When I took my first foray into international travel as a naive, yet wanderlust-seeking high schooler, I knew that I belonged in distant places, chatting with local people in “strange” languages, eating delicious (and sometimes scary) food, and generally basking in the diversity of this Earth and what it had to offer. At least, that’s how I look at it in hindsight, with rose-tinted glasses. Back then my thought process was probably more along the lines of: “I want to see cool stuff!”
What I’ve learned after nearly a decade of study abroad experience (participating and managing) is that the understood value and benefit of international experiences often comes after weeks, months, and often years of reflection and context-building. And what’s even more interesting to me is that some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from travel I’ve also been taught through yoga. They’re like sisters from another mister.
When I began deepening my personal yoga practice, I didn’t realize that many of the lessons I learned from my international experiences, paralleled in many ways those I was learning through yoga. Here are three big lessons you’ll learn through an international journey and a yoga journey as well.
1. It Speaks to You When You’re Ready to Listen
For both international travel and for yoga, I’ve heard friends, family, and acquaintances say things like – in regard to travel – “Oh that’s not for me. I’m fine right here in the U.S.” or “There’s just so much for me to see and do at home before I travel internationally.” And in regard to yoga I’ve heard: “I’ve tried yoga but I need a “real” workout” or “I was just so bored when I tried yoga.”
From my perspective, there’s nothing wrong with those statements. (This is the yogi in me coming out. Bare with me). Even though I disagree with those comments and I know there’s so much to learn and gain from international travel and from yoga, I also know that until your mind is open to an idea, until you’re ready to learn the lessons from a situation or experience, it will never resonate with you.
There’s something to be said for pushing your boundaries and going outside of your comfort zone for sure! But I believe that everything comes into our lives when we’re ready to receive it. I tried yoga in college once and HATED it. I spent the next 8+ years saying “I hate yoga” any time it came up in conversation. It wasn’t until I tried it again nearly a decade later that it finally resonated with me.
The same is true for international experiences. The drive to go abroad or even learn anything from experiences you’ve had abroad, may not come until you’re ready to receive and ready to understand it. God, the universe, fate, and chance (whatever you believe in) comes to us when we’re ready.
2. Physical Awareness
The “physical” parts of international travel and yoga are often what draw people in from the beginning. The idea of crossing an ocean or being in a far off timezone with a completely different history, climate, landscape, etc. give people that sense of awe and the sex-appeal of international adventures. Similarly with yoga, the idea of being able to hold a handstand for 45 seconds or develop that lean yogi physique get people in the door to their yoga studio.
But going deeper, international travel brings us face-to-face with the “otherness” we’ve likely created in our minds. Whether it’s natural disasters, exotic cuisine, wars, and stereotypes, we create the idea of “us” and “them” in our minds. By literally physically moving to another location, another place of existence, we’re forced to strip down that “otherness” we’ve created and engage in real-time with those people and things we though were so separate from us. And it also helps us to understand our own physical proximity to wealth, privilege, and maybe even lack of both in our own lives.
Yoga is no different. The physical benefits may get us in the door, but the mind-body connection and focus is often what keeps us coming back. The physical practice of yoga (asana) is solely used to help us focus the mind. That’s it. It’s not for a hot yoga butt or being able to do crazy arm balances. Each posture is intended to draw the mind to center, get rid of all the chatter we carry with us throughout the day, let go and focus. Where the mind goes, so will the body. And where the body goes, so will the mind. The physical practice – especially as it grows more challenging – requires us to focus on the present moment, how we are moving/holding our body, and challenging it to stay there with you on the mat (and not wonder off to your shopping list, and tomorrow’s meeting, and picking up kids from practice).
The physical experience of both international travel and yoga are exciting. But sneaky like a fox, the physical elements surprise us by taking us deeper into the experience and help us reflect even more.
3. Looking Inward
Our physical experiences of both international travel and yoga often surprise us when the focus and reflection often turns from the things around us to what’s happening within us. We begin to ask ourselves questions about our own lives, our choices, how we behave, how we react, how we love or hate, what we value, what’s important, and how we want to “choose” the better – maybe even best – versions of ourselves in every moment.
For me, my international experiences and my yoga practice have sometimes been very spiritual journeys. And often when I least expect it. We carry these thoughts and lessons beyond our sojourns abroad or our time on the mat. We’re reminded to sit up straight, get our heads our of our phones, listen more than we speak, and pause. Pause. And live in that exact moment – taking with us our experiences – and reveling in the only thing that’s guaranteed. This moment.
If you want to learn more about how you can combine an international adventure with a yoga experience, come check out the amazing yoga retreats available on YogaTravelTree.com
About the Author: After rising to the top of the youth travel industry as the Senior Vice President at GoAbroad, she web’s leading resource for meaningful travel, Brooke Roberts left it all behind to launch her own start-up in the yoga industry, YogaTravelTree.com. With her extensive work around the world, creation of a successful blog, and experience securing angel investing in her first start-up, Brooke understands what it takes to rise to the top of your field and create a life and work you love. Originally from a sleepy farm town in rural Kansas, you can now find Brooke working the days away in her home office in sunny Colorado or gallivanting around the globe. Connect with her on Twitter at @thenewdorothy. (And yes, that is Brooke doing the “camel pose” in the first photo!)