Tuesday, 5. November 2013

The Life of the Traveling Yogi

Through the years, as I’ve established myself as an “international yoga instructor” I’ve received countless emails from other teachers or potential teachers asking me, “How do you do it?”

This is a valid question. I remember returning from living abroad in Thailand when I was 22 years old and just started teaching my first yoga classes at the local YMCA. I never intended it to be a career; it was simply a way for me to pass time and – really – cope. I was broke and back home with my family in the Midwest and a little directionless. I lived on the east coast of the US for part of my life and already had lived and travelled in Africa, South America, Europe, and Asia. I had a college degree that didn’t give any career direction (African Studies and English) and I was interested in everything but couldn’t stay focused. One moment I was going to be a musician, the next a doctor. All I knew was that I could never stop traveling.

The short of it was that, as a teacher, I was good. It was natural for me. My first class I ever taught, I still wasn’t certified, I just had my own self-practice and the memories of lessons with my teachers. I was so nervous; I made my dad be my first student and I gave him a 2.5 hour class. He was so patient and obliging – no wonder he fell asleep immediately in savasana. I didn’t even own my own yoga mat. All I know is that on the first day in that gym, there were 20 students there to practice and when I said, “Inhale, raise your arms,” and suddenly 40 arms were raised…I realized, “This..is kinda..FUN.”

So I kept teaching. I never decided to be a teacher. All I knew was that it nourished me, made me sparkle, and it beat my other job as a cashier and customer service agent. My parents kept wondering if I would go get my PhD like I said I would. I kept wondering when I was going to take off for the Peace Corps. But I couldn’t stop teaching. Although to some yoga was exercise, for me, it was the first way I found a way to make peace with my body. I was anorexic and bulimic when I was 17 and meditation and yoga was the first time I felt not only good – but magical and safe in this body of mine.

So for the first time in my life, I committed to stay with my teaching. I moved back to Boston and established myself there. There was and still is an amazing yoga community there. But that itch to travel couldn’t stop. I promised myself at age 23 that somehow I was going to live and teach yoga in Bali. I knew nothing about Bali. All I saw were pictures of the dancing demons that my Mexican friend Guillermo shared with me when I was a freshman in college. I remember sitting with him, stoned, thinking, “I gotta go there.” I kept the postcard with the dragon on it with me for years.

Sometimes we send out these prayers, we make these promises to ourselves, and then we forget. And then we’re suddenly hit with a whammy of all that we sent out and, if you’re like me, it’s like being in the center of so many different music notes – and sometimes all of these prayers maybe aren’t so harmonious with one another.

So while in Boston, teaching, I got a call. It was from a service in Nepal. The application I put in to teach English there was accepted. It was the most heart-breaking news to know that I could actually go. That’s all I wanted: to go to Nepal. But I just started my career in Boston and for once – to stay-made more sense than to go. So I promised myself this – once I had enough teaching experience, I could leave again.

I’m terrible in the Business Course that I teach in my teacher training. Working in a logical linear way has never worked for me. I try. I hire a lot of people to help me out with this. My admin organization has improved tremendously (and still needs improvement.) But in terms of business plans – I follow my gut. That’s the ONLY way it’s worked so far. And, of course, my heart.

So I woke up at age 26 done with Boston. Done with the snow. Ready to travel again. I tried to be like a “normal” organized person and opened up a savings account. I felt virtuous. I remember telling my students about my savings account. Like it was a big deal. I had $250 in it. I’ve always lived by the seat of my bloomers.

Luckily, the universe heard my prayers and within two weeks I received an email from someone I didn’t know that she had heard about me and wanted me to come out and teach in her teacher training in Japan. I had 10 days before it would start. And I went. I didn’t even ask her how much I would get paid – that’s how trusting I was – and how not used to negotiation I was. I just packed my bags, subbed out my classes, planned on going away for 3 weeks, and prayed that I had enough money for my car payment and rent when I came back.

Let’s say the abundance Gods also heard my prayers and I did quite fine. I ended up spending 4 months teaching in Tokyo – and that’s a whole different story – me showing up with a buzzed hair cut with “one of these things is not like the other” as my constant theme song…

And before I considered signing a year-long contract with the Tokyo studio, I decided to take a trip (as I actually, for the first time in my life, had some money to travel and I didn’t know when I would ever be in this side of the world again) and went to Bali. Before choosing to go to Bali, for one week, I flipped coins and used pendulums and did Tarot readings – Bali or Australia? The Japanese all said Australia as it was “safer” due to the recent Bali bombings. My heart said Bali.

That’s history. On the second day I was there I was offered a teaching and management position. I’ve been teaching with that studio for 7 years now. And from there, I’ve traveled and taught workshops, retreats, and trainings all over South America, Asia, Australia, and Europe.

And now, from that long intro, I will give you some meat.

Having been on both sides – as management and as teacher – I don’t recommend sending out emails to studios and people you don’t know hoping they will give you a job. Everyone does that and no one stands out. And everyone says they want to come out – but we never believe it until we see it. The people who get the jobs are the ones who come in the flesh. Come directly to where you want to teach. Introduce yourself. Find out if it’s even a good fit for YOU. I remember once – and the only time – that I applied to manage a studio and teach for 2 months in a neighboring Asian country. I did this completely blind. It was the most challenging experience ever. If I had actually visited this country and studio first – I never would have done it.

It takes guts and this is a risk to leave everything behind. You can’t expect someone to create a security blanket for you so you can safely jump to the other side. Do have a small amount of money with you – just in case. Yes, I did show up the first time to Thailand with $200 to my name – and a job already organized. We can always be lucky. But it’s nice to know that you can take care of yourself and not depend on charity.

It’s scary to make a move. These are normal feelings.

Even though the traveling yogi life looks like we nailed heaven on earth – everyone still wakes up grumpy sometimes and we still shit and have to put clothes on and brush our teeth. Everything becomes normal after awhile and we still have to live with ourselves.

I bet those other traveling yogis – or even travelers – agree. There’s a part of us that can’t help but explore. There is a matrix of freedom we’ve nailed. And there’s a certain, perhaps, longing for home that we haven’t found. I know that as I’m making more peace with myself and my past, suddenly I don’t need to live on the other side of the world. I miss my family. I’ve had many deaths of friends and families the past few years and it’s been really hard to be so far away.

If you want a long-term stable relationship with an intimate partner…it’s a different set of rules and formulas for attraction. Before I was fine with my long-distance or short-term relationships. Now that I actually really want a partner, a house, and kids my globe jumping isn’t so conducive to those needs. That doesn’t mean I stop traveling ever. But there’s a different rhythm and frequency required.

If you are dying to do this, DO IT NOW. There will be a time when your feelings change. I used to roll my eyes at adults who say that “as you get older…” I was going to be resistant to age and potentially had a Peter-Pan complex. Suddenly I’m in my mid-thirties. I get what they’re talking about.

Just remember that the grass is always greener. I know all of us who travel have a certain sparkle and have experiences that change us – and none of us are now from our one country – we are touched from all that we’ve seen. Probably all of our accents have inter-mingled as well and us native-English speakers, those of us who live in non-English speaking countries –even start to speak English like it’s our second language. I know none of us regret traveling. Remember that traveling doesn’t fix everything. In some ways it helps give perspective. We see what sticks after we leave home. We see the pieces that are truly in our core. But there’s always the work inside that’s the vital piece.

Now that I have different cravings, all of my dreams require a certain stability, focus, and stillness. I see now how travel scatters my energy so I can’t go as deeply as I want to. That’s just where I’m at now.

The beautiful thing is that the more you travel, the more your family grows. My heart’s all over the place. I’ve gotten adept at saying “good-bye” and “hello” – which is huge, considering how shy by nature I actually am. It’s almost a heartbreak that I’ve spread myself so far and wide. I’ve learnt the power of presence. I love you, and I’ve gotta appreciate you right now because I don’t know when I will get to see you again.

With that said, when all falls apart, it’s nice to be with people who’ve known you when you had braces and were a dork. With my family, they know my “lying” face and they know how to poke me in a way that no one else does. It’s nice to have roots. Always stay connected to that.

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One reply to The Life of the Traveling Yogi

  1. There s nothing my cat loves more than sitting for hours on end watching our neighbors go about their business. There s also no better way to immerse yourself in a culture than to watch the locals out and about, living life.

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