In this global culture, we’re beings on the move. Magical vessels propel us through time zones and effortlessly lift us across borders, divides, languages, temperatures, smells and meridians. These same vessels then plop us down in faraway lands and we step out, expecting ourselves to acclimatize in a matter of moments to transformations it took the great ancestors ages to assimilate.
Practitioners of yoga have always traveled the world to gain access to the teachings. In our modern era we have the gift of greater access, but it’s a gift we need to remember to receive mindfully so we don’t end up scattering ourselves and our intention in fragments. The yoga of travel is a deep practice — one I dedicated myself to when I was very young, but which I continue to contemplate and relearn with all the resources of my beginner’s mind.
Recently, I accepted an invitation to circle the globe in 11 days. My day-to-day reality is that I'm a mama, and my daughters hold my drishti firmly. For the most part, I stay rooted in the earth of our home, tending it with all my attention. However, as they grow older I travel without them from time to time, livin’ the dharma of teaching to a community that reaches well beyond my home city of San Francisco.
Sometimes having kids makes you make extreme choices; I agreed to teach at the German Yoga Conference in Cologne. The organizers run a studio called Vishnu’s Couch, and hey, how can you say no to Vishnu, especially when you get to meet him in a Medieval European city with Roman roots rebuilt after the devastation of World War II?
The next weekend was the Asian Yoga Conference in Hong Kong. I’d been attempting to make it there for years, to contemplate the modern high rises and the bustle of a global financial hub from the quiet of my yoga mat. The only way to do both without being away from my kids for longer than I was willing to consider was to make one giant leap through the Vayu (Air), using the miracle of modern air travel to loop the planet in just under a week.
After providing my mother with a virtual novel of care instructions for my girls, I headed for my first leg of the flight, leaving directly for the airport from my youngest daughter’s 1st grade play. From my (tiny) seat at the performance, I landed in my (equally tiny) seat on a plane to Germany, and the journey began. I realized quickly that some folks do this all the time. For me, though, this global travel thing, though I’ve been doing it since I was young, is still a subject for contemplation.
In fact, I noticed on this journey, global travel is only sustainable if I approach it as a practice — a practice of adaptation.
When I travel thousands of miles in a single night, how do I know where I am? Well: I am Here, of course.
How do I adjust to the great shifts of time and space?
I pull out my altar, neti pot, oils that go here and there, Bhagavad Gita (small version), and mat (thin version). I sit down, breathe, recite the same mantras I recite at home and abroad, and move through kriyas that don’t seem to suffer a bit from jet lag.
This is how I find myself. This is how I condense the thousands of years of adaptation required to move from one culture to another into a relevant practice-sized nugget.
And what I find when I remember to situate myself through these rituals of practice is this: the language of this practice moves between all cultures, time zones, and nations. Just as it always has. From here to ... Here. The heart and the breath are the same, from Hamburg to Hong Kong — and back again.