Local businessman, expat and yogi, Aren Bahia, talks tattoos, vegan food, overcoming addiction and making a fresh start in Ubud.
Born and raised in East Vancouver, Canadian expat Aren Bahia has now made a home for himself in Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali. After growing up in an environment that led to gangs and addiction, he traded Hennessy shots for wheatgrass, later opening two of Bali’s most beloved centres for art, tattoos, charity and local community bonding.
Bahia’s first experience of Ubud was from watching Eat, Pray, Love back in 2015. His personal and professional life was causing him immense pain and he knew he needed a major lifestyle overhaul. Days after seeing the movie, he booked a ticket and enrolled in Denise Payne’s Yoga Teacher Training at The Yoga Barn. From there, something clicked, and that’s when Conscious Arts and Karma House were born. Bahia’s new life in Ubud is a world away from his turbulent past, now a dedicated yogi and expat entrepreneur.
Intrigued and inspired by Bahia’s journey, Cat Woods – a Melbourne-based journalist and yoga, barre and Pilates instructor – caught up with Bahia on her recent visit to Ubud to talk tattoos, vegan food, overcoming addiction and making his fresh start in Ubud.
Hi Aren! Let’s start with what brought you to Bali. Why Ubud?
I came to Ubud to escape the life I’d created back in Canada. Ubud has a conscious community of kind, conscientious people that are totally different to the gang lifestyle I’d grown up with. When I arrived in Ubud, I traded Hennessy shots for wheatgrass, and lines in the club bathroom for cacao ceremonies. It was a drastic change that took a good year for me to get used to.
You’ve spoken about your past of drugs and crime. How did you fall into this lifestyle and how long did it last?
I grew up in a rough area in East Vancouver where it was normal to know of people involved in the drug trade. In high school I fell into a crowd connected with gangs. I just wanted to be accepted and to have some sort of power, so I fell into bad habits. That lifestyle lasted for about 8 to 10 years before things became way too crazy and I realised I wasn’t happy. I knew I wasn’t living a life that was positive and righteous. I knew I was made to do more on this earth.
Conscious Arts was your first business in Ubud, which is still going strong today. Tell us when and how it started.
I had the idea for Conscious Arts in a meditation retreat in India back in December 2016. I had a feeling that the tattoo industry needed to change as much as I needed to change, individually. I wanted to bring love and consciousness into a business where it was lacking. I wanted to bring charity work into the tattoo world, and also to support Bali, the island that saved my life. Within 3 months it was a big success and became the busiest tattoo shop in Ubud.
Six months after you opened Conscious Arts, you opened another business, Karma House. Tell us about that.
After the success of Conscious Arts, I knew I was onto something and had to expand, so I started working on Karma House. My vision was to create a community centre that promoted charity work, personal development, connection, good coffee, and of course, epic tattoos! It was a very, very tough year to build Karma House, but what didn’t kill me only made me stronger.
Beyond tattoos, what else does Karma House offer?
Karma House is an epic place to hang out. We have a cosy lounge/cafe area, a studio upstairs that can hold 40 yoga mats, and we regularly offer personal development courses and classes, dance , tantra, breathwork, concerts, events, and every couple of months we throw a badass house party. We also offer people the chance to give back to the island – that’s my favourite part bit about Karma House.
Why should people get a tattoo at either Conscious Arts or Karma House?
At any moment we have 7 to 10 artists working for us between my two locations. The number one thing I look for in an artist is a good attitude. That’s one thing that I value beyond talent. Our crew has a really great vibe about them – everyone has a big heart and is a pleasure to work with.
For expats and visitors, is it difficult to establish friendships in Ubud when so many people come and go?
Not at all, everyone is SO connective and open here. You can connect very deeply very quickly and become best friends in a week. It’s wild in a way. It’s not time that leads to deeper relationships, it’s being present and paying attention to people and being open about who you are.
With so many options on where to shop, eat, stay & play in Ubud, what advice would you give to people who want to spend their money in a way that supports the local community?
I definitely hope people choose to support the many businesses here that are trying to make a difference. Conscious business IS the future. Do a little research and find the businesses you want to support that align with your values – if you want to see more of something in this world then you need to seek and support the likeminded entrepreneurs making that happen.
What advice do you have for tourists and expats wanting to establish friendships and business in Ubud?
Go out and mingle! Go to ecstatic dance at Yoga Barn, go to Titi Batu and hit the gym, go to co-working events at Outpost – you will meet amazing people doing amazing things if you just put yourself out there. Just don’t get lost in all the glitter, durian, or wild sexy Bali romances…!
UBUD TIPS & TRICKS
Where are your favourite places to eat in Ubud?
For me, the best places to eat in Ubud are La Pacha Mama, Pica and The Sayan House.
Where do you go for live music or a night out in Ubud?
La Pacha Mama on a Saturday night is always a good time! Margaritas, live music, and amazing service – if you’re lucky you’ll meet the owner, Alejandro, who’ll make you his special Margarita. It’s the best I’ve ever had.
Where’s your favourite place to watch the sunrise and sunset in Ubud?
Sunrise is always best viewed from the rice paddies near my house! Or otherwise, from Ubud’s famous Campuhan Ridge. As for sunset, always at The Sayan House – best enjoyed with their guacamole roll!
If you need a break but don’t want to travel too far, where do you go?
I usually go to Nusa Lembongan – it’s only a 30 minute ferry ride from Sanur beach. Quick and breezy, Nusa Lembongan has the magic of Bali along with a tropical beach island vibe. Check out Ginger n’ Jamu for breakfast or lunch, and give the owner Jamie a big “hello” from me!
Like the sound of Aren’s work? Check out Conscious Arts and Karma House the next time you’re in Ubud!
Words by Cat Woods.
Cat Woods is a Melbourne-based journalist and yoga, barre and Pilates instructor. Cat is a regular visitor to Ubud. You can read more about her life and listen to her podcasts via her website, or follow her adventures on Instagram.