I love to travel, and I love to practice yoga. I’m hardly the first person to make the connection. A lot of people who are in touch with their bodies also happen to be travel-junkies. It’s no wonder why there are so many international yoga schools, retreats, teach abroad programs and travel opportunities (though the universal and global nature of yoga is also part of that).
There’s just something about the intellectual yet exploratory nature of playing on our mats that’s similar to the experience of seeing new places. Both yoga and travel are truth-seeking activities.
One of the strongest links between the two is the necessity for flexibility, both in body and in mind. This underlying current is also why yoga and travel are important tools for growth, even for those not drawn to pursue them.
Travel has made me a much more flexible thinker. Part of it has to do with discovering other cultures and meeting new people, but it also has to do with learning to go with the flow. When you’re stranded in Hawaii for four days because of a 15-minute flight delay, you really learn the art of being chill. When you’re lost on an off-road trail in rural Fiji and night is starting to fall, you learn how to let go and hope for the best
Letting go and hoping for the best is also the mentality that finally got me into a successful headstand without a wall behind me to fall back on. Learning this kind of relaxed patience is what makes is possible for me to continue pursuing my yoga journey without becoming frustrated or worrying about my progress.
Patience is a side effect of mental flexibility. It’s important to accept and internalize that in life, our circumstances are often out of our own control. We must learn to adapt. We must learn to squeeze through corners when we have to. We must learn to try again when we topple over and come crashing to the floor – and to put the fact that we’ve fallen from our minds, so we don’t get weighed down or hold ourselves back out of fear. Maintaining a positive, tranquil mentality requires a concentrated mental ability to veer off course without letting it bother you to do so.
My travels have taught me a lot, but this ability to be agile and flexible is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned. I put it to use when I got divorced. I put it to use when I moved to New Zealand (and then to San Francisco, and to Chicago, and then back to Wisconsin). I’m putting it to use now in changing careers.
In addition to patience, flexibility gives us humility. It requires us to let go of our pride. In order to move nimbly, we have to practice and practice and practice (and fail and fail and fail), always with a smile on our face. It’s similar to learning a new language. We have to be willing to sound (or look) like an idiot in order to progress.
The first few times I hit publish on this blog, I felt like an idiot. What if I fail? What if I sound stupid? What if I regret my candor later? Mental flexibility gives us the ability to say “who cares?” As long as our actions come from a place of goodness, sincerity and strength, we have nothing to worry about. Like the yoga sutras tell us, a moral foundation on and off the mat gives credence to our efforts.
I meet a lot of people who live their lives in one place, exposed to the same ideas day in and day out. There’s nothing wrong with staying put physically, so long as you’re not staying put internally. When you begin listening only to the ideas that support your own, when you stop stretching forward, you become rigid. You deprive yourself of opportunities for growth.
I myself will continue stretching.