The traveling psychologist Anja Lang’s unconventional journey through Asia

Photo courtesy: Anja Lang

Danish Anja Lang has the vision to inspire people to affectionate fearlessness, mental health, and growth of freedom in thought and action. With ‘Open Path Clinic’ she is on a mission to lift one million people out of anxiety, stress, depression, and trauma within the next 40 years and to support companies and organizations in becoming sustainable human workplaces that fully benefit employees and society.

Ambitious perhaps, but Anja Lang not only talks the talk, she has also walked the walk – quite literally in fact. 

Anja is a firm believer that the only way she can really help others is by practicing what she preaches. From studying alongside nuns at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, submerging herself amongst the Naga Babas at the Ganges River in India, to working closely with trauma patients in Chiang Rai, Thailand, Anja has taken the journey herself to gain an in-depth knowledge of the techniques she practices as a mental health entrepreneur, psychologist, coach, meditation teacher, business consultant, and traveling psychologist.

Through her travels, Anja has discovered and allocated how we through insight, different perspectives, and realizations can learn to cope with the challenges that are, according to herself, fundamental parts of being human.

“What makes people sick is not the stress in itself but the thoughts surrounding the stress. The pressure we put upon ourselves for being stressed when we should have been able to cope. Stress is not a problem we can rid ourselves of but it is something we can learn to be friends with while the storm passes,” Anja explains. 

The road less traveled

Virtually over our morning coffee in two different parts of Asia, I recently talked with Anja about how her career-driven life in the fast lane with a fancy but demanding job title and solid paychecks let her take the road less traveled and embark on her own unconventional expedition. 

“Is there more to life than success, status, and money, who am I really without it all – and do I, myself actually lead by the examples I am teaching others? Can you help others cope with stress when you live a stressful life yourself? And can you really know that your teachings and techniques work if you haven’t tested them yourself?”  

To find out the answers, Anja took a leave of work about six years ago and has since been diving straight into practices of Buddhism, mindfulness, and holistic scripts all over Asia. A most indifferent but ever so fascinating and inspiring approach. After listening to Anja’s story I can confirm that just like the saying goes, there are truly things you will only experience on the roads less traveled. 

Life is a journey

It was never the traveling in itself that inspired Anja to seek abroad, but the realization of needing answers, knowledge, and practices that she could not get back home.

“I want to inspire people to step out of their comfort zones. It is such a giving experience. It is not always comfortable but the uncomfortable let us be aware of our own reaction patterns. You will meet so many different people who can teach you so much and I am much better at my job because of it” Anja says.  

Before the pandemic paralyzed the world, Anja was working at a holistic recovery center in Chaing Rai, Thailand but got stuck in Tainan, Taiwan during a study she attended when borders closed. I will get back to this a little later though because first I wanted to know how it all started.    

Back to the beginning

Anja who is originally a trained organizational psychologist and clinical psychologist always thought that she was meant to live a career-driven life with everything it entails including success, money, and status. Anja grew up in the Danish city of Randers and studied for her Bachelor’s degree in Aarhus before taking her Master’s in Copenhagen. She did an internship at The Embassy of Denmark in Poland and has always been more of a nomad than a typical homebound individual. 

She started her career working with psychological principles and research methods to solve problems in the workplace and improve the quality of life at Lego in Denmark. As the adventurous soul she is, Anja was thrilled when Lego stationed her abroad in London, England, and excited to be working on international projects. 

Pulling the plug

With a very big interest in the human mind and psyche, why our jobs tend to make us so stressed, and how do we improve life quality, Anja started practicing Buddhism alongside the nuns at a Monastery in England while also adding meditation to her principles and practices as an organizational psychologist at Lego. But Anja kept asking herself the same questions and she witnessed close hand how stressed we as people get from our demanding jobs, the pressure there is from society to succeed and how so many people suffer under those demands that we put upon ourselves.

“I don’t want to teach anything shallow, I wanted to know the origin of these practices and if they actually work. I led a fast life with many work hours and if I wanted to truly dig deep into the problems I knew I had to take the journey and do the work myself. So basically I told my leader that I needed to take a year off and stare into a wall,” Anja says and laughs.   

And so the journey began

Anja started working at a so-called ‘Folk High School’ in Zanzibar in Tanzania where she taught Self-insight which generally implies the level of understanding that exists relative to the nature of one’s self-system. After about six months, Lego was forced to make organizational cuts and with that, Anja’s old department was closed. That made her consider if she actually wanted to return to her old life or continue in the new path she was on. She had planned to escape a stressful job and dig deep within herself but in reality, her job in Zanzibar working alongside young people was just as stressful as her job in Lego, which then prompted her to proceed to a yoga training course in India.

“This must give me what I need, I thought, just a month or two months in India and then I’ll be ready and know what I want to do,” Anja says.  

Photo courtesy: Anja Lang

Life amongst the Naga Babas

Anja found a so-called Indian Ashram which origin is a fascinating story that inspired her to meet the woman behind the tale. The Ashram was founded by a German actress who in the ’60s sought out help with her mental health issues in India where she came across a Yogi living under a tree next to the Ganges River. After meeting the Yogi, the actress seemingly threw her passport away and completely submerged herself into the same lifestyle the Yogi practiced and she lived with him under the tree for 12 years until they were expecting a baby. They ended up having three children together and her sister sponsored a piece of land for them to build a so-called Ashram. When Anja arrived years later the german lady had passed away but now her three children were running the Ashram and Anja ended up staying there for six months practicing Yoga, Meditation, and other spiritual practices to evolve and grow spiritually.

The Naga Babas or Naga Sadhus, literally meaning ‘Naked Yogis’, are a part of the Shaivite sadhus at the Ashram next to the Ganges River. They take vows of celibacy, renounce societal norms, and take control of their basic instincts by stripping down to their flesh, with the ability to stay in frigid temperatures without cover. Through conversation and observation, Anja learned about their practices, how the psychical mind works and how people can truly work with themselves. Anja explains the experience as one of the most powerful she has had in all her years of studying psychology. “I believe that there are so many methods other than speaking that psychologists in the West do not really recognize, it’s all done more on a surface level and this experience taught me so incredibly much”.   

Slow down…. Just breathe

Anja continued her journey over the next many months by moving from one retreat to another, isolated in practices with different teachers. After six months in India, she traveled to live in a Monastery in Nepal for a month and returned to Dharamsala in Himachal, India to study Buddhism on a higher level. There she spent another six months living at a Nunnery with the nuns while also following studies by the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. 

Photo courtesy: Anja Lang

Anja came back to Denmark in late 2017 to attend a wedding. Although she was quickly offered several jobs and in reality had all the elements with her to start her life back in Denmark, she had a continuing desire to really unite her new learnings with psychology. She wasn’t finished with her journey and ended up going back to India where she continued her learnings.

Dance to your own rhythm 

“Back in India I just really wanted to do something fun,” Anja says and she joined a month-long Indian Dance recency program with other dance artists interested in creating works in a rural context. She loved it and her dance teacher suggested she applied for a Dance school in Bangalore which she got accepted into. There Anja took an education in modern dance, traditional Indian dance, and martial arts that also involved art therapy and somatic teachings and was very intense with practices running long hours every day.

“It was a fun and very interesting experience to witness what I was able to do with my body and how the body and mind work together. How much capacity we as people have” Anja says.

“After that experience, I also work very somatically in my practices with clients. The study of the mind/body interface, the relationship between our physical matter and our energy, the interaction of our body structures with our thoughts and actions”’ 

 

Photo courtesy: Anja Lang

Back to the present

After that year Anja had an immense desire to get back into working with clients which is why she applied for the job at the holistic recovery center in Chaing Rai, Thailand.

“I worked with trauma and as a somatic psychologist but also with a focus on mindfulness. I was also the meditation teacher onsite. I felt that with all my previous education within psychology I was now able to give so much more and it was such a great experience.”

Until the pandemic hit. 

As mentioned briefly at the start, Anja got stuck in Tainan, Taiwan when Covid-19 paralyzed the world last year and she has been there ever since. During her year in Taiwan, Anja has gotten back into her works as an organizational psychologist. The holistic recovery center she worked for in Thailand is relocating to Portugal with help from the EU and Anja has been offered to work as HR responsible for the startup. The plan is for Anja to relocate there at the end of this year which is something she is very excited about.

“In Taiwan, I was working online but also doing retreats and conducting support groups for women to help them deal with the uncertainty of the pandemic”, Anja says. She is passionate about women’s work and the role women are placed in according to the traditional cultural view of women’s roles in society.

Photo courtesy: Anja Lang

How to cope with stress, depression, and anxiety

After listening to Anja’s journey, I had to ask, “Do you ever get stressed?” 

“Yes naturally! I actually believe that depression, anxiety, and stress are important parts of being human. Those feelings are stages though and not feelings and they come and go throughout our lives. We have the idea that if we practice mindfulness or speak to a psychologist we can rid ourselves of these problems and be happy. But in reality, what I’ve learned after years of practice and studying is that we can not rid ourselves of these elements. It is a fundamental part of our heritage as humans and how we have established ourselves in life with high expectations. A lot of our actions and thought activities lead us away from our body and that is what makes us stressed. It is not about not being stressed but all about how we deal with the stress.” 

“When I experience stress myself I try not to work myself up about it. I define the reason as to why I feel stressed and how I can cope with it. So I can stay human through it. Knowing it’s human to be stressed and knowing that it will pass if I accept and cope with it,” Anja says.     

We are all the same people

“What I’ve realized on my journey is that we are all basically the same people. Regardless of location, people generally talk about the same subjects, worry about the same issues, and cherish the same values all across cultures. To be human is the same globally and that insight has for me personally made traveling abroad much less daunting. The world is not so different and estranged. I lead the same life regardless of location so if you have a desire or passion to seek a life abroad you will most likely find yourself enriched with new perspectives and discover yourself a little better – which I believe is important. I also believe that this journey has made me a better psychologist and I am now able to work with severe trauma cases, cultural victims and that is simply because I have broadened my world.” 

Anja is offering psychotherapy and coaching, meditation training and workshops, and group and team development through her Open Path Clinic. Find more information about Open path Clinic here. You can also follow Anja’s inspirational journey through her Instagram page and Facebook page.  

Photo courtesy: Anja Lang

About Mette Larsen

ScandAsia Journalist • Scandinavian Publishing Co., Ltd. • Thailand

View all posts by Mette Larsen

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