I’ve always been an anxious person. My anxiety is not the type that is blatantly obvious, but rather the type that emerges when I am alone. I know that it is there. I can feel it sometimes, always begging the questions, “Are you good enough?” “Are you talented enough?” “Pretty enough?”
At nineteen, I decided to take my first solo backpacking trip across Asia.
Not many know this, but one of the main reasons for my trip was because I didn’t know how to properly cope with my anxiety anymore. At nineteen, I was having panic attacks. My anxiety was getting the best of me.
I took that trip because I knew I was spiraling out of control. If I didn’t find a way to manage my emotions, I was going to lose it, for real.
And, I did get it under control.
After about a week into my travels, I could feel my anxiety lifting. It was like a hazy cloud was evaporating from my brain. A dark cloud that I didn’t even know was there, until its presence was no more. This made me very aware of the fact that my anxiety stems from my need to be perfect and to always be in control. However, traveling doesn’t allow me that luxury, and it was a blessing in disguise.
This trip was also my first time I tried real yoga. I had done ‘gym yoga’ before. The kind of yoga where some of the members leave halfway through savasana, and the only meditation I was doing was on my extensive to-do lists.
My Journey Through My Practice
Although I was happier than I had been in a long time, I was still searching for something else. When I saw a flyer for an island retreat in Cambodia, I knew it was fate. That was my first experience with breath work, meditation, and with yoga in its purest form. This was the kind of practice that was not about impressing anyone. Everyone was at their own level, and on their own journey. I fell in love.
After my week on this little island practicing yoga everyday, I felt happier than I could ever remember. I vividly remember taking my flashlight, and going to the beach in the dead of night. Turning it off, I sat and meditated on the beach. I could feel the air, feel the sand on my skin, and I felt perfectly whole. This is the first time I have felt this way since I was a child.
Now, I’m not saying yoga and meditation are cure-all’s. I’m not saying that everyone will have the same type of experience that I had.
However, my anxiety has never returned to the same level of intensity.
Sometimes I feel it creeping up, and that’s when I know I need to roll out my mat.That being said, for me yoga and travel are interconnected. I feel that yoga has made me a better traveler, and a better person.
How Yoga Made Me A Better Traveler (And Person)
Yoga helps you be present. So many people, myself included, are constantly looking towards the future or the past to give them some kind of satisfaction. Yoga helps you understand that if you aren’t present, plans for the future are useless. When you finally reach the ‘future’ you’ve been planning for, you’ll already have moved on to plan something else.
Your practice inspires compassion. It’s easy to harden your heart while traveling, because travelers see poverty at a more visceral level than they have experienced at home. However, I think that tuning out this kind of extreme poverty is fatal to becoming a true traveler. Feel it. Recognize that all humans are connected on some level. Then, focus on how you can make it better.
The yoga community is fucking awesome. I’ve done a couple of yoga retreats since that first one. On every retreat I have met amazing, aware, chill people who are all on their own spiritual path. People who chose to practice yoga are some of the most welcoming people out there. It is life-changing to experience the sense of oneness between others at a retreat.
Your practice can be done anywhere, anytime. Yoga is the perfect way to stay active and healthy if you are traveling. You don’t need much to do it, except your breath and a little bit of mindfulness.
Mindfulness helps you stay calm in shitty situations. Sometimes, traveling can be incredibly stressful. Transportation is never on time, people can be unfriendly, and the littlest things can turn into all day hassles. Being mindful helps you slow down, take a deep breath, and realize that it will probably all turn out all right.
Yoga helps you practice gratitude. The name of the game is mindfulness and gratitude. This is a particularly important practice while traveling. Sometimes we don’t realize how lucky we are until the misfortune of others is on display. If you have food to eat, clean water to drink, and a safe place to sleep at night, you are damn lucky.
Remind yourself of that everyday.
I believe that if everyone on Earth were to take up the practice of yoga and meditation, there would be far less conflict. Mindfulness and meditation have made me more aware of myself, and aware of my greater connection to the universe as a whole.
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”