Six months and 15 countries later, I thought I would write a little summary of the simple yet valuable lessons learnt from continuing a daily practice of Ashtanga yoga while travelling. I realised as I wrote this that some of these things I already knew from my regular daily practice, but it’s always good to have a reminder.
You always feel better after yoga… this has always been like a noble truth to me but I am still genuinely amazed at how yoga works as a magic balm to rejuvenate the body and calm the mind. Travelling is tiring and it is easy to make up excuses why resting in bed might be a better option than practicing. But the reality is …nothing makes you feel better afterwards than time on the mat!
It’s all about flexibility …and I don’t mean putting your leg behind your head. I’ve found that to be able to keep practicing when I travel I need to be flexible about when, where and how I practice. This is where a travelling practice probably differs with a regular at home practice. At home, setting a regular time and place to practice is beneficial. But when you are travelling you have no set routine, everyday is different and there are so many factors out of your control. I realised pretty early on that trying to follow a routine was stressful and kind of incongruous with the spontaneity and flow of the travelling life. Where possible we practice in morning, but we sometimes change our practice time to fit in with our daily site-seeing plans, travel commitments (catching early buses and trains) and even with the weather. In Burma it was insufferably hot in the middle of the day, so I used that time to be inside practicing, and then I could enjoy exploring and walking around in the early morning and afternoons. I’m someone who loves routine so this was challenging for me, but if I didn’t learn to be flexible in this way I think travelling and practicing daily would have been very difficult.
Being flexible about where we practice is relatively easy. I wrote on another earlier blog that finding places to practice is actually quite a fun challenge. I think we have only had one occasion where the room wasn’t big enough for a mat and that was in Hong Kong! But otherwise we always seem to be able to make do even if it is a squeeze.
Being flexible on how I practice has required a more subtle level of awareness and connection. My aim for this trip was to practice each day and do the best I can. I adapted my practice when I needed to, and trusted in myself to know when to give myself a little push or let when to let myself take it a little easy!
The scriptures were right…..yoga is better practiced indoors. Sometimes when I tell people I do yoga they ask if I like practicing outside. I always feel like a bit of a killjoy when I tell them that yoga should be practiced inside. Don’t get me wrong, I have often practice outside and it has been lovely (apart from Dharamsala, when a monkey chased me around the rooftop).. but I’ve found on this trip I have much preferred practicing indoors. After so much sensory stimulation from travelling, I want my practice to be a time for turning inwards, rather than having to contend with mosquitoes, the elements and inquisitive eyes.
Practicing when you travel is really, really hard. These last six months of has been the most challenging period of practice I have had…apart from when I had a back injury last year. I have never felt so much pain in my body when practicing as I have while practicing on the road. Long bus and train rides, an erratic diet and walking the streets for hours each day will do that to you! Getting through practice seems to sometimes take a superhuman effort! But so what. Hard is good. Hard makes it interesting and rewarding.
Yoga is the ultimate travelling companion. It keeps me healthy and sane. I honestly don’t know how people travel without it. I also have to add that travelling with someone also committed to the daily practice makes a big difference. We keep each other motivated and make decisions about where to stay and what to do knowing that yoga is a priority.
Before we started the trip, the thought of keeping up my practice while on the road caused me a bit of worry. But now looking back over the last six months, I realise it has been one of the best parts of the trip. It has been difficult, painful and at times inconvenient, but has provided me with a daily grounding and centering in the midst of constant change. I think it has helped me develop a stronger mind, but a less rigid one. As to how I will survive led classes in Mysore next month…only time will tell!