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 

Just in Case – A Thought on Progress…

The unpredictable and erratic Irish sunshine is shining in on me this evening through a window graffitied with stubborn raindrops from earlier on. The world both inside and outside of my room seems calm, as although the weather doesn’t suggest it, it almost feels as if things might be coming to some kind of even keel as the escaped hubcap of my life spirals slower and slower to a managable pace where it finally nears stillness – still dangerously exposed and raw in the centre of the road, yet standing there strongly, and balancing alone.
The sun and rain go on around it, contrasting elements living in direct relation to one another, which have recently been spending an increasing amount of time together. It leaves me wondering are they growing apart, or growing closer together? It seems we can’t have one anymore without being half-prepared for the other, many shops in town boasting attractive stalls of both umbrellas and sunglasses side by side in displays of diversity that would leave Aldi and Lidl speechless.
But co-exist they do, and ginger hair and pale skin aside, one without the other wouldn’t be a comfortable climate to live in either. In considering my emotions and progression over the last number of weeks, I’ve come to a similar conclusion and final acceptance (after years of awareness) that the bad does not necessarily always have to be bad, and must exist in order for the good to be as rewarding as it is. Basic and elementary as this realisation may seem to some, it has only been through putting the extremes and contrasts into practice, subjecting myself to their power and destructive abilities and consciously suffering the consequences of them that I have once and for all come to accept them for what they are, and finally, finally, slowly and reluctantly come to learn from it.
I’m ready to let go now of what I know does not serve me. The length of time between acknowledging this and being ready to do so was far, far longer than even I could even have anticipated, the struggle in between proving more confusing and unpredictable than a badly-kicked rugby ball. Yet my body and my mind have suffered enough, and letting go seems easier now that I can see myself and true potential for what it is.

I don’t know what the next month holds in store for me, or where my next pay cheque is coming from. I don’t know where it is I would be now if this low had not happened or been allowed manifest it’s gripping, grumbling emptiness within me. I can’t possibly know any of this, nor change how I was before. All I can do now is keep moving forward, building on the mistakes that were made and shunning the negative tendencies that will forever remain etched as a reminder of the strength of my own human will to do whatever it is I set myself out to do. Just because I’m not certain of what I’m setting out to do yet does not mean I won’t do it well, because now, instead of worrying and jumping to conclusions I cannot possibly predict or know the outcome of, I’m progressing forwards, in the comforting knowledge that I have been able to deal with and adapt to changes I didn’t expect or plan before, and I’ve made it this far to tell the tale. The tools I’ve gained from getting here will remain with me as long as I just remain aware, and maintain a certain balance in myself which only I can maintain.
I do not, and cannot know whether a rain jacket or a bottle of Factor 50 will be necessary when I leave the house tomorrow. But I know that both are packed away safely and neatly accessible in my bag – just in case.

I Am a Candle – The Myth of ‘Recovery’

I Am a Candle

  • A Check-in With Maintenance About an Earlier Issue

The Myth of ‘Recovery’ .

I feel like the flame of a candle, sitting in a still room, no percievable draft or wind present to cause the incessant flickering of my soul from one thought to another. My light is here – it’s burning, alive, ready and able to keep shining a light for those around me – to help them see – yet I cannot seem to sit still. My centre is continually bending and reaching high, only to dip low again into the comforting depths of the wax beneath me that is necessary for my sustenance, yet also the reason behind my instability. The deep is scary, and too hot. Slipping down there for good would be the easiest thing to let myself do.

But no!

I must continue to burn. I must continue reaching up.

There is no breeze. No movement. So why do I flicker? Why do I dance around, frantically searching to catch on to another flammable substance, to breath the same as another and validate this confusion; to give myself a feeling of purpose?

I am a candle, and I bathe in the warm sea of my catalyst that’s always there in my times of light, yet which hardens me to an impenetrable force of solitude in moments of darkness.

I dance, seemingly carefree to all on the outside who breeze past. But it is only those who stay long enough to see my attempts to return to stillness that see this ludicrous dance for what it really is. It’s the uncertain, stopping-starting, trial-and-error kind of tiptoeing you do around a new place as you find your feet and attempt to balance upon them. Whatever this new place is, it serves as the foundation for all I must build on, from the bottom up. Yet if this wax is constantly burning, changing, shrinking away and bending to my heat – there is nothing solid ever in place for very long on which to build. It’s a constant struggle to acclimatize, to grow, to adapt. To allow the flame burn bright and high again after reaching so low a point that it almost extinguished itself.
The music to which the flame is dancing has ceased, and while we define ‘dancing’ as ‘the movement of feet to music’, it would suggest that as music and movement are in direct correlation to one another in this instance, and there is no music present, that what I am doing could not even be defined as dancing. It’s a flailing around desperately, trying to gain some sort of balance, stability, and peace, all the while worrying that the flickering light in my brain will never settle and I’ll eventually collapse and give in to the inviting hibernation of the dark pools below, forsaking the potential of the heights I have previously achieved.

This is why I believe that ‘recovery’ is not an accurate term or goal for someone who struggles with mental health issues to strive for. ‘Recovery’ suggests a solution. It suggests an unrealistic fix, a few days off work that will magically help the mind settle in a comfortable place, ready to burn and continue again where it left off before. An assumption that this will happen even though the circumstances have not been changed, and it is likely the confusion will start again once placed back in a similar situation.

In reality, being ‘in recovery’ from a mental illness is a conscious decision which must be made Every. Single. Day. A decision to not give in to the negative cycle of thoughts and retreat into the warmth of the deep pools of comfort that are of our own design and destruction. A decision to keep burning, to flicker around desperately from one thing to another until we learn to stand up straight by ourselves, fulfilling our purpose and lighting up a path not only for our own benefit, but for others to learn from too.

It’s as if people expect a bout of depression, a panic attack, a mental breakdown, or disordered eating patterns and thoughts to be passing phases, like a cold or flu that’s difficult to shake. Whilst it is encouraging to note the similarities between physical and mental illnesses in that they render a person incapable of going about day-to-day life in a similar way to others, I’m a firm believer that a mental health issue is something that, once identified, can merely be maintained and controlled – never entirely subdued. There will always be that fear, that awareness of the instability that once took hold, and a dark fear that the symptoms and suffering has merely been stifled for a time – the dance of the flame stilled by an unusual period of calm.

Because the flame can only react to that which surrounds it – a passing breeze, a draft, a stream of heat blowing in from somewhere that was not expected – as happens in life.
“Recovering’ from the draft does not mean the dance is going to cease completely. The burn marks will still exist. The wax will have sunk ever-deeper.
‘Recovering’ means realising that it’s ok to be that unstable spark of light, and beginning to accept that sometimes the beauty of the light itself is that it is constantly in motion, in a neverending and unpredictable dance.

This dance is of our own design. We swim in our own warm pools of comfort, dangerous in their depths, and always a potential place for us to drown should we push the boundaries too far.
However their depth and destructive nature makes the light above all the more desirable, and we reach for that, striving to maintain a solid balance between the two when a match does strike to signal a fire.

‘Recovery’ is not a state of being where you can look back and give a cheer that the bad guy has been vanquished, the dark cloud cleared and the path ahead looking bright and easy.

‘Recovery’ is the awareness that your candle is lighting in the corner of the room, and an awareness of the dangers posed by the open flame should it get knocked over or mishandled.

‘Recovery’ is the acceptance of this need for awareness, and regular, intermittent glances to make sure the flame is still emitting a healthy glow, unthreatening and balanced in it’s dance.

‘Recovery’ is remembering and being aware of the need to blow out your candle before you get into bed.

‘’Recovery” is an ongoing process, and some days are easier than others. I’m not going to promise I won’t knock my candle over tomorrow, because I can’t know that this won’t happen. All I can do is my best to ensure that I keep an eye on it right now as I sit here, and remain aware of it’s existence.