Asia has no doubt been good to me. Since the moment I first stepped foot on Thai soil in early 2014 for a three week holiday, I felt an undeniable connection with this continent. I recall returning home from vacation and raving to most everyone I met about the simplicity and ease of those beautiful days; riding the high of having lived so fully for almost a month without any set plan or itinerary. I felt it was a way of being that suited me more than my structured everyday life, and that trip gave me the opportunity to surprise my own self with my spontaneity and ability to live with less.
Even still, when asked what exactly it is about Asia that seems to fit – I can’t just say. I suppose it’s one of those indescribable feelings that can never be appropriately articulated into words; the same way you may draw a blank if you were asked what it is precisely that you enjoy so much about chocolate or how you would describe the sensation of coming home after a long work day. All I know is that there’s something about this part of the world that makes my soul feel completely alive. A freedom that gives me permission to live solely in the moment and with complete authenticity. And, if I ever once doubted it, my European summer confirmed just how strongly I feel to be here, and how unprepared I was for the wild ways of the west.
After more than a year living in the easy east, I must admit I was beginning to forget what it felt like to be Canadian. Of course this never stops me from proudly disclosing my native land when introducing myself to new friends, nor have I ever thought to remove the Canadian flag that’s plastered to the front of my backpack. It was just that I had settled so comfortably into the customs of this world, that I felt like a complete stranger to the one I had spent the previous 28 years of my life living in. There were of course comforts from home that I occasionally longed for; mostly hugs from my mom, but also aged cheeses, Okanagan wine, and wearing something other than flip flops on my (now hideous) feet. However, at the time, there was nothing I craved strong enough to lure me back on a hellish 14 hour plane ride. Simply put, I loved my Asian life and it always seemed to provide me everything I needed.
And then, I unexpectedly got sick in India. And suddenly my perception began to shift. All the things I had once held so dearly to my heart about this area of the planet seemed exhausting and irritating. Life went from carefree and effortless, to difficult and challenging within a matter of weeks. I wanted the luxuries of home, and I wanted them immediately. As so, as soon as my body regained the strength to speak, I contacted some of my best friends across Europe and bought a one-way flight to the ever-glamorous Paris, France!
And that’s the interesting thing about needs and wants, about health and ailment, about likes and dislikes; as with all things, they are impermanent. They come and go like the tide, like the wind. You attach yourself to an idea with your whole being, and by the evening your morning’s truth is a complete lie. By the time I was back to my fit and fine self, that impulsively booked flight no longer felt like the right decision. I vividly remember the internal torture I endured as I awaited my plane in Dharamsala, India; an unforgettable town in the Himalayan mountains that I definitely could have stayed to explore for another few weeks longer (if not months). My intuition was screaming for me not to go. That little voice inside that I had gotten so good at ignoring for the majority of my life, seemed to be louder and more persistent than ever. I cried and cried as sweet Indian onlookers at the airport tried to comfort me with homemade sweets, warm hugs and fresh coconut water. I used up all my airport data sobbing on the phone with my mom (who did what any sane human would do and continuously reminded me that India was only a one-way flight back if I didn’t like France). Of course, she was right. India wasn’t about to be going anywhere, but in that moment I simply couldn’t be told. For me, it felt like the end of a chapter and I was only half way through the book.
To this day, I’m still not sure why I was so upset. I know for certain I was resistant to leave India because my spiritual journey felt unfinished, however I imagine fear of the unknown contributed to the majority of my discomfort. How the heck did I plan to fit back into a world I had spent more than a year happily doing without? And moreover, how would I maintain this ‘new and improved’ version of myself (one that I had been investing all of my time and energy into manifesting) amongst the temptations of my previous life?
In hindsight, I needn’t have consumed myself with so much worry. Yes, the west is indulgent and, at times, exhausting; however I had been giving myself far less credit than I deserved in thinking that a couple months of extravagance could somehow cause me to forget Who I Am. Instead, what France, Croatia, Austria and the Netherlands did for me was induce the ill fit of my yoga pants from so much delicious food, deepen the connection of my international friendships, and allow me to develop a whole new definition of what I believe it means to truly be a ‘yogi’.
I won’t deny that I settled in quite quickly to western comforts. And it didn’t take very long before I began to appreciate (and even enjoy) the ease of a fabulous European lifestyle. I was reminded of how much excitement can be created around so many of the small things that I used to thoughtlessly take for granted in my everyday Canadian existence. How much of a luxury it is to drink water straight from the tap, flush toilet paper down the lou, sleep atop clean sheets, and eat off something other than styrofoam. I filled my camera with pictures of clear blue skies, took deep breaths of clean fresh air, and relished in the ability to wander streets without the worry of stepping in piles of cow dung.
I found myself consistently commenting on the cleanliness of parks, the timeliness of transport, and the ease of crossing the road in the absence of chaotic tuk-tuk drivers. I spent evenings immersing my body in hot baths (a much welcomed change from communal showers that I dared not enter without flip flops), and spent money for the first time since last June to have highlights placed throughout my hair.
But like most situations in life, with change often comes challenge. And for everything that I adored about the abundance of living in a developed world, came unexpected moments of confrontation with myself.
First and foremost was my dedication to my yoga practice. Aside from days when I’m physically unable, I have spent the last year choosing to start each and every morning with yoga. For me, it’s not something that requires a great deal of commitment or discipline because it’s the two hours of my day that I truly look the most forward to. Time spent with myself, preparing my body and mind for the twenty-four hours of adventure that lay ahead. As some people wake up with a bold cup of coffee, I wake up with yoga, and a morning without it just wouldn’t feel right. Along my travels I’ve met more and more people that feel the exact same way. It never ceased to amaze me how, at the end of a seven day retreat, guests would rave about the positive transformation in their life from the consistent yoga and meditation practice. They would confess their initial skepticism and then follow it up with talk of glitter in their veins from having spent a week so connected to them self.
Therefore, I always remained slightly confused when I reconnected with these special souls down the road only to have them openly confess that they had since broken up with yoga. I just couldn’t understand how people who had experienced the power of something life-altering could allow it to slip away from them. Their reason for not practicing was always the same; they couldn’t seem to find the time amidst a hectic western lifestyle. For someone who had nothing but time, it was a rationale I simply couldn’t relate to. That is, until now. During those whirlwind two months in Europe I was lucky if I spent time on my mat weekly, let alone daily. And even though I desired to practice, there never seemed to be enough hours in the day or the right space to make it happen.
In the beginning I harbored feelings of guilt. I mean, this was my profession and something I whole-heartedly believed in . . . and I was really sucking at it. However, after some time I began to see that my lack of physical practice was encouraging me to reevaluate my definition of what it means to be a yogi. I began to notice all the ways in which the practice is not just about the time spent on the mat. After all, just because I wasn’t standing on my head or touching my toes on the daily didn’t make me any less of a yoga instructor or human-being for that matter.
My on-going practice became more about enjoying in the present moment than perfecting my downward dog, cultivating a lifestyle of non attachment rather than balancing on one leg, and utilizing every calming, grounding breathing exercise I’d ever learned in India to enhance my ability to reduce stress in this now new world. But most of all, I simply chose to notice (and acknowledge) my personal growth.
I saw in others all the ways in which I used to allow anxiety, technology, and impatience take away my inner peace. For the first time ever, I was able to see things as they really are; separate from destructive emotions and with a mindful focus on the people, places, and tasks right in front of me. In a way I felt like I somehow mastered the “soul lesson” in which I had been training the past eighteen months for; recognizing that the circumstances in my life hadn’t changed, but the way I responded to them had. Because after all, isn’t life just a play? And as long as I can find the humour in running through the airport with all my hand luggage to catch a flight two minutes before the plane takes off, the trivialness in dying all the clothes I own with my favourite Mac lipstick by mistakingly washing and drying them together, and the beauty in people when thousands of cars are stopped for hours in gridlock at a border crossing in the middle of the night, than I feel I’m on the right path.
And I’m learning that path need not be one extreme or the other; that the middle road can be filled with contentment and balance. That sometimes I need yoga, and sometimes I need wine – and that’s alright.
That the girls’ nights-out-turned-early-mornings are totally worth the sleeplessness. That passion is of course not love, but can still feel just right.
That a new pair of tiny black shorts and a lace top can, in fact, enhance the way I feel about myself. And that it’s ok to admire someone else’s bigger boobs, more tanned skin, and tinier waist as long as I can still look in the mirror and fall absolutely in love with the image I see back.