Every time I step off a plane and into a GK program, I challenge myself and the Globekickers alike to see if they can use the opportunity of travel to witness the “yoga in all things.”
How is this entire journey just another form of yoga? I ask. When can you bring awareness to your (and ultimately other’s) patterns and tendencies? Can you examine those things with love instead of judgement? Can you find your breath, center, and connection to yourself and the people around you in every interaction?
On a yoga mat, during the asana (the physical postures of yoga), we intentionally put ourselves into difficult postures, challenging positions, uncomfortable situations. Then we ask ourselves to breath through it all, to find peace in moments when we want to bail, to observe our mental patterning during the whole fiesta.
It’s not much different than being off your mat in the big (and often challenging) world. In fact, many interesting observations have come from this practice:
While on the very first trip, Russ (one of our cofounders) reflected to me that, during his first yoga practice in Portugal, he felt a strong connection to his home in Austin, Texas. A physical sensation that brought him to a place.
It reminded me of what my beloved teacher, friend, and mentor, Shelby, always says to me: “Yoga is the only thing that never abandons you. You can leave it, but it never leaves you. You can always return home to your mat.”
Spending the past year and half on the road, this has never been more evident to me. No matter what the external environment shifted to, no matter how far from “home” I travel: I would step onto my mat (or a towel) and immediately find safety, security, familiarity, a sense of home.
Of course when I offer a challenge to others, I become endlessly dedicated to exploring it myself. So, since yoga and my own personal practice are not longer acts that require a whole lot of courage or are necessarily outside my comfort zone any longer, I pushed myself to try yoga in… well of course, Portuguese.
That experience brought the opportunity to revert back to the years where I felt uncomfortable and new and it reminded me of the two most life-changing yogic experiences, experiences that helped me understand the universality of yoga.
NUMBER ONE: NEW YEAR’S DAY, 2016, INSIDE OF A PEACE HUT IN MERU, KEYNA.
A group of four powerful women from all different corners of the globe and 108 sun salutations to welcome in a brand new year.
Our intention was to invite in 2016 with power, grace, and a willingness to let the year bring with it anything and everything it felt we were capable of… (ahem: fast-forward to the middle of 2016 when I landed a dream job with GlobeKick)
It was beautiful. No music, just the sound of our collective breath and the fluidity of us all moving independently but at the same time in graceful community.
The most beautiful part of this for me, however, was my sweet new Kenyan friend Joy who is a resident of the village and member of International Peace Initiatives, a local Kenyan organization intended to promote cultures of peace by supporting sustainable initiatives that improve livelihoods and enhance quality of life.
The opportunity that morning was Joy’s first time doing yoga ever in her life. Now, if you have ever done a Sun Salutation you know that 108 of them ain’t an easy thing to do (if not, Click here: Sun Salutation and take yourself through a couple). I continued to tell her to take it slowly, to be patient with herself, and to love herself even if she couldn’t do all 108. She kept laughing at my worry and inhaled reaching for the sky. Joy embodied yoga that day. Willingness, patience, love, breath, strength, freedom. She was (and is) a true warrior of peace in so many ways and her attitude, perseverance, and willingness to breath through uncertainty, change, challenge, and the feeling of being out of place and uncomfortable fully solidified that for me.
NUMBER TWO: TEACHING YOGA FULLY IN SPANISH, COSTA RICA, 2015.
For several months during 2015 I taught yoga in Spanish to a group of amazing women at CEPIA, a local Costa Rican NGO that offers free programs for youth at high social risk, among others. Now, at the time I didn’t actually speak Spanish (well, no totally… not yet, anyways) but I was using these opportunity to learn and the women seemed delighted by my elementary attempt to make Spanish versions of English poses.
One day, a young woman came into class with a walker. At the time I was a baby yoga teacher and not only was I now completely intimidated by my ability to be a safe and supportive guide for this young woman but to do this in SPANISH… whoo. I mean I wanted a challenge, but this was another level. I approached her to get some further insight. Turns out she didn’t speak English at all and oh, even better, didn’t speak Spanish either.
She spoke French.
Through hand gestures, and the help of the other women in the room, I was able to discover that the young woman was 27 years old (the same age as me at the time) and had a massive spinal injury caused by a man who had attacked her in an alley when she was 23. She was from Quebec and came to Costa Rica because the warm weather allowed her to move without being in spine and leg braces. She left Quebec without telling her family first because they wouldn’t have let her go without a fight. She did it because she sought freedom physically, emotionally, and of course spiritually. Another women who had been taking my class for some time had recommended yoga to her as a tool to help her get there.
Her story brought tears to my eyes, and being the same age, made it hit closer to home than I would’ve expected. I asked her (through using a translation app) if she would trust me for the next hour and she nodded yes. For the next 60 minutes, she let me hold her and move her along while the other women were guided by voice. Again, I saw it both on the mat and off. The purest examples of trusting a stranger, compassion for those who are different than you, and a willingness to breath through the discomfort of doing something new and scary and making an attempt at finding freedom through all of that discomfort. For all you travelers out there… sound familiar?
Stepping onto my mat in a Portuguese class invited these elements back into my practice. It allowed me to truly be a student again, to get out of my head and into my body. To LET GO of the micro alignments I have become so obsessed with and to really approach my practice again with the curiosity of a child.
In addition to asana each week, I promised the GKers that I will challenge them with personal inquiry and questions to ponder. For that first week we all contemplate:
· What is our intention for the next 3 months?
· What does transformation look like for you?
· What are you wanting to grow in yourself through this experience?
· What are you willing to commit to and/or let go of in order to get there?
I revisit my answers from 15 months ago and for me, I was attempting to dedicate myself to the mystery of the unknown: to be okay with uncertainty and to welcome it with excitement and anticipation. I intended to step into my teaching, and facilitating, with a commitment to letting go of the agenda I had of how things should look in order to really be available to how things actually are- attempting to release the talons of control I try to have over my experience and life.
A year and a half later, I can fully express the benefits of that pursuit. What an adventure and a lesson in stretching and breathing both physically and mentally, both on and off the mat.