July 1, 2011

Home Away From Home.

My Mat Is My Mat, No Matter Where I Am In The World.

I always thought I’d be a traveler when I grew up. Not as a profession, of course (Can you do that?), but I did think I’d be someone who explored the world. I studied International Relations in college and went on to graduate school to study International Political Economics. (Since I know you’re wondering, no, I haven’t used my in-depth knowledge of the Peruvian agrarian economy too much lately). My point is that, through my formative years, I was fascinated by the world around me and the people who filled it.

A couple of decades – and three children – later, I’ve seen far less of the world than I’ve studied, and certainly far less of the world than I dreamed I’d see. While I wouldn’t trade our home-bound years with our little ones for anything, I’ve felt a surge of freedom as my family has (slowly but surely) become more mobile. We’ve traveled more and further afield in the past 18 months than we have since our eldest was born 14 years ago. But even before we started spreading our wings, my fascination with the world and the people I share it with remained. This has made me an excellent vicarious traveler.

I’ve been lucky to have friends who travel the world and who have been more than willing to share their experiences with me. My best friend from college sent enough postcards from Europe to paper our downstairs in the two years after graduation. A close friend from grad school landed a position in Africa and filled my mind with images of the places she saw and the people she met. I’ve loved hearing about India from two yoga friends who have made the journey several times. We’ve had friends relocate to Ireland, Germany, Holland and Poland sharing glimpses of life around the world not just with me, but with our children.

Most recently, I’ve been armchair traveling to the far east. A friend of mine just traveled around the world by herself to live and work in Cambodia for many months. Cambodia! By herself! Bravery like this is hard for me to wrap my head around. Her photographs and blog postings reveal a beautiful and completely foreign part of the world. From temples to office buildings, she is revealing through her pictures that she is now living in a world as different from mine as I can imagine. As I read her words and view her pictures, I can’t help but think how very far she is from her home and her people. I can’t help but wonder what wandering so far away on my own would feel like.

A few days ago, I received a note from my friend that helped me understand that travel is travel no matter how far you go. You uproot yourself from your home, your people, your routines. Once you’ve arrived, autopilot is not available. Everything you do – even simple things like going to the grocery store or taking a walk – requires some learning, some figuring. Mix in the excitement of sightseeing and exploring, and you’ve got a brain on overdrive 24/7. As thrilling as this is, I’ve found that it’s also deeply unsettling and exhausting.

While my friend has gone farther from home for longer than I ever have (and probably ever will), it sounds like she is feeling much the way I do on my own trips. It also sounds like she has found the same secret to balance her experiences. Like me, she is relying on her yoga to feel at home for at least a few minutes a day. She writes, “… your mat is your mat no matter where you are in the world. Practicing helps me to focus and feel more at home.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. Those few minutes of feeling at home, of sinking back into the familiar, of moving through a comforting routine, is, for me, enough to reground me and restore my energy. Those few minutes on my mat leave me ready to return to my exploring with open mind and open arms. 

Sometimes I wake up in my own bed feeling like I’m in a strange place. I feel like I’m traveling though I haven’t boarded a plane or steered onto a highway. Life does this to us all, I imagine. A sick child, a death in the family, a change in career or even a dry spot in a friendship or other relationship can make your home and routines feel as strange and foreign as Cambodia. Times like these can be exciting or crushing. They can be thrilling or unsettling. The secret to finding balance during these times is the same as when you are travelling. Stepping on your mat feels like coming home. Practicing is a return to the familiar. Yoga is routine when nothing else in your world is. A few minutes on your yoga mat leaves you ready to return to your life with an open mind and open arms – no matter how challenging, thrilling, worrying or confusing it is.

Whether I’m off on an adventure, reading about a friend’s or navigating my life here at home, my yoga practice grounds me. It roots me and it focuses me. It prepares me to fully absorb every bit of my experiences. After all, my mat is my mat not matter where I am in the world.

Travel safely,
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Amy Nobles Dolan  |  Contribution: 9,100