Hello, Friends and Fellow Yogis!
I have returned to New York City after two amazing months of travel through Brazil. Through adventures of learning Portuguese, learning how to navigate new cities and a new country, learning about the culture, developing friendships, taking leaps of faith, facing many fears and exploring exquisitely beautiful places, I also had the chance to deepen my yoga practice physically, mentally and spiritually.
For one thing, I had to commit to maintaining my own practice throughout my travels, as I did not have access to classes at studios. One thing I learned was the value of consistency and routine. Some days my physical practice was only 20 minutes, or even just 10 at times; but the act of practicing almost every day helped my body to stay mobile enough to regularly practice poses that I used to avoid because of pain. For example, for years I would often have pain in my lower back during or after urdhva dhanurasana, or wheel pose. Because of that I would typically practice other heart-openers instead. In Brazil, however, I found that the combination of practicing asana almost daily (as well as taking a break from some of the other types of movement that I was accustomed to practicing in New York, such as certain dance styles) resulted in my ability to go into wheel without pain and without having to spend a long time preparing my body beforehand.
In Brazil my day-to-day asana practice did not vary too much, although every day was a chance to explore and discover what served me the best. A simple routine of warming up the spine, joints, and core, followed by poses to elongate my muscles and open my hips and heart, did me a WORLD of good while I was traveling in terms of preventing pain, releasing tension, staying flexible, and feeling connected with my body. As it was sometimes hard to find opportunities to venture into the city and move in other ways, being able to maintain a home practice was invaluable. Any poses that feel good to you (no matter how simple), when practiced regularly, can enhance your life. Yoga does not have to be practiced at a studio, and physical yoga does not have to be specific “asana”. Simply following your breath while moving is practicing yoga. I invite you to take a few moments each day, wherever you are, to move in a way that feels good to you. 🙂
On another note, mental flexibility was a huge part of my yoga practice while traveling, as pretty much everything went differently than I had envisioned. My trip was quite a lesson in the importance of letting go of expectations in order to be ready to take on what actually comes up. While I have tons of beautiful, happy, exciting, rewarding, freeing, loving memories from my time in South America, I also had moments of frustration, loneliness, disappointment, discouragement, confusion and sadness.
Over time, I became aware that some of the frustration, anxiety and depression that I experienced during my travels stemmed from my desire to fulfill the expectations that I had for myself prior to arriving, as well as expectations that I thought other people had for me. Many people had recommended places to visit and things to do in Brazil. I, too, had big hopes of doing certain things, such as taking dance classes at studios that I my teachers had recommended to me. Well, I encountered many challenges in relation to transportation, safety, communication, weather and the fact that my plans were often so on-the-fly, that made it much more complicated to check out some of these places and do some of these things than I had hoped. Due to these factors, I accessed way fewer dance opportunities than I had expected, for example. This was really frustrating and disappointing for me at the time.
At moments I felt pressured to find a way to make certain things happen because I thought that it would be such a shame to return to the States and say, “Actually, I didn’t go there, I didn’t do that and I didn’t even find a way to do some of the things that were on the top of my list when I arrived.” I felt that I would somehow be a failure if I didn’t follow through with these ideas. A friend in Brazil reminded me of the following truth: “You make your own adventure. Everything everyone else recommends is just a suggestion.” Touché. Yet, it took me most of my trip to come to terms with that and just let go. In my classes, I often remind my students that part of yoga is constantly adjusting as your receive more information, allowing yourself to stay flexible (with yourself and others) and to embrace the present moment, then let it go. On the mat, this can manifest in the form of being patient to accommodate fellow students who enter into an already-crowded room after class has started, or in modifying a pose if you start to feel pain. In Brazil, this manifested in many forms, especially mental ones.
On the flip-side, MAN did I have some AMAZING times full of AWESOME surprises!!! The diverse places I did check out were so enriching and I would not trade those experiences for the world. I developed beautiful friendships in unexpected situations. I got to see things that were exquisitely beautiful and things that were ugly. I had chances to experience Brazil with locals, allowing me to see beyond some of the tourist attractions and to experience aspects of Brazil that are not advertised. Through my journey to learn Portuguese, I was reminded that we must be willing to make ourselves vulnerable in order to grow. I DID dive into the dance scene as best as I could, through checking out clubs and festivals with live pagode and forro music, as well as attending the capoeira and dance classes that were in reach. My experiences of having a tough time accessing some of the dancing that I craved actually reaffirmed my passion for dance and helped me to realize new horizons that I want to reach with my art. All of these experiences taught me about the importance of realizing the freedom that you have to dramatically alter your routine, and then finding the courage to risk losing something from your current lifestyle along the way. I became aware that the things that are most important to your soul will not simply diminish when you change your routine. In fact you might even come back more driven than you were before.
In addition, I observed how powerful perspective is in shaping the quality of our experiences and altering our reality. This makes me think about the idea that things are not necessarily positive or negative, right or wrong, helpful or unhelpful, great or small. Our attitudes in a certain moment can cause us to see a situation in a particular light, and our attitudes can drastically change when we are caught off guard by new information. If that’s the case, then where does the truth lie in any given situation? Well, perhaps this can serve as a reminder of the importance of cultivating a steady mind so that we can have the best chance to see life as clearly as possible. Coming to your mat to draw focus to the breath while tuning into what is happening within your body helps the mind to slow down. As you move through postures (asana) and breathe through the sensations that arise, you begin to clear and stimulate different channels throughout the body. This allows energy, blood, oxygen, as well as fluids throughout the brain, internal organs and joints to flow with more ease. Meanwhile, you begin to release tension, toxins, and even mental clutter. Through this practice, you are training your mind to be present in the moment, to accept what is and to move forward from that place. As you practice listening to and nurturing your body, breath and mind on your mat, you are teaching yourself to live in this way throughout your daily activities and interactions. Through a consistent yoga practice we can cultivate more steady minds, which benefits not only ourselves, but all of those with whom we interact.
I hope to see you soon in the City. Please check out the live calendar to stay tuned for classes.
Peace and Cheers to Adventures!,