Vietnamasté – A Guide to a Travelling Practice

Vietnamasté – A Guide to a Travelling Practice

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Scenes from Mui Ne fishing village, South Vietnam

A clear head and a stretched out body makes for a clean and positive start to the day. Cheesy, but true. I’ve made a pact with myself and a new goal to ensure I attend at least one yoga class in each new country I visit. Backpacking with my mat has been both a conversation starter and a cause for funny looks, as the original mat that has travelled with me from home has now gathered an unholy amount of dirt and probably smells like the underside of some of the buses and interestingly covered surfaces I’ve now used it on.

I’ve already ticked off Hungary, Bratislava, Cambodia, and Vietnam, along with various other European countries, and in two weeks with a little luck I’ll travel to Indonesia to spend some time in one of the ‘yoga capitals of the world’ – Bali, something which I’m both excited and apprehensive about – surely the hype can’t be all that? With typical Irish cynicism I am dubious already, but this destination has been a dream of mine for so long now that I’m willing to risk it all for the potential anticlimactic flump of a mediocre experience.

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Balancing on Bokor Mountain

I’m not sure why I’ve suddenly placed all my energy into practicing yoga and the consistency of my practice whilst travelling, but it sure as hell beats having all that energy wasted on worrying and being anxious what I look like, how much and when I eat and what certain people think of me or how wrong/right the choices I’m making are. It’s as if all the energy that went into the massive effort of striving for ‘perfection’ (lol,jk, there’s no such thing!), is now being put to better use and helping me to balance upon my own two feet and move my body along instead of hindering it. The energy is being diffused physically instead of mentally, a terrible habit I’d fallen into which merely exhausted me and meant I had less cognitive capacity to deal with and process actual problems when they did occur.

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Trying too hard at Angkor Wat (again)

It really does benefit you to pay attention to your own expenditure, be it money, energy, emotions, or anything else. Travelling has really opened my eyes to this, in more ways than one. It may seem like something fairly obvious, but the very fact that I am now aware of the new spectrum of potential for me, and where I want to lead my life means that I know whenever I find myself slipping backwards into the old ways of worrying about what people think and about how I am percieved by those around me, that I have wasted valuable energy that could have potentially been used to strengthen my body or to creatively express myself and generate something new. This contribution to the world by adding my original stamp to things is something that simply will not happen if I fail to balance my body and mentality on a regular basis. I have dreams of writing songs, novels, articles, poems and stories that will make a difference, that will change and help people, and also some that may not impact or alter anyone whatsoever. To be able to focus my attention on these things, I will need energy and the ability to control where I direct it. Finding balance through my yoga practice and maintaining it by staying aware of myself won’t singularly ensure that all of this gets carried out successfully, but at the very least it will provide a firm foundation on which I can build and mould these plans and ideas.

4f2585a0-2d57-44d3-b67b-118d7e047c15As I travel I am putting energy into moving along in an alternative way, trying to make the right moves and go in a direction that will take me where I want to go; like a board game where rolling sixes and being let win by parents who only want to see you succeed is no longer an option. Many ideas float past regularly, and I find it difficult to pinpoint exact and definite concepts, instead casting short bursts of energy into writing them down to ensure I don’t forget them. It’s a totally different kind of energy expenditure which took several weeks of getting used to, and one which I’m still forcing myself to combine with as regular a yoga practice as possible.

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Recieving a blessing from a Buddhist monk

Because of the nature of a ‘backpackers’ budget’, yoga classes while on the road are considered somewhat of a luxury, even if the going rate in many Asian countries is less than half of what you’d pay at home. For this reason, over the past few weeks I’ve found myself practicing on various deserted rooftops, balconies, and most interestingly secluded bathroom and poolside areas when I’ve found them available in places we’ve been staying. Generally this is in the morning before most of normal society has awoken, or else during nights interrupted by loud music and noisy fellow-dormers returning from drunken nights out. Don’t get me wrong here, I’ve also been on the other end of this situation, and I’m not condemning it in any way – I’m just a particularly light sleeper and prefer not to lie in a state of semi-consciousness while people prolong their party around me.

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Balcony yoga studio in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Self-practice whilst travelling is something an awful lot easier said than done however, even though the addition of the yogamat to any backpack surely suggests otherwise, creating the image that’s it’s bearer is a highly dedicated and strict tree-hugging practitioner.

This couldn’t be further from my reasoning for carrying my mat with me. While I do practice at any available opportunity and location I find myself presented with, it’s more of a ‘recharging’ ritual for me. The stress of moving about and carrying your life on your back is certainly something which requires regular recharging and reassessing of both self and belongings, and it simply makes sense for me to practice whenever I can if I intend to maintain any kind of balance and help myself to move from place to place without getting too worked up or anxious.

Yoga has changed the way I see things, not necessarily life in general or the way I live my life, but it’s changed how and where I stand when it comes to expanding and living through certain things and has helped me improve my outlook on many aspects of the world. The fact that I have chosen to travel with my practice and maintain some of the balance I’ve achieved getting myself here has made me view this progress as a kind of animated road that’s extending out before me, but that is created only about a foot ahead at a time as I take one precariously balanced step and place one foot in front of the other day by day. One slip up or failure is not going to knock me off completely, but it will mean that the next few steps will be more wobbly than those before, as I strive to find the inner balance again.

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Ancient Abandoned Library at Angkor Wat

Even though the general and accepted attitude to adopt whilst travelling is one of apathy when it comes to external appearances, I really feel like I’ll be able to continue this lessened sensitivity to things on my return home, and continue to channel this energy into my practice and bettering myself instead of worrying that I’m not enough. Because I am enough. I will always be enough. Yoga shows me that I am. Moving with my disagreeable body and mind shows me that I am. It’s imperfect, but it still takes me places. It still supports me through waves that sweep sunglasses from your head and up steep hill climbs with backpacks twice as wide as any grown man’s shoulders. It supports me through each flow, each movement, each difficult leg or section of my journey that has left me unsure of where I am and what on earth I’m doing this for. Yoga just brings me back to my body, and back to the realisation that it is actually okay for me to occupy this space, and to enjoy being here.

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I’ve included some pictures from the beach resort of Mui Ne down the South coast of Vietnam where we’ve been chilling for the past few days. A sunrise trip to the sand dunes, fishing village and fairy stream trek were highlights, and were all organised through our (very affordable and clean!) accomodation Mui Ne Hills Budget Backpackers. Motorbike rental is available also aswell as windsurfing lessons, but our budget didn’t quite stretch that far and also I was so drained after Ho Chi Minh that a few days chilling by the pool with intermittent yoga practice/classes was exactly what was needed. The nightlife in the town was fairly non-existant but the poolside bar and restaurant were great. A lot of older couples holidaying and (strangely enough) Russian tourists everywhere. Would advise eating at some of the smaller family-run kitchens along the street as the prices were often half of what they were charging in the hotel and given the sheer amount of tourists around the menus were mostly actually catered to Western pickyness and cases of ‘oh no I don’t like that, thanks’.

#onlypositivevibes

Next stop Hoi An…

Useful Links:
Mui Ne Hills Backpackers / Trip Advisor 

Home Is Where The Hostel Is – From Connemara to Cambodia

‘To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure” – Freya Stark

It’s funny sometimes how it takes longer than anticipated to truly feel at ease in a new place. I’ve come to the conclusion that some places simply may never feel like home – the school floor upon which we slept in Uganda, for example, or the layover area of Helsinki airport.
But really, when it comes down to it, what even is home? We adapt to our present situations, and continue to beat onwards regardless of what came before or what is coming next. Right now I am here, and I have finally begun to adjust to the fact that Cambodia is currently my temporary home, and boy is life here more difficult than I had expected!

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Local children wave as they see us pass..

It may sound extreme, but I honestly believe that the past two weeks have been some of the most testing of my life, with as many ups and downs as there are staircases to climb to each lesson and each floor within our new schools and homes (that’s a lot!). At first, I didn’t know whether or not I’d stick it. Hell, I still change my mind every couple of hours, and from what I’ve heard from the other interns, many of their stories are similar. In general though, things have finally, finally reached a kind of level enough field where we can live within our means and support ourselves to some extent within this crazy country. For me anyway I think it took longer than I expected for the initial buzz of travelling and being in a new place, with new people, completely alone and self-sufficient to wear off, and I hadn’t honestly taken much of the teaching element of things into consideration.

 Luckily I have a bit of teaching experience to stand behind me, and so I wasn’t relying too much on things to be organised for me – I work well on my feet, ‘winging it’ and adapting to unpredictable situations having been a large part of my previous work (grá mo chroí Coláiste Lurgan!!). This is where the main problem lies in Cambodia and with the LoveTEFL programme in particular – the teachers and schools here really had no idea what to expect from us, nor us them. This combination led to several extremely frustrating days of half-teaching, half-observing, being thrown into teacherless classes with no prior knowledge of what had been taught, nor what level of understanding the kids had of English – trial and error was literally the only method we could have used, the mistakes we made seeming even more humiliating due to our total ignorance to even the way the schooldays were laid out, and what the children see when they looked to us – we are only the second pair of Western interns to ever work at this particular branch of NYIS (New York International School).

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Our humble Cambodian kitchenette

Our school accomodation and wifi situation has (thankfully) finally been remedied somewhat, and we’ve rearranged our limited kitchen appliances to form a kind of kitchenette area, using some of the tables and chairs from the classrooms as a base. This now means that we can at least stock up our own fridge and prepare some meals at home, although these are still limited to foods that are either microwavable or toastable. Eating out was acceptable for the first week or so, but I feel if we are to truly adapt to living in this city instead of being tourists and properly settle in, it’s simply not sustainable! (Not to mention it being expensive). I don’t think the LoveTEFL organisation took into consideration that some of us are on quite tight travel budgets, and cannot afford to be eating out as regularly as seems to be required – the lack of basic appliances for cooking is testament to this. Also, the fact that there was minimal access to internet until this week was extremely frustrating, especially given the fact we are expected to be planning lessons during the evenings – it just didn’t make sense!

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Chandelier in a tuk tuk

All things aside, overall it seems to have finally taken a turn for the better, or at least levelled out somewhat, the actual teaching element of the programme for me proving actually kind of enjoyable and rewarding when the kids respond and succeed in class. I’ve taught one class the same story in three different accents, and both they and their teachers seem hugely appreciative of the exposure to different pronunciations and intonations of words! Sometimes I think we forget that even our presence here in the schools for the Khmer children is effective in their learning. For them to be exposed to other cultures, languages, and identities is as important as it is for them to be attending school in the first place. It opens their eyes to the world and presents them with knowledge they might use to help themselves in the future, language being the key to any sort of communication, be it on an academic, emotional, or spiritual level.

What it was for us as kids to walk down the street – our countries being far more multicultural and multi-denominational in population, is similar now to what we are providing by our presence in the schools, many of them functioning on extremely limited resources and funding.
I don’t want to speak too soon or jinx things, but I am finally feeling somewhat more at ease here, and useful during the schoolday!

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Lovely Jubbly Villa Hostel

 Our weekend was spent in the Lovely Jubbly Villa hostel in Phnom Penh, a quieter and more relaxed spot than the Mad Monkey of last weekend, although we did go out anyway for Halloween and watch the Rugby World Cup final in the Aussie XL bar not too far away. On Saturday myself and one of the other interns booked a tour with Nature Cambodia to visit The Killing Fields Tuol Sleng Genocide museum, and see the surrounding villages via quad bike – something I’ll admit I was really excited to try!

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Quad Biking with Nature Cambodia
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Orange, Green and Blue

It was a good mix of a serious versus fun afternoon, as the sombre content of The Killing Fields was made up for by the exhilaration of the orange dirt tracks our guide Johnny took us around on the quad bikes. At one point it felt like freedom was the orange, blue and green hues that surrounded us on all angles, and we returned to our tuk-tuks feeling like we’d gotten our money’s worth. It’s worth mentioning here that this tour was extremely well organised, and from each pickup, drop off and switch over to another element of the tour it flowed seamlessly – one of the first times since arriving to Cambodia that something has actually seemed to work out without a hitch!

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Main Memorial Building at The Killing Fields in Choeung Ek museum – over 8,000 people lost their lives in this small area

It was sobering to think of the tragedies which occurred at Choeung Ek, but I feel it was a necessary insight into the country’s history which left us more aware and appreciative of the successes of the country today, and how far it has come to escape the Khmer Rouge regime.

We made our way back to the hostel, ready to leave the haunting images of the fields behind and sample the yummy food and drinks menus that really added to the Lovely Jubbly experience, along with the pool, with the prices proving a lot more affordable than those at the Mad Monkey. We even started to find our way around the city a bit as we made our way on foot to and from several places – something that I myself had been hesitant to try until then. Next weekend we’ve booked a stay at the sister branch of the Mad Monkey in Kampot which is a couple of hours outside the city –a break from Phnom Penh that I personally am really looking forward to!

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This is so unlike me

Til’ then….keep on tuk-tuk’in!

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View of the sun setting over Phnom Penh from the roof of our school

Useful links

Lovely Jubbly Hostel Website / Facebook / Trip Advisor
Nature Cambodia Website
Tso Sleung Museum on Trip Advisor
Aussie XL Bar Website / Facebook / Twitter
The Mad Monkey Hostel / Facebook / Twitter / Trip Advisor
LoveTEFL Internships