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Mystic Journey Yoga & Meditation Retreat

BY
Leah Lau

At the nexus of the Pacific Ocean and the megalopolis of Los Angeles is Mystic Journey (MysticJourneyLA.com), a new sacred space created by Jeffrey Segal, Founder of the Mystic Journey Bookstore on Abbot Kinney in Venice. As a gift to the community, they generously gave coupons for a free week of unlimited yoga and meditation classes at the new space, home to one of the most magnificent collections of giant crystals (MysticJourneyCrystals.com) I have seen. Inspired by a weeklong yoga retreat I did in Italy several years ago, I poured over Mystic Journey's class schedule (MysticJourneyMeditation.com), read all of the instructors' bios, and put together a personal weeklong retreat while still in my homebase in LA.

Photo by Leah Lau Art

Day 1, Thursday

Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep)

Teacher:

Tara Igoe

Although I am a lifelong yogi (having started to learn Hatha Raja Yoga at the age of 5 and continuing on with years of Vinyasa Yoga), I knew that a concentrated week like this was going to be a massive undertaking of spirit, body, heart and mind. I felt a kinship with the description of the teacher Tara, and thought of Yoga Nidra as the sleep to awaken me.

The class is in savasana, where you’re laying down for the entire guided meditation and chakra (energy center) balancing. Tara is a wonderfully kind, intuitive and compassionate woman who took the time before class to speak with us individually to make us feel comfortable, befriend us, and find out what brought us to the practice that day. I braid my hair for yoga but leave it down if I’m meditating. I asked Tara, upon meeting her, whether we’d be moving around and whether I’d need to braid my hair. She gave me a wise smile and said, “Spoken like a true yogi. You won’t need to braid your hair.”

Throughout the class, Tara’s voice was so steady and calming that she glided us through a series of visualizations and mindfulness techniques that truly brought deep energy cleansing and relaxation to every part of my body. She conscientiously led us and cared for us through the meditation, monitoring our breathing and making sure we were doing well and in a safe space. I came out of this class feeling light, peaceful and grounded. After several minutes of letting the cleared energy integrate into my system, this phrase came from my heart and mind, "I feel all powerful."

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Day 2, Friday

Chakra Balancing Meditation

Teacher:

Rachel Fox

This is another class in savasana. I was easing my way into the week, with the intention of clearing and aligning my chakras early on so I could be as present as possible. Rachel was also available in the greeting area ahead of class to welcome yogis and practitioners. She made sure to personally meet me and welcome me. She has a warm and grounded presence, and led the guided meditation so smoothly. I came out of the class remembering one of the phrases she’d said and that especially resonated with me, "Love is power."

Before and after classes, I would oftentimes walk among the giant crystals of the adjacent Crystal Gallery. Seeing the early morning light on the crystals was my favorite time of day there, and I would stop to meditate before many of my favorites, including the Quartz Point and the Amethysts.

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Seasonal Yin Yang Flow

Teacher:

Julie Cielo

Julie is deeply knowledgeable about the traditions of yoga and is very conscientious about giving helpful adjustments as detailed as where to have your eyes gaze during certain postures. One of her phrases that resonated with me was, "Where your attention goes, your prana [life energy] will go."

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Day 3, Saturday

Metamorphosis

Teacher:

Serah D'Laine

In Serah’s Metamorphosis classes, supernatural change does indeed happen. Before starting the guided visualization meditation, Serah created an even more sacred space in the room, the same Great Hall where all of the classes are taught, with ancient Egyptian technology that manages the earth’s ley lines [energy alignments] so that the Great Hall became a clear and pure portal.

She had us envision a glimmering white light in the distance. On this day, the light I envisioned was a translucent white prism with iridescence. She had it get closer to us and guided us through a topic where we needed healing, and of putting whatever came to mind into a “cocoon” that I envisioned as a very light, wispy, marbled gray. I let my mind wander to where it naturally flowed. What came up was my thinking of four different men whom I have loved during my time in Los Angeles so far. One was a recent boyfriend; one was someone I dated briefly when I first got here; one was a friend I spent a lot of time with but didn’t date; and one was an old flame from years ago whom I was involved with long distance San Francisco to Los Angeles. All of these men are very kind, brilliant and caring people. I didn’t know what was going to come up for me during that meditation but it was a comfort that my subconscious drifted to love and these very kind men I have loved here.

It took that arc of three years of perspective, and the complete visualization process that Serah took us through, for me to see that I have had more love in my life in LA than I generally think that I have. She brought us through feelings of pure love and warmth and I realized during the revelations that I was weeping through most of the meditation, first from remembering pain, and then from being soothed by love.

I went to hug Serah after the class, tears still streaming down my face, but with my spirit very light. I told her about what I had experienced, and that the thought, "Love is the foundation of my next chapter" came to me. She held eye contact with me with such kindness and wisdom that I saw her energy like a goddess transported from ancient Egypt, bringing healing into the modern age.

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Yoga Flow & Philosophy

Teacher:

Shayna Hiller

As these classes were back to back, I was still sobbing in the Great Hall when the next teacher, Shayna, came in. Our introduction was my wiping tears from my cheeks, telling her I was going to go braid my hair and collect myself, and then I would be joining her yoga class. She smiled at me with pure joy, no trace of judgment, effortlessly looked into my eyes filled with tears, and said, “Energy is flowing.” She had no warning that a sobbing person was suddenly going to be in front of her and yet she reacted so eloquently and with such compassion that I will remember her words forever when I am encountered with a person in that state. It was the most perfect thing I could have heard.

When I rejoined the class, my hair now back, and my energy starting to reset, Shayna’s joyfulness, radiance, wisdom and humor had already filled the room. She gracefully, artfully wove ancient traditions from yoga with modern needs, giving us clear guidance about posture, breath, and how this all tied into the yogi practice and a joyful life. She brought humor and levity to what can be a serious practice; to challenging poses. Among the things I admired about her teaching style, she would engage us all in a posture that would be appropriate for beginners and intermediate practitioners, and would demonstrate advanced poses to give opportunities for people to expand their practice as far as they felt comfortable going. All the while, everyone had a respectful space to practice at their level, as Shayna wove amidst us, making gentle adjustments to our postures, and encouraged us with her contagious enthusiasm.

After the class, I went to hug her and told her, truthfully, that hers was one of the best yoga classes I had been to in my entire life. One of her phrases, "Every moment has purpose," has stayed with me. And I was so grateful for Shayna’s energetic presence, her being like the embodiment of an iridescent clear quartz crystal.

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Day 4, Sunday

Metamorphosis

Teacher:

Serah D'Laine

I couldn’t wait to have another meditation session with Serah. I didn’t know what would come up this time around, but I was ready for what was to come, knowing that it would be revelatory and healing. This time, when she asked us to envision the glimmering white light again, I saw a different image. There was a vertical oval cluster of starlight sparkles. It was such a lovely vision and had such lighthearted energy around it, it made me smile.

The topic she started with was different this time, and when I let my mind wander, I started seeing a vision of my siblings, and then my cousins, and my parents, and grandparents, and nieces and nephew, and aunts and uncles. I saw all of the people I am related to whom I have met. I could see each of their faces clearly as they were smiling at me. I felt the joy in their hearts. Looking at them one by one, and thinking of how much each of them means to me, and how much they have supported me throughout my life, I started weeping again, this time with love and appreciation. Through Serah’s guided visualization, we envisioned a cocoon. This time, the one I saw was an incredibly light almost translucent green, and reminded me of a prehenite crystal. In my family went into the cocoon as I held them with love.

Serah guided us to crack the top of the cocoon and let out what was inside. Dozens of colorful butterflies flew out of the top of the cocoon, like balloons rising into the air. The butterflies represented my family members in a rainbow of fluttering, lightfilled colors. They flew up out of the cocoon as individuals yet remained together in a cohesive group. The entire time, I kept thinking, “I love my family. I appreciate my family. I am so grateful for my family.” After the class, and after thanking Serah for what she had given me, I told my family that I love them, wanting to make sure they heard it in real time.

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Traditional Kundalini Yoga & Meditation

Teacher:

Dharam Avtar

Could I have known this week would heal my dormant Kundalini wound? Five years ago, I did a halfday Kundalini Yoga workshop at my favorite yoga studio in San Francisco (unrelated to Mystic Journey LA). I have always been up for exploring the different styles and traditions of yoga and the inner power energy dynamics of Kundalini sounded fascinating. That class was taught by a celebrity nutritionist in from Los Angeles, who didn’t drink water or eat solid food. (You read that correctly.) She made shakes out of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and sea salt and lived off of those. The woman was physically very beautiful but I realized had a very hard personality.

I have some genetic frame issues and had gotten injuries to the right side of my body seven years ago, including a longtime debilitating one to the right side of my neck. For years, it affected the mobility of the entire upper right quadrant of my body, especially my right arm and shoulder. At the time that I went into that Kundalini workshop, I’d been doing Vinyasa Yoga, and a lot of Restorative Yoga, as part of my holistic approach to heal my body and reinstate movement. Both were vastly helpful, and made me optimistic about the new Kundalini class.

That was dispelled when that instructor hardlined everyone in the class about holding long poses, and boasted she had done one arm pumping exercise for an entire hour. We were supposed to hold our right arms up in the air with a “pumping” motion and move it up and down for 11 minutes. I started it, and did it for the first few minutes, but then my neck injury flared up and I was getting shooting pains so I stopped. When I put my arm down, she came over to me, put her face inches from mine and yelled at me to keep going. I told her I had an injury that I was healing and that it was hurting. She continued to yell at me to keep going until I burst into tears. At that moment, she realized she had gone too far and recommended that I lay back in savasana and breathe. I ended up staying through the class to collect myself. Even though I’d wanted to leave the room and walk out of the studio, I had been so shaken up, I couldn’t head back out into the world yet.

For the intervening five years, I would continue with my Vinyasa Yoga practice, and experimented with some other styles, but I avoided Kundalini even when it was being taught by other people whom I already trusted. To me, Kundalini had come to equal, “LA nutritionist who doesn’t drink water or eat solid food who will make me pump my arm in the air for 11 minutes and make me cry.” Although that’s not what Kundalini is, that’s the association it had in my life. Kundalini had become trauma because of the past instructor and I’d been avoiding it. I didn’t have any intention of ever going to another Kundalini class, and I hadn’t added it to my weeklong retreat itinerary.

This week, at Mystic Journey LA, the teacher Tara had recommended I take the Kundalini class being taught by Dharam. I then told Tara about my Kundalini “wound” and she gently encouraged me by saying he’s a kind and funny person, and that I could pace myself. It was with no small amount of trepidation that I set up my yoga mat for Dharam’s class. I told myself to keep an open mind and gave myself “permission” to stop at any point if I needed to.

Tara’s recommendation and encouragement were exactly what I needed though I didn’t know it. Dharam is a patient, joyful, kind yoga teacher who is also grounded in reality. Kundalini is deeply steeped in tradition and again there was the intense focus and long holds. But he made it accessible for beginners or intermediate level Kundalini yogis and practitioners. Sometimes I gently asked questions, especially about how to sync my breathing to certain movements, and he answered with patience and humor, saying that sometimes the combinations indeed felt counterintuitive and would just take practice.

During one of the long hold sequences that would go on for many minutes, Dharam played an incredibly beautiful singing chant that we all followed. Everyone in the room was singing / chanting together in a very heartcentric and moving way. Though our bodies were deep in practice, the beauty of the music made the holds and time go more quickly. I told him that was my favorite part of the class. My favorite new pose that I learned was putting my hands in a lotus prayer position, where you line up your pinkies and thumbs, while the rest of your fingers are open, turning your hands into a lotus by your heart.

With the long holds in Kundalini, one needs both mental and physical endurance. It is definitely mind over body, and I had the realization, "You are facing yourself." Different things will come up for different people. I have heard many Kundalini yogis refer to the feelings of empowerment and liberation they feel when practicing. I haven’t done enough Kundalini to have reached that feeling but I believe them. When I got out of the class, Tara gently asked how it was. I told her, “It healed my Kundalini wound.” I am so grateful to both Tara and Dharam for being teachers and, even more meaningfully, healers.

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Sacred Sundays with Ora Nadrich

With Special Guest David Kessler

Ora Nadrich, Author & Mindfulness Meditation Teacher, founded and hosts a series called Sacred Sundays, where she brings in other esteemed authors and healers as guests. Serendipitously, her event with David Kessler, a New York Times bestselling author (and coauthor with Louise Hay and Elisabeth Kubler Ross), was happening in the middle of my retreat week. David discussed his book with Louise Hay, You Can Heal Your Heart , and walked us all through the five areas of healing grief, whether from death, heartbreak, or other forms of loss.

Ora Nadrich

All week at Mystic Journey LA, I kept experiencing synchonicities, where I was realizing that there were so many overlapping connections, especially among people I know in Los Angeles and San Francisco. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I walked into the Great Hall and recognized my friend Chance Foreman, whom I’d met at another event in Venice, setting up for videography. I went and gave him a big hug, and then circled back with Tara to tell her that, of course, I had walked into the event and knew someone.

Ora created a loving and safe space for everyone in the Great Hall. She opened with leading us in seated meditation for several minutes, her voice and wisdom sweet mellifluous guidance that brought all of our energy together. Ora and David’s mutual trust and friendship was beautifully evident in their conversation and how they so gracefully shared wisdom.

David spoke eloquently and shared a wellspring of wisdom and calming views on grief with us. These were two of the things he’d said that were particularly resonant:

"We're meant to heal as a tribe."

"Fear does not stop death. Fear stops life."

A completely serendipitous and delightful connection happened during the intermission when I met and spoke with one of their friends there, Katherine Woodward Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of Calling in “The One:” 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life ; and Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After. Katherine’s wisdom, intuition and compassion spoke straight to my heart, woman to woman. Of all of the surprises that week, my conversation with Katherine was the most unexpected and was such beautiful validation.

The two hours from the event passed by in a blink. Ora closed the session by leading us in meditation again. Though I had done the first meditation with my hands in a standard prayer position with my palms together, for this closing one, I thought of the beautiful, open, lotus prayer hand position that I’d learned just a few hours before in Dharam Avtar’s Kundalini class. My heart felt so open from listening to Ora and David, and speaking with Katherine, that I meditated in lotus posture with my hands in lotus prayer position. I felt like a vessel of love and light. While listening to Ora’s voice that time, I could suddenly envision her officiating at weddings. I thought to myself that if I ever got married, I would invite Ora to officiate. When I spoke with her afterward and mentioned that to her, she laughed and said that, on occasion, she does officiate for some weddings, but that it was a littleknown fact about her. Synchronicities abounding.

Learn About Ora's Meditation Class

Quantum Light Breathwork

Teacher:

Diego Wallraff

Some people's life energy has the power to transform the lives of everyone they encounter. Diego Wallraff is one of those people. I was honored to be able to be in his Quantum Light Breathwork class in the literal heart of my week, anchoring Day 4.

Diego had set up his astounding collection of sound bowls, gongs, and other sound healing instruments that he would play throughout the class. As we came into the Great Hall, he had us all sit in a semicircle, befitting the rectangular room, and in a way that we could all see each other. He had us all introduce ourselves and share what brought us to the practice that day.

He then gently explained what we’d be doing, and set expectations for us that the breathwork would bring in more oxygen than we normally have in our systems. He said there could be times that are exhilarating, and that there are times that could be uncomfortable, but that we had the “dial,” to manage it. Old pain gets physically stuck in our bodies. Energy is trying to move through the body faster than the body will allow sometimes, and can make hands or feet get cold, and even temporarily freeze up. Diego said he would be looking out for all of us, and if he sensed we needed help, he would "bring us back."

I’m good about managing my body, pushing it where I feel I can, and pulling back when needed. A bit into the breathwork, I could feel myself getting lightheaded. I slowed down my breath but stayed with the focus. I moved my arms and legs to keep circulation flowing. I could feel energy moving and trying to flow out. My feet took on the frozen feeling that Diego mentioned could happen, and while he was monitoring us, he could tell. He came over and did energy work on my feet. It felt like he was doing at least acupressure and possibly Reiki. I could feel he was doing energywork. After the class, someone else had asked him what kind of work he was doing on us and he replied with a kind smile and said that he has done more than 20 years of bodywork healing techniques, and that he was doing a combination of modalities.

After meditating and doing yoga all day (I’d been at Mystic Journey LA since 11:30 a.m.), my spine muscles had finally reached their point of exhaustion. I needed to come out of seated meditation position. I set up a spine bolster cushion, laid in savasana pose for the rest of the session, and continued the breathwork with the group. Being in savasana is not what people would normally do in the Quantum Light Breathwork class, but it was what my body needed in the moment and Diego gave me the emotional space to take care of myself while remaining present.

By that point in the class, Diego was leading us all in breathwork to music and meditation while he was also playing sound instruments. For several glorious minutes, the breathing chants of four women who were across from me within the semicircle were powerfully in sync and arced over to me. With my eyes still closed and my breathwork at my own pace, I took in the women’s beautiful voices and their collective healing energy. I had gone into the class to connect with my own life force, and left with the singing of a chorus of goddesses.

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Day 5, Monday

Mindful Equilibrium Meditation

Teacher:

Be Solomon

I had set the alarm for 6 a.m. and took a wobbly walk around the block in my neighborhood. I’d intended another full day of classes but after the marathon sessions on Sunday, realized that my mind and spirit still needed to process what I’d experienced, and my back muscles were still shaky. I hadn’t yet made it to Be Solomon’s meditation class, though I met her at Ora and David’s book event the evening before. I decided that Be’s class in the early evening would be the only one I’d attend that day.

When I made it back to Mystic Journey LA, Be was there before class to greet us. Her warmth and friendliness are such a joy to be around. As we entered the Great Hall, we set up meditation cushions. The meditation would normally be seated but I also set up my yoga mat and a bolster cushion for my spine. I started the meditation in the seated position, and then when I felt my spine muscles get too tired again, I transitioned to savasana for the remainder of it.

I went into the session aware of how exhausted I was. I tried to take mental notes, as usual, during the class, but I drifted off, in a good way. Be’s meditation style is so gentle, I forgot how exhausted I was. I followed her voice. She was speaking about nature and of allowing our minds to be still. I remained awake, but in that ether, halfway between waking and dreaming. At the end of class, I felt relaxed and floating, recovered from the exhaustion I’d been in upon entering. For one of the women in the class, it was literally her first time ever meditating. I cannot imagine a more gentle introduction than Be’s class.

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Day 6, Tuesday

Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep)

Teacher:

Tara Igoe

One of my close friends, Pritesh Shah, was hearing about my experiences in real time, and had said that he wanted to join me for some of the classes. I’d been making personal recommendations about teachers and classes to him throughout the week, and had told him about Tara and her class. It was perfect timing for him to join me at the end of my week, overlapping with the beginning of his. Though I had largely been private to the “outside world” about what I’d been doing, it also felt right to share the sacred space in real time with an old soul friend whom I trust. As I made introductions to the community at Mystic Journey LA that had become so important to me in the span of only six days, I was so grateful to bring another beautiful soul into the mix, and was delighted to see how effortlessly and joyfully everyone was interacting.

In the Yoga Nidra class, Tara worked her magic and brought us through the deep relaxation and chakra clearing. She had mentioned in passing earlier in the week that she loves chanting. During my first class with her, we had chanted Om but not additional songlike chants. When she added it to this class, and I heard the clear, beautiful bell of her voice in its chanting / singing state, her spirit and energy radiated straight into my heart. I told her it was one of the most beautiful sounds I had ever heard.

Equally powerful and meaningful was chanting side-by-side with my friend Pritesh. I’m used to hearing his speaking voice and his laugh, but hearing the sonorous tone of his chanting Om next to me, and in the songlike chant that Tara led us in, was a pure experience that was such a beautiful addition to our friendship of many years. Serendipitously, because we were sharing that sacred space, I also became closer to his family in a way that I wasn’t anticipating, and was very grateful for.

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Day 7, Wednesday

The beauty of doing the retreat while still in town was the convenience and cost savings of not traveling. I could balance the retreat time with still taking care of daily life responsibilities. While onsite at Mystic Journey LA, I put my phone in airplane mode so I could still access stored information as needed but wouldn’t have the constant buzzing of technology coming into the space. And then when I was ready after a class or series of classes, I’d remove the airplane mode setting, and the outside world would come flooding back in.

I had not intended for Tara’s to be the last class of my weeklong retreat but the universe has its own blueprint and we’re just following it. In its way, it was perfect that her Yoga Nidra, which has meant so much to me, bookended my week. On Day 6, I received a lot of good news about two completely separate job interviews that were being proposed for the next day, which would have been my Day 7. It was a difficult decision for a moment because I had a full itinerary planned for Day 7, including Amy Rose’s Restorative Yoga Sound Bath, which would have been a new experience. I knew I needed to balance responsibilities with self care, and have been manifesting the next chapter of my life, so confirmed the interviews.

Back in the rest of the world, people oftentimes treat each other with less care. I knew it was a transition to be going so quickly from the sacred spiritual space I’d been in, to talk of business and qualifications. I also felt as though the six days had cleared my spirit so well that I was prepared to speak with these strangers and have them get to know who I truly am, without the veneers that we can put on about what we think others want to hear. After six days of such intense spiritual honesty, I carried that honesty and clarity of heart and spirit into the business discussions, both of which went well. In real time, one of the people said she wanted to move me to the second round of interviews, and scheduled it right then.

In all matters, I trust that the universe will bring us to the right place at the right time, and with the right people.

My deepest gratitude to Jeffrey Segal, Jenny Deveau, Ben Decker, Darcie Odom, Tara Igoe, Serah D’Laine, Shayna Hiller, Diego Wallraff, Ora Nadrich, David Kessler, Katherine Woodward Thomas, Dharam Avtar, Pritesh Shah, Vanessa LeMaistre, AnneFrancoise (SwAan) Potterat, Rachel Fox, Chance Foreman, Julie Cielo and Lisa Tahir.

Photos by Leah Lau Art

LeahLauArt@gmail.com

About Leah

Leah Lau is Marketing Communications professional, Editor, Photographer, Costume Designer, Intuitive, Yogi and Palm Reader. She is a creative visionary with farreaching professional experience as a Director of Communications and Editor for fields as diverse as Fortune 500 companies, corporate philanthropy, nonprofits, and government. Her life’s work is dedicated to making the world more positive and equitable: For more than 20 years, she has been spearheading community advocacy at the local, national and international levels, with a focus on education, the arts, and health care.

With her lifelong dedication to philanthropic work and the arts, Leah has immersed in her communities locally, nationally, and internationally. She founded the Cambodian Children's Book Project benefiting the ELMA School in Sambour, Cambodia, building up their library collection and global roster of volunteers from 2008 – 2010. She was a Board Member for the UCSF Alliance Health Project from 2005 – 2012, where she also served in leadership roles for Art for AIDS, the largest charity art auction in San Francisco, as the Art Installation Chair, a Juror, a Planning Committee Member, and a contributing artist. Leah was honored to be an Official Photographer for the Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015; was a Photographer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America from 2011 – 2016, including for their annual report; and was a Photographer for Daraja Academy, a girls’ school, near Nanyuki, Kenya. In her native San Francisco, Leah had a series of solo photography exhibits from 1998 – 2004, and exhibited her fine art photography in group shows from 2002 – 2012.

Leah has a Bachelor of Arts in English Language & Literature from the University of Chicago. Through coursework at UChicago, UC Berkeley, and UCLA, she minored in Spanish, and also concentrated in Psychology, Art History, Political Science, Gender Studies, and Latin American Studies. She loves to learn new languages and also speaks conversational Italian, French, and Mandarin Chinese. An avid traveler, Leah spent a decade doing a series of solo international expeditions to wilderness at the edges of the earth, exploring all seven continents. She fulfilled a lifelong dream by completing a round-the-world trip in 45 days in 2013 .