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 

Destination: The Office

My Travel-Blog
Date: 21/09/15
Destination: Work
Time: 7.55am

 It’s cold this morning, though I probably won’t need this jumper by lunchtime. I turn left instead of right coming out of the house to take the opposite route towards the bustop; my feeble efforts to introduce some excitement and variety into the day – is that a new car outside number 79?
My old reliable 8am bus buddies have already begun to gather in the pre-acknowledged and respected morning silence; one by one, some nodding in recognition as I approach, others choosing the familiar awkward drop-of-the-gaze towards the ground – generally also my favoured approach at this hour of the morning, so no offence is taken.
Mrs. Purple Jacket noticably deflates as her talkative aquaintance Miss Multicoloured-Nails comes to settle chirpily by her side, greeting her with a ‘cold morning!!’ and a glance to the right to ‘see if it’s coming yet’.
It’s not.
Bleary-eyed and shivering slightly I check my phone for the second time in as many minutes, a blank glance the first time having failed to inform me of the time -just that the screen was very bright.
By the time the bus pulls up we’ve assumed our usual formation – tall lady with the furry coat who gets off in Ballsbridge stepping ahead of the guy that I recognise from primary school yet haven’t spoken to since that night in the pub down the road where I christened him my ‘bus mate’, and all the while me praying that my Leapcard doesn’t beep for longer than expected – the inconvenience it would cause to have to count out change amongst my orderly co-commuters would be shameful!
Stumbling my way to my usual seat at the back between Candy-Crush-playing –redheaded-guy and fair-haired-nurse-at-The-Hermitage-Clinic I try to focus my attention on the fact that the book I have in my bag to read is actually starting to get very interesting. I try to convince myself of the significance of this and mentally prepare myself to engage in the strength necessary to disappear into it’s pages for the next 45 minutes of my life.
As the morning brightens outside the windows, the mood inside the bus becomes gloomier with every full stop of commuters sighing away more and more of the precious oxygen and contributing to the increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere.

I can’t believe it’s only Tuesday’, and ‘I’m going to be sooooo late’ are common phrases in morning-commute land that allow successful communication with other travellers, but that I’ve learned to avoid on account of them being incessantly negative and pointless in their expression, especially in a situation such as aboard the 8am bus. These are uttered amongst passengers quite regularly with varying levels of boredom and energy, though in general the mood and tone is low.
As we turn on to the quays and the sun’s feeble effort to shine through the fogged windows reaches it’s peak, I put my book away in favour of the people-spotting opportunities the slow crawl of traffic before 9am presents to Dublin Bus passengers. The ground outside along the pathway seems to hold some sort of magical attention-keeping aspect to it, the sheer intensity of the walkers’ gazes fixed downwards as they hurry to their destinations seeming to cement hands in pockets and keep headphones blaring to block out the grumbling and bleeping of a city waking up.
As I disembark with a glum ‘thank-you’, echoing my previous self every day for the last month or so, I turn and jaywalk across to the other side of the road, a rush of adrenaline pulsing through me as I just about make it to the curb before the traffic surges forwards again. This spurs me on with one final burst of energy to take the too-wide steps of the Ha’penny Bridge one at a time, where I usually take them with two.

How exciting. Here’s to another exciting workday in Dublin.

4 Reasons To Visit the Aran Islands

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Bikes. Boats. Wind. Currachs. More wind. Sheep and cows and woolly jumpers your Granny made you wear at Christmas time that are great for keeping out the cold and also, you guessed it – the wind.
We’ve all been there, no??

As someone whose teenage Summers were spent for months on end in the Gaeltacht, and many a summer-holiday in my youth camped in fields with only some board games for entertainment, I had generally assumed that ‘Na hOileáin’ were a fairly standard destination for most Irish families at some point in their lives.
Being bundled into the back of the car with some ham & cheese sandwiches in ziplocked bags and cartons of Ribena to ‘keep you going ‘til teatime’ and driven cross-country to unknown destinations in the rain was generally what ‘holidays’ meant for us until the advent of Falcon package-holiday deals with kids’ clubs filtered its’ way to the forefront of my parents’ fairly limited knowledge of affordable travel options.
Given all this, I was shocked to discover recently that a colleague of mine who grew up in the Gaeltacht area, a mere 20-minute drive from the port at Ros a Mhíl, had never been to the islands!
His secret was revealed as we stood on the ferry crossing over to Inis Mór last week; the largest of the three bitesize chunks of Irish land, and the most popular with visitors from all over the world. Although I still found it hard to believe he’d never even been tempted to take the trip over, the more I considered it the more I realised how unusual a destination it is for many Irish people, even though it’s hailed as one of the country’s main tourist attractions.

The Islands attract thousands of tourists a year, and yet many of us remain completely oblivious to the stunning simplicity and beauty lying right on our doorstep – attractions we would be the first to aquaint ourselves with were we travelling abroad and not a 45-minute drive outside Galway city to the ferry port. As the last stop off in the Atlantic before America heading West from Ireland, the Islands have always held a special place in many Irish people’s hearts, with their spectacular landscapes, views, fascinating history, and enviable easygoing way of life – at times it can feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

The Views.
If you’re lucky enough to get a clear day, the famous preoccupation and fascination with Irish coastland and scenery finally hits home and starts making sense in a place like Aran.

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Poll na bPéist

Poll na bPéist (‘Wormhole’, as Gaeilge) has played host to the Red Bull Cliffdiving competition, a highly anticpated and attended event which promoted the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland as a prime location for adventure sports and water fun and just as a really really awesome place in general.
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Bike & Walking Tours

A choice between bicycle hire for the day or walking tours – it’s possible to see the entire island of Inis Mór, (‘mór’ meaning ‘big’ as Gaeilge, for anyone who doesn’t know) and cycle all over within a day, so what better way to do so than to hire a bike from Aran Island Bicycle Hire – your steed for the day will see you safely over terrain that you wouldn’t dream of trying to cross without it!
Having undertaken both the walking and cycling tours myself now at various stages over the years, I would highly recommended cycling to anyone slightly impatient like me who likes to get places fast – the other half of our group chose to walk, and we ended up over an hour ahead of schedule due to the various terrifyingly steep downhill pathways. It was an exhilarating yet extremely bumpy experience, and one that should not be undertaken with anything less than an Aran-approved bicycle – good suspension is a necessity.
While it is also possible to get bus tours, there really is no more authentic way to see the island and fit as much into your day as possible than by hiring a bike.

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Entertainment

Although I have yet to experience a night out in one of the various pubs on Aran, it’s definitely something on the to-do list for my next trip, and I’ve heard wonderful things about the music and craic there is to be had there. Joe Watty’s Pub is a renowned spot, yet there were also quite a few other unassuming places along the ‘main street’, if you can call it that, which looked like they would be lively enough after dark.

The Lios Aengus Café at Dún Aenghus is a great bet to refuel after a long trek or cycle, as is The Pier House Restaurant by the pier (no way!). Both of these places also came up a step or two in my books when at various times they allowed us to nip in to use the toilet after long cycles!

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If that’s not enough to persuade you to visit the Aran Islands then all you have to do is take a peek at another one of those stunning views I was raving about earlier.

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Aran Ferries run regular services to and from the islands throughout the day, and Aer Arann also have recently increased their services running from Connemara airport. More details below.

Useful Links:

Bus Tours
Inis Mór Ferries
Aer Arann
Joe Watty’s Pub
Bike Hire