I like to think of ‘yoga’ as a philosophy.
Whether or not that makes sense from a technical or etymological (the origin of the word) point of view doesn’t really matter much to me. What matters is my associations and relationship to particular words, and “yoga” to me is as much about how I conduct myself off the mat, as how I conduct myself on the mat.
I find my relationship to Yoga is complex. When I am in the world, I feel, somehow, as if I am a representation of my path. Perhaps, representation isn’t the right word...maybe, ambassador. And this is not about my physical appearance.
Yoga is about cultivating an internal life, re-discovering our true nature, and then translating that greater internal connection to our external thoughts, words, and actions.
If I’m galavanting around the globe being dismissive, stressed, cranky, and self-absorbed, I’m not a great ambassador for yoga.
People want what other people have when they see the results. Right? Think of when you encounter a close friend who has recently lost a lot of weight. Our tendency is to ask that person, “How did you do it? What’s your secret?” It is the same when you watch a friend completely transcend his tendency to anger.
The best way to get more people to do yoga (and thus contribute to a more peaceful and healthy world) is to represent yoga well.
Traveling to other countries can bring out the best and the worst in us. We are often confronted with changed plans, the need to be flexible, last minute challenges, foreign customs, and a language we don’t quite understand.
We can get immersed in many stressful situations. And when people around you watch you respond peacefully and calmly, they start to say, “I want what she’s having.” All of a sudden they wonder if they should try out this ‘yoga’ stuff. And even if they don’t, you are paying homage to your practice by living it out.
So, here are three ways to travel more consciously, more ‘yogicly’ as I like to say.
Before you hit the streets to sight-see or shop or have a nice meal, meditate. Yep, that’s right. Sit in your hotel room and meditate. We put shoes on to equip ourselves for the rough bumps in the road, right? How do you equip yourself for the rough bumps in the mind?
When you begin the day with meditation, you will find, throughout your day, you handle things with much more acceptance and less aggravation. You may just find yourself smiling, instead of cursing inside, when someone is late, or cuts you off on the road, or pushes in front of you in a que.
(2) Talk to people.
Be curious. Live from the heart. You’re a human. There are others. And magical things happen when we actually talk to one another.
When we are traveling, we have the opportunity to hear stories and witness people that are immensely interesting and unique. We come alive through connection. Here’s a short example.
I was recently in a small town in Guatemala. I stumbled upon an organic, super foods restaurant, and the food and ingredients were unique and unbelievable. I knew that whoever owned that place had an interesting story, and I wanted to hear it.
I asked the waiter if the owner was around. He pointed to a young man sitting at the bar, with ripped jeans and a t-shirt. I walked over and asked about his story. Why did he begin a place like this and in such a small town?
Among his many answers were a passion for the spiritual journey, wanting to inspire ‘his people’ to take care of themselves through diet and introspection, a deep belief that food is medicine, and an experience to prove it. He loved nature and to hike volcanoes but many years ago, he injured his knee. He began doing research and healed himself with turmeric and ghee. We spoke for a long time. Exchanged information. And now he is a friend I will carry on with me. Taking genuine interest in one another is a big step towards consciousness and compassion. Let’s try.
(3) Learn the basics of the language.
I’m not saying to enroll in a six-month course before your flight departs. Get on the internet and find basic ways to say “hello; goodbye; thank you; good morning; good evening; how are you; sorry I don’t speak much (enter language here).”
Laugh at your horrible accent. But show a genuine interest to try. Even though my six years of learning Spanish in school flew out of the plane window the second we landed in Guatemala, I found I was able to connect with many local people by stumbling through the basics and laughing (with them) at myself. They loved it, and I was genuinely interested in connecting with them in whatever way we could.
I believe the people make a country more than the scenery.
So yes, enjoy the new scenes, the beautiful nature, the fascinating city, the different food. . .but also enjoy the people. Connect with the people.
You may just find, as I have, that’s where the real magic is.