a deeper connection to your body. 

Simba – It’s Dr. Berceli’s life work and he has traveled to a lot of war torn countries and also where there are natural disasters.  I think he was in Nepal where there was a big earthquake and they were there with TRE providers.  A lot of kids were scared they were bed wetting, so they worked with them for a couple of weeks and after that they had stopped the bed wetting and started slowly coming back into somewhat of a normal life.  It’s really a humanitarian tool to help people connect to themselves, ground them, move through whatever hardship they have been through in life.  It doesn’t have to be trauma, its called tension and trauma release and everyone gets stuck with the trauma but the tension is really the key I would say.  When you release then tension it is easier to see what’s there and it’s easier to relate to it.  You don’t become the emotions, you learn how to separate and see ok I am having an emotional reaction and I can regulate it after you practice and been coached with someone that’s trained in it.

Tension Release & Integration
You try to find the root issue within people.  How do you know when someone begins to heal the root cause of his or her pain?

Sara – People come here because they feel very drawn to what we do.  They intuitively feel this is what I need to do. We work with a few people very deeply, it happens organically.  They feel spiritually guided to come here so they have already some sort of a trust.  They already know that this is my path.  We’ve had one person stay here for 8 months and he said I need to go the detox path, I need to heal all the layers of my body, the physical body, the energy body, the emotional body through the detox, I just know it. But I need a place where I can do it and it’s not easy when you know you have underlying stuff.  The people that come here have a spiritual connection, they already have some sense of what’s going on, maybe they don’t know all of it but they just know and people know what they have been through.  They know okay this is a big thing; I can’t let go of this.   We start wherever they are and things start to unfold, and pretty soon in the process we can see where their blocks are, if they have belief systems that are blocking their progression, then we start to work slowly or some people run super fast. Most people are very determined because they have a very high motivation to heal; I’m done with this.  That was how I felt, I am done with not feeling good, and I’m done feeling like absolute shit.  I will do anything because I am fed up with so many years of not knowing what to do.  When I start to find something that I believe in and I feel this is working, so you feel it’s the right path.

Sara – A lot of people that come here have been searching for so long for something that is the truth or a way forward.  This works but you might suffer, it might be painful and it might be difficult but I just know this is the right road.  It’s a mutual understanding and we hold space for them. Everything is individual and we are all the same. 

If a person comes here and says I need to be healed, with no specific requests – where would you start with them? 
Intuition, Grounding & Awareness

Simba – When there is a lot of things going on we can down regulate the person, it’s a lot easier to start to see what they actually have to work on.  But when you are up here nothing makes sense, the first step is you have to come down so you are able to see what’s really going on.  Otherwise you will just act on everything and you will not really go anywhere.

Sara – We mostly work with people who are looking for a lifestyle change so they know they will have to take the time for significant change.

Can you talk about your transformation process, when you first started on your healing path in Chiang Mai up until now?

Sara – I would say the physical aspects are one thing but the stress is extremely different from living a high paced career oriented job, I had a lot of stress issues.  That is a huge massive difference, I highly recommend people to change their lifestyle anyway they can because it makes a huge difference.  Also what we have been working on a lot is our emotional stuff and I would say that for me and I know it has for Simba too, in the relationship, it feels way better to work through a lot of fears and emotional blockages and let go of old belief systems and behaviors.  I also highly recommend letting go of not beneficial behaviors like anger, resentment, judgment, and those kinds of things.  It makes you feel way better; I would say that is the emotional part. The physical healing of course that I dealt with and the medication part that was one of my first priorities.  I would say the emotional part is huge and fantastic now.

Simba – If you move around Europe, I don’t know how it is in North America but if you move around Europe there is going to be differences but you still are going to see somewhat similar values.  When I moved here it was like a new world, it’s such a completely different culture.  Whatever was not working, whatever I was being upset about, things not working the way I want it to was like having a mirror all day long. Oh wow, this is what my values are and this is why I get upset about this. I have this expectation, things have to be a certain way like a core belief.  Especially when we were out in the jungle, there is not much to blame out there, its you, if you are upset there is not a cow that is going to say something that is obnoxious to you.  You brought that with you to wherever you went, so whatever comes up it becomes so apparent, you talked about the root cause, and you can’t really hide from it anymore.  That’s why I think a lot of people cannot stay silent for a while because everything just comes up.  You come down to a certain level where whatever is going on underneath you are not able to hold it back, you diminish the energy you have to keep the body working and healing. You don’t have that surplus of energy that you use to suppress anxiety or emotions.  Usually people say, I get cranky when I don’t eat, yeah you’re cranky and when you don’t eat you notice it.  Of course you can have hormones and imbalances, candida, things that can affect it so it’s not a general rule of thumb but it’s about not blaming, it about the responsibility to what is actually going on. 

Simba – I think a big part of moving here is the personal transformation.  There is not much blaming going on here, if you have something its you and you need to work on it, this society here supports that and at the same time in a loving way, its not pointing fingers.  I think that’s a big mirror of moving here and going through a lot of the old conditionings and values that put you to feeling the way you are feeling in the first place.  That is why we moved here to definitely go through it and reevaluate. 

Simba – Accountability for your own actions, I feel like this and I can’t do this and then realizing oh I am painting myself into a corner with my belief system rather than starting to let go of them. There might be a lot of other paths I can go.  I’m stuck in it, if there is a high level of stress and emotions then it is hard to see any other way out.  There is a way out but its blocked. 

Feeling More Alive
Does this type of healing work for other people ever become draining on you? Does it give you more energy? Or is it both?

Sara – Both

Simba – Both definitely, we set up specific rules because we live and work in the same place so it has to be aligned with everyone’s practice, we have a practice, other people have practices and their own programs.  The main thing is the house rule we follow the house rules, they are more like guidelines not rules, etiquette.  If you go into a temple you might not just scream or go in half naked, there is a certain code of ethics you do to make sure everyone feels good.  Some energies are definitely more draining and some are more invigorating.  I work to not have too much transference, oh I like to work with you or I don’t like to work with you because then I am implying something into their work.  When we live with someone it becomes challenging but I would say its very rewarding to see the progress as well.  What happens and how they are able to navigate differently through life, it’s a constant interaction with each other; sure we have our boundaries and our own time.  If someone comes into the house, the house is empty and someone moves in, after two nights you can feel the difference in the energy and you feel what he or she are working on.  I might no know exactly what is going on in your life, it’s not like a 6th sense or a movie or something but you feel the different energies because we work with our own energy all the time. This is my energy and why am I feeling this way, yeah that’s not you, its not mine, its someone else.  Then you can feel whatever they have inside is being stirred so that can be affected a lot when people are living with you because you become acclimatized to that energy. 

Sometimes we go out to get fresh air, come back in and then you can actually feel if their energy is still there or if their energy has shifted.  Because you can become normalized to that energy.  Its kind of like when people hang out in crowds where everyone is assaulting everybody, everyone is dragging everyone back, you don’t feel really well and when you get out of that crowd, you go ah that was actually the crowd because I feel quite well, its not about me, it’s a certain environment.  I think a lot of it comes down to doing your own practice, having boundaries and also having a certain set of rules for people.  Also leaving the space a little bit, coming back and forth and continuing to do your own work.  You don’t always bring all the energy with you, as easy it may sound, it’s a work in progress.

Sara – Its hard work and its also a very strong mirror.  Because if you allow that energy to affect you then that means you have something unresolved in you.  People who we interact with are big teachers, huge teachers for us.  We evolve with them because we have to.  When someone moves in and they affect me a lot that means I have an opening and I need to close that.  This is my next assignment and I go okay I don’t really have a choice.  If you piss me of than that’s my problem. 

Do you have dreams for the future, for yourself and for the holistic center you have built here?

Simba – I would say yes and no, I try to live in the present as much as I can.  Sure there are visions or desire of making the center a little more bigger or moving a little more closer to nature to really make it more quite for people to meet themselves.  But then again I never had a dream of having this place and I think that’s the constant back and forth. If I have a lot of dreams and think about how I want it then I might be blocking away a different way that is bigger or just better somehow.  If I have a fixed idea of how I want it to be then I might lose what actually is there to present itself to me, it might have been a solution that I feel better with.  There are a lot of dreams and ideas; we are always trying to do a bit of changes here at the house to create more spaces for people to be around. 

Sara – The vision is we will constantly improve the place and ourselves.  We will have more and more energy to evolve in all aspects, our own energy to feel better in ourselves but also we have more energy to help others. Also more energy to build, improve to make a more beautiful evolution, to get everything people might need to help their progress.