When it comes to traveling, even some of the most detailed plans tend to derail in execution. The ability to find flow in the midst of turmoil is one of the greatest lessons of life on the road. Anyone who has been to India, or many other developing countries, knows that when plans change unexpectedly, resistance is futile and that surrender is by far the most advisable option. Being on the road, whether that means months of backpacking, a short vacation, or anything in between, requires a shift in mindset. For yoga practitioners or teachers, the lessons that we learn and practice on the mat truly come to life through travel.
Translating the lessons of yoga into everyday life is something often easier said than done. It’s easy to find balance, peace, tranquillity and openness in a dimly lit room with tranquil music, incense and all thoughts, phones, obligations and worries left outside the door. Traveling, while exciting in nature, also pushes our buttons, takes us outside of comfort zone and challenges us in new and dynamic ways.
The more we practice yoga, the more we come to realize that life offers us constant opportunities to honor the yogic path. Buddhism acknowledges how life is indeed a bumpy path, full of highs and lows, and our suffering comes from attachment to how things should be, as opposed to how they truly are. There’s nothing like stepping out of your habitual routines and embarking on a journey in a foreign land to test your inner yogi!
The nature of travel is a beautiful invitation to dive into the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual lessons of yoga. Still not convinced?! Let’s look at a few poignant examples.
Your alarm sounds, you jump in the shower, grab a quick breakfast and head out the door to work. The daily routines of life require little attention; they are automated, intrinsically ingrained in our cells. The familiarity of our surroundings becomes a beige landscape, no matter how content we are there. We are creatures of habit and the faces we see, the meals we cook, the hobbies we fill our weekends with and the coffee shop we frequent on weekdays, all fall into a reliable construct of order and predictability.
Travel throws these routines and expectations out the door in the most liberating of ways. The very essence of travel ensures that the sights, sounds, smells and tastes are all new and foreign. Like a young child taking in the world with fresh eyes, we become acutely aware of our surroundings.
Travel is a sensory bombardment in the most pleasurable of ways. Every moment is an opportunity to be truly present.
The short duration, temporary nature, or essence of impermanence that comes with being in a foreign land, makes us appreciate things with more will and intensity. The gratitude list we may struggle to fill back home overflows endlessly as new experiences reawaken our spirit and we come more fully to life.
In the digital age we live in, travel has become incredibly easy. The idea of turning up in a new city, navigating its twists and turns and hoping to stumble across a decent place to stay is a reality that the modern traveller rarely comes face to face with. We can book our flights, shuttles, accommodations, day trips, meals and more from the comfort and safety of our home before even leaving for the airport. Yet, even the most careful planner is bound to face deviations when the journey translates from a laptop screen to real life.
Flexibility is a lesson that will make every journey that much more bearable and pleasurable. Trains run late, ferries are cancelled, flights are postponed, images on Airbnb are not always accurate, yes can mean no, no can mean yes. The list continues. Changes in plans often are accompanied by heavy luggage, extreme heat, pesky mosquitos, foreign tongues, a baffling new currency, time constraints or pressures, and usually a simple fear or uncertainty when faced with an unknown environment. Anger and frustration can be quick to rise in these circumstances. Travel requires a degree of simply letting go and being adaptable. While we are creatures of habit, we are also admirably adaptable by nature and travel reminds us of this quality.
While travel involves lugging heavy bags from location to location, that’s not the kind of strength referred to here. Travel requires an inner strength. As we push our boundaries and step into the unknown, we discover an inner strength. Solo travel in particular asks us to dig a little deeper and truly step into our own power. Without this inner strength, the chances of having somewhat of a breakdown is indeed a real possibility on the road!
Learning a new language, learning the road rules, understanding the correct etiquette and navigating new terrain all requires a degree of persistence and dedication. Chances are you may have faced times in a foreign land where the idea of packing up and heading home is an alluring option. Staying strong and moving through challenges is where we grow. Travel transforms us and reminds us of our ability to move through those rough bumpy patches. And this lesson translates to life in general.
With strength comes persistence, resilience and true reward.
If you are reading this article right now from your computer or smartphone, chances are you are in a better position than the majority of people in the world. We live privileged lives where simple things such as food, shelter, family and safety are a given. Travel opens our eyes to the way other people in the world live their own day to day lives. With these realizations, we both become more compassionate human beings, and simultaneously, we become more grateful for the privileged lives that we do have. The daily hiccups we face back home become meaningless when placed into a wider perspective.
Travel opens our heart and inspires us to be more and to give more. There are endless stories of people who have gone overseas and been touched in radical ways by a single person or village and return home adamant to help these people’s lives become easier, safer and more fruitful. There are unlimited ways we can help those less privileged that ourselves and that doesn’t mean financially, a huge smile, five minutes playing with children, a meal with a local family, these things all matter. It takes us tiptoeing out of our safety bubble to really see the ways in which we can help make the world a better place, how we can quite literally be the change we want to see in the world.
The beauty of travel highlights two contradictory things: how different we are, and how intrinsically similar we are. You quickly learn on the road that while language may separate you, a sincere smile has the same meaning all over the world. We come to appreciate the ways that other cultures live and embrace these differences without judgment, but with interest and intrigue. The streets, buses, cities and beaches are no different to a yoga room; we see ourselves in others.
Any traveller you speak to will have a story of how someone went out of their way to help them on the road; invited them into their home, gave them a lift, offered directions, invited them for a meal. Friendships form very quickly on the road and can often last a lifetime. These friendships are formed easily as the barriers and barricades we often hold up in everyday life are lowered and flicked to the wayside in a new land. The differences we hold are fascinating, and the similarities we share as human beings, are undeniable.
There are many opportunities to take yoga into our everyday lives, but travel is a poignant example of the lessons of yoga in action.
Inspired to take a trip? Check out our travel guides for yoga lovers here.
How has travel influenced your practice? Or vice-versa?