From Osaka to Ghana, one business owner's journey to Harrogate

Jennifer Studer Daley meets Sarah Byrne, owner of the town's Studio Lotus Shala.

Thursday, 19th January 2017, 2:07 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th January 2017, 2:11 pm
Sarah Byrne, owner of Studio Lotus Shala

As fifteen-year-old Sarah’s head comes up from catching the time on her watch, the African sun forces her pupils to contract.

Twenty-four hours of travel later and she’s finally in Ghana descending the air stairs. The tales of her grandparents living among the natives may have shaped her anticipation, but this chapter is for Sarah to write.

“It’s seven '' clock in the morning and you step off onto the tarmac. There’s a sea of people, this wall of Ghanaians. They’ve got signs and they’re screaming and they’re happy.

"I remember taking the deepest breathe and going ‘I’m home.’ It was the only time that I’ve ever felt truly comfortable in the place that I was.”

Sarah is shuffled along while the locals are dancing around her.

As they raise their arms in excitement, a poignant smell strikes her nostrils. Her trips to Mexico did not prepare her for these sights and smells.

Children are playing with a deflated basketball, chasing after each other, wearing bright eyes and wide grins.

Sarah’s perspective of the world capsizes. In Louisiana, she doesn’t have to walk miles for water or stop at seventeen different markets to purchase ingredients for a single day’s dinner.

She returns to the Deep South with a grateful heart and choses to study international relations, sociology and politics at The Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge.

During her time at university, Sarah readily jumps on the opportunity to travel back home to Africa, but this time with her Sudanese professor. With each departure, she leaves a sliver of her heart.

As graduation approaches, Sarah’s torn between exploring the Middle East and returning to Africa.

One random afternoon Sarah strikes up a conversation with a peer at the local cafe.

Michael explains that upon graduation, he’s headed to Asia through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program.

Knowing she’d missed the deadline for a favorable Peace Corps assignment, Sarah decides to apply to the JET program that night on a mere whim.

“So I applied on the day it was due, thinking I’m totally not going to get it. I’ve literally done the bare minimum. But then I got an interview, which I thought I bombed something awful. But then I got a placement.”

Sarah is assigned to a school in Osaka, the city she selected as her top choice.

While in Japan, Sarah’s now husband, Jamie, dares her to study Yoga. Sarah would learn how to exit the commotion of the city and enter the calm of her own breath.

After an exhausting day of teaching, Sarah escapes the frenzied streets of Osaka and walks down the hallway of a dimly lit flat, moving past the living room and balcony to what otherwise would have been used as a bedroom. She stretches up on to her tiptoes to grab a woven mat out of the built in closet. Three other students enter the room, their shadows trailing their tender steps.

The heavy, woody scent of Nag Champa burns next to Sarah’s teacher as the Ashtanga class begins with the vibrations of the singing bowl gong. Her body fills with warmth with each Ujjayi breath. She appreciates each inhale and exhale.

After three years of teaching in Osaka, Sarah prepares to move to Harrogate with her new husband, Jamie. She struggles to assimilate, fights to find a teaching position but finds solace in yoga and tames her overactive mind.

In 2013, Sarah harvests her passion for teaching and yoga to become a certified yoga instructor, six years after attending her first yoga class in Japan.

Yoga made her a better mother, a better wife, and a better friend for a simple reason – she found a deeper portion of the person Sarah is. It wasn’t living in Ghana, but through teaching the habitual practice she revived a part of her she thought had been left in Africa.

Today, Sarah is the proud owner of Studio Lotus Shala, the community space fostering relationships in the presence of yoga.

“Ideally, Lotus Shala would be a communal space for everyone teachers and students alike, to come and find what they need. Whether that is a more spiritual kind of yoga or mediation, or essential oils, or a really good workout, or teacher trainings,” she said.

She added: “It’s all about being comfortable and just being who you are. And if you have stuff you need to talk about – I’m not just a teacher, I’m your friend I’m here to listen.”