What a Month in India Taught Me About Yoga

What a Month in India Taught me About Yoga
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Before I begin I want to make clear that the views expressed here are purely objective and that I’m only going on what I experienced, not an in-depth study or survey.

‘What are the differences between practicing yoga in the West and practicing in India?’

This is a question I’ve been asked quite regularly in recent weeks, having embarked on a solo trip with no definitive end on the basis of exploring the ancient practice and contrasting attitudes towards the study of yoga around the world (well in Asia, anyway).
To be honest, I came to India expecting (or maybe hoping) to experience some sort of revelation when it came to my yoga practice, the stories I’ve heard having inspired me to explore the places most attributed with the origins of yoga and somehow find or realise something I haven’t before by immersing myself completely in a strange country and alternative habits, values, and climates. I wanted to really push my boundaries and experience yoga as a lifestyle properly for a little while, embracing new aspects and styles with unfamiliar surroundings and people – places you don’t see on Instagram or enticing Google adverts boasting a luxury yoga retreat and 5-star accommodation. In a way, that’s kind of what happened.
In another way, it’s not. At all.

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It sounds obvious to me now, but the biggest thing I’ve realised since coming to India is that it really doesn’t matter where, when, why, or how you practice – yoga is both universal and intensely personal. Yoga is as unique to each practitioner as their individual height, weight, hair colour, daily nutritional requirements and sleeping patterns. Each person’s practice is their own, no matter where you do it, for how long, or at what intensity.

Or at least it should be.
Strangely, one of the things that brought me to this realisation was attending classes that seemed very impersonal, and I was surprised to find that some of the guided classes I attended in McLeodGanj (Dharamsala, North Indian province of Himachal Pradesh) in particular lacked in creativity. Disappointingly they felt like going through the motions of a standard fitness class in the gym back home. At the same time, I understood the reasons behind these elements of the practice.
After speaking with several yoga-instructor friends and enthusiasts alike, I came to understand that some of the more established Indian yogis (I won’t name names for obvious reasons) have been doing the same ‘routine’ sequence and practice every day for over 40 years. Because of this, it has become almost mechanical in its routine progression, and one could almost argue that anyone who’s attended enough of the classes to learn the routine by heart could in theory also ‘teach’ a class themselves.
I want to be careful how I vocalise this, but the truth is I found that this sameness has both positive & negative aspects.

On the positive side, the benefits of 40 years of consistent Ashtanga practice are blatantly apparent in the physique and steady, controlled way these yogis speak.
It’s also inspiring to see that the practice itself has become a sort of constant for them, in the way that prayer or religious devotion has for the many Buddhist monks and nuns inhabiting the Northern Himachal Pradesh Himalayas. It’s ritualistic, which can be a valuable thing in a modern world that otherwise lacks rituals.

On the negative side, the lack of creative exploration & facilitation for the fluctuations of the body from day to day during these routines flies in the face of one of my own beliefs about the practice of yoga – that it is a way of accepting and appreciating change with ease and grace, being open to and moving with it, instead of resisting.

I cannot help but marvel at the depth, widespread popularity, and general understanding and acceptance of the entire practice of yoga in India. I have already learned to open up and trust myself and those around me more thoroughly than I thought possible.
For me, this is what yoga is all about – opening up (both physically and mentally) and accepting what is. Trusting what you have and that which is constantly in flux around you, instead of creating unnecessary anxiety worrying about things outside of your control. A feeling of harmony in body and mind. Harmony within your place in the world.
This includes change.

Change and evolution are part of who we are, the only two constant reliable elements of life that we can depend on outside of our own minds. Being able to tolerate and adapt to natural and environmental changes is crucial for so many reasons, and it confused me to see some of the yogis upholding a practice that seemed quite stagnant and repetitive, unbending even. Maybe I’m just too used to attending creative classes that adapt and cater for the elements and our bodies – a rainy day class at home in Yogahub Dublin once focused on shoulder and chest-opening poses in response to the week of horrible weather we’d just experienced, hunched over and hurried pacing a necessity with disregard to posture or discomfort.
But it seemed to me that the whole ‘oh she’s gone to do yoga in India’ myth and expectation of self-understanding and epiphany-gaining experience is exactly that – a myth.

This is what I mean by having an evolving practice. India as a country is still evolving; it is a land of extremes. Colours, tastes, wealth, poverty, heat, rain…you name it, India has an extreme to meet it.

Avoiding extremes and finding balance has been part of my own yogic journey, and I found the almost extreme lifestyle and all-or-nothing vibe of several of the yoga studios and gurus I attended to be somewhat overwhelming and contradictory in their message. That being said, there were several teachers that were more supple in their ideologies and achieved a more rational balance between the unchanging ritual & the realities of a living daily practise, so I can’t be too generalistic here either.

My point in writing this was to express what I’ve learnt, and to disprove the theory that yoga can only be learned correctly or experienced fully by travelling to India. I’m guilty of harbouring beliefs such as this, although deep down I sort of knew the truth for what it is – that yoga is accessible anywhere, to anyone, and in whatever capacity you have to experience it and your own body. Even on a balcony in a tiny hostel in Sri Lanka where the cleaning lady tries to sweep crumbs and dust from within an inch of the mat around you. I’m still practicing. I’m still moving. Evolving, changing. And that’s ok too.

 

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Accessing Your Own Inner ‘Network’ – Self- Communication and the Benefits of Listening to Your Own Desires To Achieve Success

  Accessing Your Own Inner ‘Network

I’ve recently put very promising steps into place in order for me to successfully be able to work on my own terms, doing the things I not only excel at, but feel most passionately about. I’m not quite there yet, but the seeds have been planted (and deposits paid!) which will hopefully blossom into something extremely fulfilling and enjoyable – and after all, isn’t that the most we can hope to achieve from our ‘work’? I place ‘work’ in inverted commas here as I’m a firm believer in the whole ‘do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’, cliché. I’ll explain why shortly.

‘Success’ is another relative term. To achieve ‘success’, you first have to establish what your own understanding or expectation of ‘success’ is. In doing so, you may realise that you’re setting unfair expectations and deadlines for yourself without even realising it (warning sign number one!), and as such creating a mis-communication between your real passion and the human vessel through which it is trying to be expressed- that’s you, body!

Humans thrive on communication – on our daily interactions with one another. Before the days when ‘networking’ meant socialising merely for potential business or financial progression, we interacted on a more natural, humane basis, and really enjoyed having company and experiencing connection for the simple knowledge and reassurance it gave us that we weren’t alone in the world.
I despise the term ‘networking’, yet I understand why in today’s world it has unfortunately become a necessity. Even online – our interactions are now preceded with a weighty amount of agenda, pre-considered opinions and over-thought out potential scenarios – and that’s just by hitting ‘add friend’. Given the rapid-expansion of online social networks and their use and benefit for business growth, it is understandable that the trends and ‘most useful’ or most dependable means of communication are now continuously changing. Last year the most popular messaging app was Viber. Now it’s Whatsapp. Next year it will be something else, and I can’t remember the last time I sent an actual text message!

While keeping in touch with those on the outside and far away has become easier and more accessible than ever before, we unfortunately seem to have lost the altogether more important and pressing ability to get in contact with ourselves. It is so easy to get swept away in the wishes and passions of others, purely because it seems like the right thing to do or the most ‘socially acceptable’ course of action.
Whenever I find myself getting confused about my own actions or wishes, my current endeavours or simply my own reasoning for doing things, I can’t help but look at myself (as ‘Linked In’ conveniently provides as an option *rolls eyes*) through the eyes of my fellow social media users.

Would I add myself as a friend? Why? What could I possibly hope to gain from it?

Writing ‘About Me’ sections and ‘Bios’ defining myself in 150 characters or less has really forced me to sit back and reconsider my entire position in this world, and more often than not has left me anxious and concerned about my qualifications (or lack thereof) to work in the chosen fields I am placing myself within. Anyone can define themselves as a ‘writer’, a ‘musician’, an ‘accountant’, a ‘digital marketing strategist’, …the list goes on. I’ve written bios and personal statements for friends defining the areas they have chosen to dabble in, achievements they are proud of, and hopes for the future. While I’ll admit to feeling a sense of satisfaction on successfully condensing my life’s achievements and current existence into two or three carefully constructed lines of words, I’ve also questioned the very action of defining myself in such a way. It seems so limiting, so final. I’ve also worried about things I’ve posted online, purely for their permanency and irreversible presence.

The reality of it is that in today’s business and networking world, people are embarking on career changes and dipping their toes in the appealing paddling pools of new jobs and ventures becoming available like I change my mind about what socks to wear on a daily basis. The difference between those who succeed and appear content about their choice of lifestyle and those who choose to stay stuck in a rut they don’t enjoy, is that they don’t worry too much about it. They just go with it. They try it. If it works – brilliant. If it doesn’t – at least they tried. The next step might be more straightforward. If not that one, then maybe the next, and so forth….
I’ve lost count of the amount of times my parents have expressed concern or confusion over the fact that I don’t currently have a 9-5 job, and moreso the reality that a little part of me vomits a bit in my mouth whenever the thought of it surfaces. It’s simply not a bracket I see myself fitting anymore, the stifling prospect of any contract longer than a year enough to make me run a mile in the opposite direction, (or at least book a flight!).

In choosing to have a little faith in myself and my own talents, capabilities and potential instead of denying myself the possibility of happiness and creative fulfillment I have come to associate with most reliable and contracted incomes, the reality that is my life right now, has already taken a turn for the better. Even before I’ve achieved anything in the rough blueprint I’ve laid out for myself. I’m not saying this will be the case for everyone, but for me, it’s an unfortunate (or fortunate, whatever way you look at it!) truth.
I’ve muddled my way through several jobs and possibilities, considered certain routes and potential roads to take, all with the wrong outlook. Where before I looked externally to what people would think if I did this or what it would look like if I did that as a means of judging whether or not to proceed, I have now learnt to communicate with my own desires, and with the way my thoughts and talents work. I now have the tools to connect to my own inner network, and a better knowledge of the frequency it functions best at. Self-communication and understanding is the key to this.

There’s no guarantee I’ll succeed, but then again, there’s no guarantee that I’ll fail either. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll tweak it until it does. Like a recipe you can’t quite get right – it might not end up exactly as you had expected in the first place, but if it still tastes great and nourishes you in all the right ways, then what’s not to love?

Ikigai – What Do You Really Want?

Ikigai 

 No, it’s not the contact details of that oddly-smelling dude from the bar last weekend who you assured you’d text after one too many cocktails. (iki-guy, get it? Sorry. I’ll stop now..)

I recently stumbled upon this picture of a venn diagram online in an article on elephantjournal.com, and through a bit more research, was truly uplifted by what I read.

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‘Ikigai’ is a Japanese word which translates to ‘the reason for being’ or a ‘reason to wake up each morning’. Aside from the obvious excitement at the prospect of that first cup of coffee or tiny ray of premature sunshine on the way to work in the morning, ‘ikigai’ is used in Japan to represent a healthy passion for that which allows us to feel fulfilled, satisfied, and valued.

 Through assessing the connections between existing aspects of our own lives and those which we wish could be included, it allows us to access a sense of accomplishment by helping to lay out a simpler path to put into practice the talents and potential we all hold.

It has been described as the outcome of “allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom’, – essentially what happens when we weed out the unhelpful and hindering thoughts, practices, and day-to-day negative activities which may have embedded themselves amongst the delicate bulbs of potential planted within us, making them difficult to access and clouding both our vision and judgement with alternate motives. It might just mean you get easily distracted from your long-term goals, a passing sparkly thing proving just too tempting and ‘full of potential potential’ to let slide (that’s right, not even actual potential – just the potential to develop this potential…*facepalm*).
#Notions

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By breaking down the reality of each important element in our lives, the concept of ‘ikigai’ allows us to accurately consider exactly how and where our passions, talents, and desires are or are not of benefit to us, and thus motivate us down a path directed towards correcting this.

The path itself will not have any one definite end – ‘ikigai’ supports the yogic concept of ‘enjoying the journey’; allowing the focus to shift from the end goal to the current process and current moment of simply getting there.

The passions and potential we acknowledge through finding our ‘ikigai’ is just the first necessary step on the long road to achieving a sense of contentment, and one which takes some self-reflection and meditation to acknowledge.

 It’s important also to remember that sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is to actually sit down and admit to ourselves what it is we really want. Once you’ve recognised and accepted these natural instincts and talents, and truly devote the energy and attention required to help them manifest as reality, they become surprisingly easier and easier to access, and therefore easier to maintain this connection.

 ‘Ikigai’ is not an end goal, target number, weight, destination, or job title. It is not a world phenomenon or cure for disease, platinum selling-single, or award-winning movie.

‘Ikigai’ is something you can access anywhere, anytime, to bring you back to your current situation and accept yourself as you are. Although you might not be exactly where you’d like to be right now, the brilliance of ‘ikigai’ lies in the awareness that every moment you live now is contributing to a future sense of contentment that you will ultimately find if you continue living in the moment.

It is a way to recognise that which defines us and all positive aspects of our lives, in order for us to begin incorporating them into our days to orchestrate a more enjoyable experience of our time here. If nothing else, it’s a way to motivate ourselves and encourage growth.

That’s it’s, really. The simplicity of the Japanese way of life is enchanting.

A Panickers’ Guide To Travelling

 

Take it from a seasoned panicker – new and unfamiliar situations are always going to pose the threat of throwing you off-balance. If you’re like me and tend to overthink every potential outcome of every hypothetical situation before it’s even had a chance to become a possibility yet, it’s time you accepted the fact that you do this, and stopped distancing yourself from trying new things in fear of it.

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Once you accept the fact that certain circumstances and types of people stress you out slightly more than they do others, it becomes so much easier to take a step back and put things into perspective. Perspective in this case has a lot to do with accepting your own lack of control over certain elements of life, and embracing your vulnerability instead of running from it and pretending it’s not there.

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That’s why when I announced my plans to embark on a bit of solo travel and exploration, my close friends and family were very clearly slightly dubious of me. Even if they didn’t say it or voice their concerns, I know them well enough to recgonise their polite acceptance of what I was calling my ‘travels’, when I knew all they were thinking was ‘how the hell is she going to manage?’. It’s only been a little over a month since leaving, but several short-term trips beforehand prepared me both mentally and physically for this next step of setting out on my own and away from the safety net of an organised travel group (I’m not completely on my own just yet, but will be soon, and I find 2 or 3 is a much more managable number than a large group). But I like to think I’ve proven them wrong in how well things have gone so far…..(*touches woods apprehensively*). Here’s some advice I wrote for the benefit of others that I keep needing to remember to follow myself….

1.  It’s Natural to Anticipate

I am and have always been chronically early for absolutely every kind of appointment, meeting, flight, bus, train, or any other kind of scheduled journey I’ve ever taken. 532242_265319013590365_2114068047_nIt’s this anticipation, this un-uttered fear and apprehension that something might go wrong or somehow need to be altered at the last minute and leave me unprepared that has led me to panic as I have in the past at the mere mention of the dreaded words ‘change of plan’. I am also an earlybird. I’m up before the worms, which I figure is always better than being late. It’s ok to be early for things, in fact sometimes it even works out in your favour. The tricky part though is managing to get the balance between overpanicking about it to the extent that you arrive 3 hours before your check-in time and have to sit with your suitcase in the only café on this side of the airport, and being so relaxed that you rock up 5 minutes before boarding closes and have left no time to deal with any issues that may have arisen between the sprint from the check-in desk and the quickly downed pint of Bulmers’ in departures. The apprehension associated with pre-determining things and trying to ensure it will work out as planned is exhausting, so just be aware that only certain things are in your control when it comes to transport and travel. You can only ever hope to take care of yourself and ensure you’re there on time and with all of your belongings – there’s no point stressing over others or over conditions (weather, delays, timetable changes, etc) that are outside of your control. Going with the flow is something that is most effectively learnt by literally just taking the leap and doing it, and so there’s only so many times you can tell someone before that they must take the initiative and do it for themselves.

2. Just Go For it.

This leads me on to my next point. Just Go For It. There’s only so many times people are going to listen to the fact that your main plan and dream in life is to travel and see the world until you actually set out and DO something about it. It shouldn’t be about what other people think, but I know myself that I was getting tired of hearing myself go on about it on nights out and with various groups of friends, so much so that I eventually just went for it and booked something. I was more nervous than excited right up until the week of my departure, but by then it was too late to change anything and I’d come to terms with the fact that I was challenging myself in this way for the forseeable future, and that it would ultimately prove a positive and character-building experience for me. What have you got to lose?

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3.  Language Barriers
img-thingBe prepared to encounter some pretty incomprehensible situations and difficult people on your travels. It can get frustrating and stressful at times, especially if you’re (heaven forbid) running late for something or require certain information immediately. It’s often the hardest thing to do to take a step back and a deep breath, and use your most plainly broken down English to try and get a point across. Panicking in this situation will only make things worse, as body language becomes more important and obvious when words are no longer an option – this means that the more erratic you get, the more difficult it will be for the locals to grasp your intent. Keep a ‘cool heart’ as much as possible, and you will get by without too much anxiety or frustration bubbling over and escaping in the form of angry and accidentally offensive hand gestures (many Asian cultures do not appreciate pointing). Another thing that can help with this is to try to get a basic grasp of the local language – such things as please, thank you, how much, and the numbers 1-5 have proven especially helpful in securing directions, transport, prices, and also in cooling off situations where the language barrier has been particularly difficult to scale.

 

4. Money is Not Actually all that Important
If I had’ve known how little it is possible to get by on a day in South East Asia, I would have embarked on this trip a hell of a lot sooner. If you’re smart about it (which I’m not pretending to be always, but hear me out here), the main thing you will find yourself parting with hard-earned cash for will be transport from place to place. Food and drink is another necessity which does add up (especially given the charges to refill water bottles), but if you stock up in a supermarket and don’t mind carrying an extra ‘food bag’ around with you (beware of ants!), it is actually easy enough to avoid paying extortionate amounts. Still, it’s difficult not to let budget concerns get to you while you’re on the move and dealing with tens of thousands of a foreign currency you can’t begin to grasp the value of. This is made more difficult by the surcharges that seem to exist at every unexpected turn. A dollar here for parking a bike, 50 cent there for a water refill, which actually leaves you a couple of million Dong down, really make for a lot of confusion and stressful expenditure until you familiarise yourself with the currency, which I recommend doing as soon as you arrive. Avoiding organised tours and pushy guides who convince you their offer is best is also key, and it is often so much cheaper to rent your own bike or motorbike and go exploring by yourself. BJ7Se2rCMAAmsXR You may get lost once or twice, but there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finding your way back and grasping the geography of such a foreign place – every chance you’ll stumble across hidden gems you’d never see whilst blindly following a tour guide! The sense of independence achievable by doing this is also second to none, and even if you do go astray and feel like you’ve no idea where you are, there will always be someone willing to point you in the right direction home – humans can actually be nice, you know, and contrary to what some people think the whole world isn’t actually out to get you!

 

5. You Get What You Give
I get it. You’re a nervous person. So am I. It generally takes me a drink or two to loosen up to the stage where I’ll talk freely with a stranger for no reason other than out of politeness. But travelling has really changed the way I see this. Being forced into group situations and dorm rooms where it would be just downright rude to ignore likeminded travellers’ enquiries and lighthearted banter has really made me see that I am more than capable of socialising and holding solid conversation without the backbone or safety net of a group of friends behind me. So often I’ve heard ‘oh I’m rubbish at making friends’ or ‘I find it hard to talk to people’ – excuses I’ve made myself to avoid having to involve myself in social situations that I actually end up enjoying when I get into it. I’ve found that, simply put, to gain anything from any social situation or interaction, you must be prepared to also give an equal amount to show the person you’re engaged in conversation that yes, actually I do want to keep talking with you and stike up an impromptu friendship over how we both got ripped off by a cyclo guy in Ho Chi Minh City. 7a7ba950ff1df75bec529b7b7d867adf8db12c5d783aea2d22362b117b482a5d.jpgYou never know anything until you ask, and more often than not I’ve found you’ll be surprised with both the answer and with yourself and confidence after opening up and letting people in. After all, how can you expect anyone to want to speak to someone who sits closed off to the world? Any relationship is based on give and take – even a barman is not going to know what you want unless you tell him, this seemingly minor interaction being strengthened by the only certainty of it’s grounding, which is your order. It’s more difficult with new people, when intention may or may not be clear, but I’ve found that if you let go of this factor and accept that it really doesn’t matter WHY this person is talking to you, they just ARE, it becomes easier to lessen anxiety and enjoy just living and being in the moment of the conversation.

 

6. Push Your Limits
You’re already doing this by taking the step outside your comfort zone to go travelling, so why not try and push a little more? I’ve surprised myself in many ways since leaving home; I’ve held tarantulas, tried streetfood I wouldn’t touch in a million years were it made at home, ridden motorbikes up mountains and around streets where the only observed rule of the road is ‘biggest vehicle goes first’, and put my life and valuables in the hands of bus and tuk-tuk drivers who swear they knew where my requested destination was, but have actually embarked on wild goose chases searching and asking others they see along the way. It’s only natural to be slightly on edge when trying to progress in such a foreign and alien society, but there is definitely a balance to be struck between letting the anxiety take over, and accepting that certain things here are just done differently, and that it’s kind of in the unwritten travellers’ handbook that visitors to any city or new town adapt to the local ways instead of resisting and causing negative and problematic interactions – there’s a reason many locals in tourist areas dislike foreigners!

 

7. Enjoy, don’t Endure
This is possibly the most important piece of advice I have ever received. I guarantee you, if you fill the time you have out travelling and exploring a new country with worrying and anticipating everything up until you arrive on time for your flight home, you will return with nothing but regret that you fret over such trivial issues instead of enjoying your surroundings while you were there. Living in the moment is advice we all hear on a regular basis, and I feel that escaping to a new country, a new place, with new people and new experiences is one of the best ways to put this way of living into practice. In shifting your mindset to enjoyment, focusing on the new and exciting things that surround you on all sides instead of merely existing and not fully appreciating things, you will gradually come to be aware of how easy it is to confuse enjoyment with endurance.images-1 I’ve lost count of how many family holidays or group trips away that I’ve merely endured purely to satisfy others, and I regret hugely not enjoying them and making more of them whilst I was there. It had gotten to the point where I confused the boundaries between what was endurance and what wasn’t, and I’d almost forgotten what it was to enjoy new experiences, instead focusing always on the negative – the long journeys, the heat, the lack of available peanut butter….the list of trivialities goes on. I’m now lucky in that even though I’m often naturally inclined to the negative, I have the ability to pull myself up on it and stop the spiralling thoughts before I lose control of them.

8. Learn From Mistakes
Finally, you wouldn’t have reason to panic or be anxious at all if it weren’t for past mistakes you’ve made, or the potential disastrous consequences leaving your home and comfort zone can present to you. Be aware only that things will go wrong, and you will make mistakes, but it’s so important not to view these mistakes as failures, and merely to accept them as they happen and try to learn from them. Admit to yourself that no, it probably wasn’t the best idea to agree to a city tour without fully understanding how much they charged first, but it happened, I was naive, and I won’t do it again. It’s the only way to deal with the unexpected blows to the bank balance, dignity or confidence that come naturally with travel. If nothing else so far it has taught me to take myself less seriously, and to see that literally everyone in the world is in the best way possible just out for themselves in the hope of progressing forwards. Rarely have I encountered a situation where people are genuinely nasty or mean in their intentions, and even the most stingy shop assistant will at the end of a tough haggling session sigh and take what little amount of money you have resigned them to accepting. If you’re assertive enough and aware of the potentiality of being ripped off and taken advantage of, but possess the ability to still function somewhat normally and enjoy your new surroundings despite this awareness, a good balance can eventually be struck between awareness and fear. It’s not exactly an easy ask, but it gets easier the more you remember it in tough situations, and gradually becomes second nature to take things in your stride instead of letting the anxiety win over and needing to ask for directions home to the hostel you’ve returned to without an issue for the past 4 nights already. Learning curve. Baby steps. All that jazz. Worst comes to the worst, at least you’ll have the comfort of knowing you had the confidence to give it a shot!

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If I can do it, anyone can!

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 

Excess is Easy – Yogahub Dublin, and the Benefits of Regular Practice

A poem I wrote here early last month inspired by the changes I’ve experienced through regular yoga practice has led me to further explain my new obsession with yoga!

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Excess is Easy 

Excess is easy. That much I know for sure. Too much, too little, too often. It is one of the easiest things to let ourselves indulge in the safety of the extremities. It takes courage, balance and practice to remain upright in the midst of it all, and stay grounded in the middle of chaos. Being aware that there will always be limitations, and things we cannot do – yet along with these limitations will be good things; positive and progressive possibilities with every new movement.

Yoga and the Yogahub in particular have helped me achieve some of the balance required to walk along the narrow space between these extremes I used to bounce between.
Already on my way through a slow but steady recovery, a regular, daily yoga practice added into my daily routine proved the missing link between the confused streams of thoughts that raced through my head on a daily basis. The breath being added back into my conscious flow of thought aided to bring me back to the now, to the moment of what is happening as I speak, as I write, as I sit here.

It reminded me that it is ok to occupy the space I have been given on this earth, within the often disagreeable walls of my body. It is ok, and perfectly acceptable to be myself, to be in my own skin, and to allow myself to enjoy being within it, even if I’m not always it’s biggest fan.
The Yogahub provides a healthy and friendly atmosphere for me to learn all of this, and to relearn it as required – because balance is not something you can achieve once and expect to be able to attain again at the click of a finger. Even though it is always fairly accessible, there is a constant upkeep and awareness required to maintain it – much like the physical balance required to ride a bike.

In the monthly unlimited membership I took out at the beginning of September with the Yogahub, I not only found this kind of strong balance in daily practice and attending classes, but it was a stable balance. Stable enough to maintain for a prolonged period of time.The variety of classes available, styles and flexible timetable really allowed me to personalise my practice and accomodate for all levels and intensities, to suit how I was feeling on a given day. Each friendly face glows with a welcoming smile as you step foot inside the doors, whether for a random drop-in class or a scheduled flow, the delicious HappyFood vegan and vegetarian café providing the perfect pre or post – class fuel to help your body move through the hour.

I’ve realised during my month with the Yogahub that yoga teaches me not to rush ahead – to remain calm and to accept what is happening when it does. There is no use in constantly casting your gaze forwards, anticipating anxiously things that are beyond your control. The one thing within my control is my own body – not even my mind is always controllable. With yoga, my focus is shifted back to the physical power which resides within my body, and the very fact that I was bringing this body on a daily trip in to the city centre to the Yogahub was enough to begin the positive reactions within, and aid me to maintain a comfortable and healthy distance from all extremities I used to reside in.

The people at the Yogahub eminate this contentedness and oneness with the world, hippie-style ‘tree-hugger’ labels really not being necessary or applicable in this sense – it’s just a truly calming place. The huge variety of yoga styles means that everyone is catered for, no matter what level, and each class welcomes newcomers with open arms (or elbows, knees, hips, legs, whatever you’re stretching into at the moment!!).

 In moving my body, and staying with it as it goes, I have grown more accepting of both it’s limitations and it’s strengths. I appreciate what it does for me, and I work daily toward improving it so it can bring me where I want to go, and move me all the different ways I want to move, difficult poses and balance included.

It will always be an ongoing thing – constant maintanance and awareness is what is needed, and the Yogahub has given me the strength to accept that I will need to maintain this. It requires effort and practice, yet each time now that I return to the mat and begin my practice, I feel the benefits mentally before even beginning to move.

The extremities are always going to be there, and I may not always be able to avoiding brushing off them from time to time. Instead of shying away from them and fearing the downs and bad days however, I try now to embrace them for what they are, and allow them to serve as a foundation on which to start rebuilding a new day, a new practice, and new movement. We’re only human, and I feel that limiting yourself too much in anything inevitably leads to an equalising swoop in the opposite direction, as your mind and body try to balance things out. In maintaining as level a field as possible for as long as possible, the breadth of that level is strengthened, and makes it easier to stand on.

It’s probably a good thing that the monthly membership limited me to one class per day though, as there were days where I wanted to stay and do more! On these days I had to pull myself up on the urge and remind myself that excess also comes in the form of good things. Finding and maintaining this balance is how I have come to be where I am now, and I am looking forward (but not too far!) to re-commencing my practice with the Yogahub as soon as I return home from travelling.

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Statue of The Buddha at the Royal Palace of Cambodia

#onlypositivevibes

Yogahub Dublin Website
The Yogahub on Facebook
Yogahub on Twitter

I Saw A Selection Box in Tesco Today

We’re in the late afternoon of the year,
Rush hour is greying,
The sun’s rays paling like the ever more frequent stray hairs my Mum used to Have me remove;
An insult to some,
But in this season they give way to truer hues.

Even if the frost comes early;
Ski-socks over leggings and my grandmother’s knitting needles working overtime.

Even if the locks become locked in place,
Intermittent as they are in silent segregation of the canal;
Slippery gateways to the other side.

Even if the cold bites hard,
Eating away at the flesh of a forgotten glove;
A harsh reminder that our bodies are not in fact made of steel.

Even if the streets hum with the deafness and subtlety of
The beginnings of a bushfire,
Black ice creeping it’s lethal way under the wheels of shivering passengers.

Even with this, I know for sure;

It won’t be as cold as it was last Winter.

I Didn’t Get A Picture of the Sea Today…

I didn’t get a picture of the sea today,
The late Autumn afternoon sun
Glistening on the ridges of the jetstream

 Reluctant to commit any more lines to memory,
Just in case they’d escape me at the source of a pen.

 I didn’t get a picture of the sea today,
You’ll just have to take my word,
That the child who’s footprints I followed

Around the rocks as they chased a small dog
Saw the sun higher in the sky than I ever remember it.

 I didn’t get a picture of the sea today,
The tenants of thoughts in my head
Refusing to set a timer on the tide of nature’s madness

Finding balance in knowing herself,
Listening to her own ebb and flow and accepting depletion.

 I didn’t get a picture of the sea today,
My strength now contesting that of it’s depth,
A lesson in the way things are and haven’t always been

Meeting the lack of sense with a stubborn persistence
That takes sailors and travellers alike from A to Z.

 I didn’t take a picture of the sea today,
For I have taken enough in my time,
Used and abused the kindest of hands and offers of affection

 My duty now being to give and provide;
Return what’s been lost and salvage what never was let be.

I Want To Write

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I want to write, but ideally I don’t want to present you with repeated and recycled bullshit that I’ve seen online, and endless lists of things people don’t really care about purely to get ‘views’.
I want to write, but not be the kind of writer that is rude and/or judgemental of people who really don’t deserve it, again, purely to get attention or views online and in print.
I want to write, and not have to care about how well a piece of work is received or spread, because spending the entire creative process of writing it worrying how people are going to percieve and view it defeats the entire purpose of expressing my thoughts in the first place. The second I let a thought concerning other people’s opinions of my work enter my head, it no longer belongs to me. It has been tainted.
I want to write because I feel it is my way of communicating with the world, of putting some sort of solidity on the blinks and glances of thoughts that flit through my brain on a daily basis as I move from place to place, and possibly to make some sense of the more ambiguous ones; to really break them down in order to be able to put them all together again.

I want to write because I want to understand. I want to learn from what I see around me, I want to be able to structure some solid opinions and views on the world that are just not possible for me to clarify without writing them down.
I want to write to be able to support myself and feel a sense of fulfillment; to ensure I am able to travel around and see all there is to see, learn what there is to learn, and write about it while I go.
I want to write because I want to travel, and I feel that pictures can only capture the brink of what it really is to experience a new culture; a new country; a new climate or timezone.
I want to write because writing for me feels as natural as breathing, and having nothing and nowhere to write about is as suffocating as sitting at an office desk where the windows don’t open and the heating is stuck on high in the middle of Summer.

I want to be a writer, and I’m not going to pretend I haven’t bought into the current trends of trying to write ‘hilarious’ reviews with catchy or crude headlines, or pieces that will go viral online and receive a high readership – because I have. I’ve tried to write things people will find entertaining, interesting, insightful even. And sometimes I’ve succeeded. But where my heart truly lies, and it’s taken me a while to figure this out – is in movement, travel, and observing the world around me as I go. Staying still prevents the flow of words that comes like a torrent of ideas, emotions, and possibilities whenever I step foot into the world outside my door, whether it’s on board a plane, boat, train, bus; anything.
I want to write, and I will always continue to write and recount life experiences I have around the world, regardless if I ever eventually make it to Bali, Tokyo, or the Amazon. Anywhere will do. I just need to be moving. I need to be in motion for the channels of inspiration and structure to work together and allow me to produce something that makes sense.
I want to write, but I also want to travel, and the World is my destination.

31 Obvious Things We All Know Are Important To Remain Balanced But Generally Tend To Ignore

Let’s face it: we all know the things that are good for us.

In some deep-rooted corner of our stomach or diaphragm, or wherever you feel your instinctive urges, we know that staying up that extra hour binge-watching Netflix is going to result in googly eyes until lunchtime tomorrow.
But still we do it, because it’s easy to give in to the urges and not think about the future in those terms—wanting to prolong the feeling of contentment as long as possible, and at whatever cost.
But balance is something that only you can find for yourself. Health service and medical advice aside, you are ultimately the only one who can know your own body and mind, feel your own emotions, hear your own thoughts, and heed what works and doesn’t for yourself.
Listening to your body’s needs and being able to heed them accordingly are two very separate things, however, and too often we let things slip purely out of laziness or for simplicity’s sake.

Sometimes it takes a subhuman strength of will to haul my mind out of the gutter of magical, idealistic thinking, and into the simple reality of what is. Because reality is simple. Here and now, right here, right now, with no thoughts preoccupied with the future or with the past, I have a sense of peace and serenity that stems only from my situation in this present moment, and only this present moment.
There are certain things and environmental factors which I’ve noticed help me to achieve this sense of self and make it more accessible in times of distress.

So, in order to further promote this balance and help myself return here when it becomes necessary again (because even the most balanced person stumbles every now and then), I’ve compiled a list of things that help me personally to maintain balance in the midst of mental, emotional, or environmental chaos.

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1. Rise early. You may not catch any worms, but you’ll certainly get a headstart to the day and a chance to spend some time with yourself and thoughts in order to properly be able to figure them out before the day begins.

2. Eat well. (An oldie, but a goodie.)

3. Drink water—this speaks for itself.

4. Get enough sleep.

5. Listen to your body.

6. Wear sunscreen.

7. Spend time with yourself.

8. Spend time in nature.

9. Breathe.

10. Read books while travelling.

11. Read books in bed.

12. Just read books.

13. Travel often. Movement is key to living—“If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.”

14. Lock your door and dance around (bonus points if it’s in the dark).

15. Sit in a bar or restaurant alone, and enjoy your own company.

16. Drink coffee.

17. Write things down.

18. Write yourself well.

19. Stretch daily.

20. Yoga poses soothe. You know this.

21. Exercise to feel your heart beat in your chest—to feel and stay alive.

22. Indulge in chocolate.

23. Make playlists of songs that make you feel.

24. Do things that make your eyes light up when you talk about them.

25. Spend time with people with whom you can laugh and feel alive, yet who will also remain steadfast and supportive in times of need.

26. Feel your emotions. They’re there for a reason.

27. Take care of your body. You are the only one with the power to do so.

28. Wear what you’re comfortable in. Nobody (yourself included) needs or wants to see you pull up your tights again.

29. Cleanse and moisturize daily—physical freshness can help to have & fall back on in the case of an unexpected mental shift during the day.

30. Give your full attention to someone if they’re taking the time to speak to you—even if you’ve no idea or opinion on what they’re saying.

31. Wherever you are, be all there. Mindfulness and being present in the moment is one of the most straightforward ways to be at ease with yourself and situation, yet ironically is generally the last thought to occur to us in times of stress.