#17 From Luxury on Wall Street to Tent Living in Hawaii: Ali Slous of Kalani Retreat Center

Sipping a divinely rich vegan hot chocolate on 9th Avenue in the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC in 2013, Ali shared with me how her life was blooming since taking a 200 hour yoga teacher training. It had been years since she and I struggled together at the digital marketing agency where we were paid wages so low that, out of necessity, I had memorized the pages of a book called, "How To Eat Cheaply or Free in NYC." (Ask me later where to find free pizza every night of the week). Ali was living in a fancy high-rise in Manhattan's Financial District and perhaps she didn't know it at the time, but a very big 180 was right around the corner.

It was later that same year that Ali decided to turn in her chichi pencil skirts and big jewelry in favor of yoga pants and a lei. Ali 180'd from a ritzy executive in NYC to a yogini taking charge at Kalani yoga retreat in Hawaii. Her story makes my heart sing; this 180 had me laughing and tearing up at the same time. Not only because of our shared love for yoga, but because of the joy in seeing Ali find her element by following that feeling and thereby unleashing her creativity, playing each day and building community. 

Enjoy this glimpse into the beautiful life that Ali Slous created by going 180!

Who is Ali Slous?

'Who am I and what am I here for?' is a question I ask myself on a regular basis - and the answer is constantly evolving. On one hand, I am Ali Slous - Jersey girl, NYC expat, Big Island resident, marketing and communications enthusiast, singer, writer, yogi, daughter, sister, partner, and friend. On the other hand, I am an energetic being navigating this wild life experience with humility, curiosity, and wonder. I believe we are the sum of our experiences, and our potential can be realized when we begin to strip away our past conditioning and become fully immersed in the present. 

Tell us about your 180!

My 180 began in 2012, when I realized that the life I created for myself in NYC was no longer serving me. I had achieved material success and career accomplishments, but I felt unhappy and unfulfilled with my day-to-day life. When I thought about leaving NYC, the feeling that came over me was relief. This emotional cue let me know that I was on the right track.

During this time, I gravitated to my yoga mat, where I began to get in touch with the desire for freedom from my current situation. It took about a year to plan my exit strategy, including moving out of my apartment, donating most of my possessions, leaving my job, and, ultimately, booking a one-way ticket to the Big Island, where I signed up for a three-month volunteer engagement at Kalani. I went from living on the 29th floor of a luxury building on Wall St. to a tent in the jungle. 

How did you know it was time to take a break and go to Kalani? How did you discover Kalani? 

I knew it was time for a break because I was tired. Rather than continue pushing through daily feelings of burnout and fatigue, I decided I deserved a breather to regenerate myself and contemplate what I wanted out of the next phase of my life. I began to research different retreat centers and volunteer programs - places where I could prioritize rest and deepen my yoga practice while taking part in a structured program. I found Kalani on a whim, one day, by typing in the search terms: yoga, volunteer, Hawaii. Kalani was at the top of the search results, and after a quick conversation with the Volunteer Department, I knew that I had found my next destination.

What were your biggest fears in going 180? When did ease with the changes settle in for you?

People often tell me what I did was brave. Others were unsure how my city persona would adjust to working in a kitchen and camping after living the indulgent city life. However, I did not feel any fear with regard to my decision. I knew that one road had come to an end, and that a new path was unfolding. My yoga practice, the cornerstone of my philosophy toward life, told me that I could breathe through any challenges and uncomfortable positions. Plus, I believed that if I could make it through a decade on my own in NYC, then I could make it anywhere. Honestly, my biggest fear (as a suburban Jersey girl who had never camped) was getting my tent set up in the Kalani campground. Luckily, the other volunteers were there to support my transition to campground life. Ease settled in once I had a new place to call home that was mine - even if it was a tent!

You managed to build a life for yourself in Hawaii after your work program ended. Tell us about how you went about creating that.

in the KALANI "Free Boutique," ALI's passion project during HER first year at Kalani. SHE transformed a messy corner of people's discarded things into a thrift shop located in the main common area where volunteers and staff coULD "Shop" for free boutique items.

in the KALANI "Free Boutique," ALI's passion project during HER first year at Kalani. SHE transformed a messy corner of people's discarded things into a thrift shop located in the main common area where volunteers and staff coULD "Shop" for free boutique items.

I signed up for a three-month program, but I intended to find a way to stay in Hawaii longer. Within two months of working in the kitchen, I made my marketing/advertising background known to the leadership team at Kalani. By month three, I secured a skilled-trade volunteer position on the Marketing and Communications Team. 

Within about a year, the opportunity presented itself to lead this team - and I went for it! Today, I serve as Kalani's Communications and Marketing Director. My team is focused on creating inspiring messaging to attract individuals to our center for transformative experiences (like my own), and like many of the characters you'll meet at Kalani. Besides the Volunteer Program, Kalani hosts year-round retreats in everything from yoga and meditation to dance and massage, in addition to providing accommodations for guests seeking rest and rejuvenation. Our studio schedule also includes 50+ classes each week that are open to our local community, many of which are offered for free or by donation.

It was my goal to work for a yoga/lifestyle brand after spending many years on the agency side. So finding my place at Kalani - one of the world's most unique yoga and retreat centers - has truly been a dream come true.

How has yoga played a role in catalyzing or supporting your 180? What pose best expresses your feelings about 180 and why? 

Yoga definitely catalyzed my 180, as I believe the practice got me in touch with what I really wanted, rather than what I thought I wanted or should want. It also awakened within me the previously dormant desire to learn, which led me to completing a 200-hour yoga teacher training, as well as other educational pursuits in astrology, tarot, and reiki. 

Beyond the mat, however, I always come back to the basic word; that yoga means union, or oneness. We also talk about permaculture a lot, here - as we return to this land's agricultural and native Hawaiian heritage of growing food and harmonizing with the plants, animals, and people. I think these words point to a state of consciousness where we realize we are not separate from one another, that we are all one, and that we can create a world where we are living together in peace, harmony, and abundance. 

The pose that best expresses my feelings about my 180 is savasana, corpse pose. I believe we need to let parts of ourselves die to create space for rebirth. The more we make ourselves available to this experience, the more quickly and frequently our lives transform. I try to make time for savasana, daily, no matter what - to rest and integrate the lessons and experiences of the day, as well as to let go of any thoughts, feelings, or patterns that no longer serve my highest good.

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What are you most proud of?

The thing that I am the most proud of, these days, is hearing from people who say that my story inspired them or that something I wrote touched them or that something I said helped someone through a difficult time. I think we're here to help and guide each other, and if what I share makes an impact, then that gives me the courage and inspiration to be more authentically me.  

What are you excited about right now?

I am excited that when I step out of my office, I get to breathe the planet's freshest air, marvel at the abundance of tropical plants, and make my way down to an open-air yoga studio for a 90-minute vinyasa practice. I am excited that when I go to lunch, I will get to eat some of Hawaii Island's freshest, most local foods, and that I will get to be surrounded by friends and laughter. I am excited to be exactly where I am, who I am, right now, and that feels pretty good.

If you could visit a younger version of you, how old would you be and what would you share with her?

If I could visit a younger version of me, I would probably visit my early twenties self. I would tell her there's no perfect formula to having a happy, successful life. I would tell her to prioritize health and happiness, and follow her passions, and that the rest will fall into place. I would tell her to work a little less, travel a little more, and to learn how to say "no" to what you don't want and "yes" to what you do want. I would tell her that love really does come when you least expect it. And, I would probably hug her and say, "you got this."

Check out Kalani's social channels - and learn more about how you can get involved with their nonprofit mission!
Facebook.com/Kalani.Oceanside 
Instagram.com/KalaniOceanside
YouTube.com/KalaniHonua

view from "The Point" Kalani's iconic view; contrasting lava rock, ocean and sky, view for days, popular yoga and meditation spot

view from "The Point" Kalani's iconic view; contrasting lava rock, ocean and sky, view for days, popular yoga and meditation spot