We take 5 with Betina Bethlem – Resident Yogi at Nihi Sumba in Indonesia.
Who is Betina? Tell us where you’re from and what your background is?
I am a born and bred nomad! I was born in Boston in the US to Brazilian parents from Rio de Janeiro, and grew up moving around a lot. My first move to a foreign country was when I was only a one year old – I am very at home on planes. I lived in Brazil, the US, and the UK throughout my childhood and adolescence, and studied or worked abroad as much as I could through university.
My father is a yogi so I came I contact with yoga at a young age, and started practising myself at 15. My first career was in the art world and in design in New York City, but yoga was always there as my side hustle and my passion. After a decade working in the corporate world, I made the leap into teaching full time. I realised we all have the ability to create our lives, and decided my true happiness comes from travelling and sharing the teachings of yoga and meditation.
How did you end up as the resident yogi at the world’s number one resort?
It was beautiful serendipity. In 2019, my travels took me to stunning Raja Ampat in Indonesia. I worked with a conservation project, scuba diving daily, and teaching yoga and English to the local community. While I was there my aunt in Brazil introduced me to her friend and Nihi Sumba co-owner James McBride via email – and he was in search of a yoga teacher! I started out as a visiting teacher, coming in whenever the resident teacher went on leave. And then in 2020 I stepped in as the new resident teacher.
It truly sounds like the dream gig. Take us through an average day in your world?
I teach two group classes a day at Nihi, so everyday starts with the 7:30am morning practice. Our yoga pavilion sits atop the resort and has the best view in the house (in my opinion). Every time I walk up there in the morning, it takes my breath away! After class with the guests, I do my own practice and meditation, and then head down for breakfast. In between group classes, I teach private yoga, and give Reiki healings and tarot readings upon guest request. And in my free time I walk on the beach, and visit the horses at the stables – they have such a calming energy! I also make it a point to jump in the ocean everyday, because it’s so clearing. Sometimes it’s a snorkel or a swim, and if I am lucky I’ll go for a surf lesson or body boarding session with the Tropic Surf guides. Every day ends with a 5pm sunset group class on the pavilion. I like to head down to the Boathouse afterwards to watch the sunset and socialise. My favourite day of the week is Saturday because we have the Sumba Foundation party at night. It’s a wonderful gathering where we share the charitable work we do on the island, and it usually turns into a dance party for staff and guests.
Every role has challenges – what are some that you face? On the other hand, what are the highlights?
Part of the reason Nihi Sumba is so special is that it is so remote and raw in its natural beauty. I have a strong connection to nature, and really enjoy being in the elements. Doing what I do for a living in that setting is a perfect synergy – the practice of yoga and meditation is really enhanced by nature.
The other side of the coin is that being so remote, I do miss friends and family. Luckily they can visit – and we have our own great community of Sumbanese and expats at Nihi, too.
What drives and motivates you personally?
I am driven by curiosity. I am an explorer at heart, and a forever student, always self-educating and striving to learn new things. That’s why I love to travel so much. Having grown up moving around often, I found that so much of our education happens outside of the classroom, and inside our life experiences. Curiosity drives my passion for yoga and spirituality, too. It’s like a form of travel, but within your own vast inner landscape. My curiosity has taken me to many corners of the planet, and it has also taken me to some pretty out there places in my practice. I love how much there is to discover and examine, inside and out, and this motivates everything I do.
Sumba is a beautiful but lesser known island in Indonesia. How do you describe it?
Sumba is so special. It really has an energy of it’s own. Never before have I encountered a place so raw, authentic, and abundant in its natural beauty, and also in its culture. It feels like a new discovery when you arrive there, because the nature is so expansive and pristine. Tourism isn’t there in a big enough way to impact the Sumbanese way of life, so you also encounter villages and cultural traditions that you will never see anywhere else. The other side of this coin is that being the “Forgotten Island” of Indonesia also means that it is an island in great need. The Sumba Foundation has done a lot to create health clinics, provide food, and increase education on the island. We endeavour to show all our guests both the beauty and the challenges of this unique and wonderful island, to bring more support to the amazing people who live here.
Nihi Sumba is an expansive property with lots of beautiful nooks. Tell us about your favourite pocket?
My favourite pocket at Nihi Sumba is the jungle nook behind the Chocolate Factory. We have a covered platform there that sits right in the jungle. It is magical. Sitting there, you hear the sounds of the birds and the trees, and the crash of the waves in the distance. It’s a really energetically charged spot – and it’s a bit secret, so you can really steal a moment to yourself there. Perfect for a private yoga practice, some silent meditation, or an intimate Reiki session.
If you could teach a yoga class anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Teaching at Raja Ampat and at Nihi Sumba have both already been dreams come true! I love teaching outdoors, with gorgeous nature as a backdrop. There are so many places I would love to travel to for teaching. The first that spring to mind are Kyoto and Bhutan. And even though I am from there, I have yet to teach in Brazil —I would pick Petropolis, Angra dos Reis, or somewhere with an amazing Rio view. I would also love to teach at the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh, India one day.
What is your go-to pose or tip for relaxation?
I am really into Pranayama — also known as Breathwork — for relaxation. I got into it when I did my Kundalini Yoga training a few years ago, and I find it really deep and effective. It’s the most direct way to change the chemistry of the body, and modulate the nervous system for greater wellbeing. In terms of poses, it’s really basic, but I love triangle pose! I love how you can really radiate your body in every direction, and take up space with that pose. I feel it’s great for expanding the breath, and I love to bring a side bend into it, to really lengthen the sides of the body. Pigeon pose is also a go-to for me. I could hang out there for ages, it feels so good to me. I like to imagine that my lungs are down in my hips, and clear that whole lower body area out with my breath. So relaxing!
How are you keeping connected with the world and maintaining positivity during COVID-19?
My home yoga and meditation practice keeps me grounded and connected — to myself and to others — during these unprecedented times. It’s a part of my daily self-care to do my yoga and to breathe. I am also offering weekly yoga, meditation, and breathwork classes on Nihi Sumba’s Instagram Live, and on my own Instagram channel. I am really social, so in that respect technology really helps. I feel lucky to connect with our guests and followers in that way, and know that we are all practising together around the world, until we can be reunited. I am also a writer, so my journal has also been a great resource during this time. And I love tarot cards! So that’s another tool I lean into for support and for joy.