Aren Bahia is a Canadian entrepreneur who's lived a "full-spectrum life."
Growing up in a very rough area in Vancouver, Aren's seen his world shift from a life of fast cars, fast cash, and fast women to meditation and yoga in the Himalayas, where he learned to live a life of generosity, connection, and compassion.
Starting over in Bali in 2016, he's launched four businesses and raises tens of thousands of dollars every year for underprivileged and mentally disabled Balinese children.
Aren founded Karma House Bali, Conscious Arts Tattoos, and is a co-founder of YogiLab and UluLife.
Can I ask everybody, put your hands on your heart for a second. I just want you to take a second and ask yourself, Who loves Julia Roberts? Yeah? Yeah? Guys, do you wanna hear a story about how Julia Robert saved my life? All right. We'll get to that in a second. First, we'll go back to twelve-year-old me.
Now, believe it or not, I didn't always look like a Bollywood villain. You see it, right? You could see it. I could be a fucking Bollywood villain, I promise. It's a dream of mine. Twelve-year-old me wasn't this guy. Twelve-year-old me was fat. He had braces. He had glasses. He had asthma. He had a gap in his teeth from the braces. Did any of you ever have the wrench that made your teeth gap? You know what I'm talking about here? It was bullshit. Twelve-year-old me had all that. I was the slowest runner in my entire grade. Everybody would be waiting for me on the other end, and I'd be jiggling along cos I had boy boobs, not man boobs—I was twelve. I'd be wheezing cos I had asthma, and I'd be whistling coz of the gap in my teeth. It's not like I needed any more attention, but I got it.
Now my dad. He was born in Vancouver, but he's brown. He's a coconut. He's brown on the outside, white on the inside. And his name's Paul. He was born named Paul. Paul was an angry dad. He'd be there yelling all the time. Mainly at any of my sporting events. I used to hate going to baseball. Baseball's a high-pressure sport. I could catch. I could hit. But the running part wasn't my jam. That was the hard part for me, you know? And Paul would be yelling from the sidelines. And every time I'd hit almost a fucking home run, he'd be going. "YEAH, run, Aren, RUN." And I'd be running as slow as possible or as fast as I possibly could like an underwater slow-motion hippo going, "Fuck you, Dad." And the coaches would be like, "Paul, can you wait in the car?" cos he was just too much.
Now I grew up in East Vancouver, the rough part of town. My school was known for gang violence, machete attacks, and recruitment into local drug dealing trafficking operations. It wasn't the best place for the kid with the whistle. It wasn't the best place for the kid with the boy boobs. I used to get called Bitch Tits Bahia. Don't you fucking repeat that. (That's my housemate.)
So my best friend at the time, his name was Ricardo. He was from El Salvador, and he had abs at eleven years old. It was fucking bullshit. I was the fat friend. He got all the girls, and I was sitting there whistling. Ricardo had an older cousin named Nelson, and Nelson was a gangster, and everybody loved Nelson. Everybody gave Nelson respect. And when I was with Nelson, people were nicer to me. I didn't get bullied when I was with Nelson. So me and Ricardo wanted to be just like Nelson.
It wasn't long before I started dealing drugs because that was the thing to do in my neighborhood. If you wanted girls, you wanted respect, and you didn't wanna get fucked with, sell some dope. So I started off selling weed, then MDMA, and then this and that and this and that. Before you knew it, I was running a nationwide drug dealing operation.
I thought it was like a rap music video. My life was cool at the time, you know, for a couple of years, and the distance between me and my father grew and grew and grew. I wasn't exactly making Pops proud, but it didn't matter to me. I had money. I had women. I had a white Mercedes with a tan-colored interior. Inside fish sticks, outside tartar sauce—it was the paint job. So I used to pull up that Benz next to my dad's old truck like Fuck you, Dad thinking I was all cool. And it wasn't until I came home, crying to my folks at twenty-three years old. And I was a drug addict. The stress and trauma of that life had gotten to me. Once the Mexican cartel started getting into the picture, things were just a little too scary for me. Once my friends started getting kidnapped, things were a little too scary for me, and I was popping pills just to stay okay with everything happening, but I wasn't okay.
It was the rock bottom part of my life. I needed to do something to change. The drugs really gotta hold of me, as Eminem would say. So I found this counselor, and he told me to do something called iboga. Anybody heard of iboga before? It's an African plant root from Gabon. I didn't know where Gabon was either, don't worry. It's like ayahuasca from Africa, except it's horrible. It's like your stern, angry dad telling you how much of a fuckup you are over and over and over. And if you move, you'll throw up. So you just gotta sit there and take it.
I did this for a week straight and, on the third day of an eight-hour journey, I saw my entire life flash before my eyes. I saw how did this guy become a drug dealer? How did little fat Aren whistling along go to becoming adult boy? I saw all the choices. I saw how I was that guy. But I also saw that I could make some changes. I saw that I could take responsibility for my future. And I saw that I needed to make a big leap. I needed to do something different.
Now the mornings after you take iboga, you sit there shivering in a blanket, contemplating your life. And they told me, "Yeah, you could watch Netflix." I was like, "Okay." So I'm sitting there, and they're like, "Don't watch anything violent. Don't watch anything scary. Positive, happy things only. It'll come up later in your journeys." I was like, "Okay." Already a strange situation. So I flip on Netflix, and that's when my world changed. That's when I saw a miracle. I was taken to a new scene. I was taken to somewhere completely different than anything I've ever witnessed before. I saw the magic of Bali. I saw an offering, devotional prayer. I saw beautiful Balinese people. It was different than anything I'd ever experienced. I knew whatever that was, I needed it in my life. That's when the movie Eat, Pray, Love changed my life. Who would've thought?
So I'm sitting there shivering, and I go, "I need to get there. Where is this movie?" Tap, tap, tap, Google, Google, Google. Bali. Dope. Book a ticket to Bali. "Where's Bali?" Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, Indonesia. Awesome. "Where's Indonesia?" Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. "Really? Fuck. It's there?" I swear I thought it was near Japan or some shit. So two days later, I land in Ubud, Bali. I mean, I get there, and I'm still adult boy. I rock up in a Louis Vuitton shirt and diamond earrings to Yoga Barn! Like, "What's up?" I'm just like, Whoa. It's a completely different world to me, but I know I need to get engaged in this community somehow, some way, and quick.
Now I used to teach kickboxing in Canada, and I thought, Well, there's a yoga teacher training starting next week. It's like the same thing, right? I could do this. It's like kickboxing teaching, just with better asses. Great. So I end up in this yoga teacher training with this teacher named Denise Payne. She's about that big. She's looking up at me, and she doesn't take any shit. And I still rock up with the same ego I had in Vancouver. I was still that same guy trying to make it in the world of green juice and quinoa. That yoga teacher training was tough. I didn't exactly do a good job. While I was trying to learn about chakras, I was partying on the weekends, going on Tinder dates, getting tattoos. I was still exhibiting the same patterns of East Van Aren in Ubud, Bali.
She didn't have any of it. She wasn't happy with how I showed up in that. And I didn't give a shit. I was still a drug dealer. The culmination of it was at the end at the graduation ceremony. And everyone's happy. It's a celebration. Except she comes to me, and she goes, "Hey, I can't pass you in this yoga teacher training. I can't put my name on your certificate." And I look at her. She's about that big to me, but I felt small. I think Am I the only person who's ever failed yoga teacher training? Shit. I give my best "I don't give a fuck" face. She goes, "Aren, when are you gonna give a shit about something? When are you actually gonna show up? You could be so great if you just got over your bullshit." No one ever talked to me like that, and it hurt. I tried not to cry. Tried to be tough. All the other yogis are happy, prancing around—fucking mala beads everywhere.
And I gotta go back to Vancouver. I failed the shanti shanti world, and I gotta go back to East Van, and I know it's waiting for me. I know I gotta get out of that life cos it's gonna swallow me up whole.
I'm flying back to Vancouver. My heart is in my stomach. I'm scared for my life. The next six months were the hardest six months of my entire life. I chose that I wanted to get out, but anytime you wanna make a leap to do something different, you're gonna meet resistance. It's like the universe asking you, "How bad do you want it?" And I had to go through it. I remember one moment that was a shift for me.
Now to get out, I needed an exit strategy, and to get out, I needed to make some cash, and I couldn't just leave like that. So I was still in the dope game, and I had to do this one drug deal. I was selling two kilos of coke to a couple of guys I didn't really know well. I was setting up for this drug deal, and I brought a big gun with me. It was a .40 cal. with a silencer on it. It was about that big. I was trying to figure out where to hide it just in case things went wrong so I could shoot these guys cos I wasn't trying to lose these two keys. I couldn't afford it. As I was trying to figure it out, I had a moment where I just stopped and collapsed. I was having a panic attack. I thought to myself, Is this what my world is right now? Am I trying to psych myself up to shoot a couple of guys over some blow? This is MY life?
It was a dangerous place to be on that ground. A broken boy with a loaded handgun and just then Denise Payne. "Aren, when you gonna give a shit about something? When are you actually gonna show up? When are you gonna get over your own bullshit?" And I sit there, and I'm like, Fuck Denise. She's right. She's right. I knew what I needed to do. I made a decision right there.
Six months later, I'm in prison. The prison's name is Hotel K—Kerobokan maximum security prison in Bali—an hour away from here. But I'm not a prisoner. I'm teaching yoga. Denise Payne had me finish my yoga teacher training by volunteering a hundred hours in prison to these prisoners. Being in jail was great because I could leave. It's like a low-pressure situation. Now, I wasn't a very good yoga teacher, but it's not like the students could go anywhere. It's not like they had anything better going on. I even made friends with the Balinese mafia. It's not like they took my classes or anything, but they'd crowd around watching me teach, smoking cigarettes, going, "Hey, bro, nice tattoos," and I'd be like, "Thanks, Maaray, cool."
That time in prison was important for me. I was clearing karma. I had to do my time. I had to go back and finish something that I fucked up and come back at it as a better man to show that I could change. I wasn't that guy that I showed up as. I could shift. I could make a decision. I could be a new man.
So I moved to Ubud, Bali and I chose that I wanted to be a good guy. I didn't wanna be a criminal anymore. I wanted to make my parents proud, but I knew I needed to do a lot of work right here. Cos, that guy that was buying everybody wheatgrass shots wasn't killing it. I was cheesy. For real. So I did a bunch of self-work. I did eight meditation retreats, three yoga teacher trainings, a bunch of tantra trainings, authentic relating. I saw psychiatrists, spiritual counselors. I saw shamans. I did ayahuasca. I did Kambo. I did cacao ceremonies. I danced ecstatically.
I did a bunch of shit that guys in my old neighborhood would question my sexuality for. Cos I was eye gazing with guys named Sheva, and I was crying with dudes named Lion. I would've gotten my ass kicked. These are important times for me. I had to do it. I had to shift. I had to put in the work, and I learned a lot during those years. It's been quite a journey. Since that time making those shifts, making those changes, and investing myself, I learned I could do anything I wanted.
In four years, I opened up four businesses, and all of them had a big impact on the island. I was done making money that didn't have something bigger than just me. I didn't wanna make another cent that didn't make my dad proud.
The first business still funds a school for mentally disabled Balinese children. And when I took Paul there, he was about to cry. He saw that I wasn't that gangster anymore. He saw that I was doing something better than who I was then. And I got to see my dad finally proud of me.
We're putting out online global vipassana, helping everybody meditate in the whole world, and I'm not selling coke anymore. I've been free of opiates for four years now. Completely clean. Thank you.
So my dad. He called me like a month ago, and he was, you know, catching up with me. We're cool now. And he goes, "Hey, I'm getting fat now." And I go, "Really? What's going on?" He's like, "Well, I just can't get motivated to run. I can't get motivated to do anything, you know. I'm just being lazy." And I'm like, "Well, Dad, I've been running every day." And he goes, "YOU'VE been running?" I'm like, "Yeah. All the time." He's like, "You used to hate running." And I'm like, "I know, but I'm not that kid anymore, you know. I revisited something that I wasn't good at back then. And I'm a different person now, and I love running." He's like, "Wow, that's inspiring. Do you have any advice for me?" And I was like, "YEAH, run, Paul, RUN."