Every year I take about five weeks to to dedicate myself completely to my yoga practice, often traveling to India to study with traditional teachers there. But aside from improving my craft, the most important part of the experience of traveling alone is learning more about me.
Taking time away from my daily responsibilities helps reconnect me to who I really am. My natural rhythm, pace and demeanor reemerges. As I travel in the rich tapestry that is India, I remember these truths about my life.
1. I am beautiful, and I've never met someone who isn't.
In India, where I stand in awe at the diverse beauty of the people, I'm met with a similar sense of awe. When someone is interested in me and my culture, I begin to see myself in a new light. I notice qualities in myself that I appreciate.
2. My perspective is only a tiny part of a greater truth.
When I travel, I am reminded that I don't know everything. For example, I think I need a shower everyday and nine servings of raw fruits and vegetables. (And don't get me started on how much coffee I think I need to be happy.) But being in India shows me another way — going without what I think is "necessary" for happiness becomes as an opportunity to shift my perspective.
3. I've begun to slow down and enjoy my alone time.
Back at home, I run yoga studios and teach incessantly. This keeps me on a task-oriented schedule from the minute I get up in the morning, until the minute I go to sleep at night.
But here in India, one does not go out midday because it's too hot. This downtime is meant for napping, painting, writing and reading. Quiet time in India is also a loud time — there are dogs barking, birds singing, traffic honking and children shouting. There is construction everywhere and yet, I've learned to habituate to these sounds. This alone time fills me, it nourishes me and it rests my tired body.
4. I need connection in order to thrive.
Once when I was longing to be a recluse, my guru said to me, "What are you going to do with the loneliness?"
Everything is a balancing act — quiet time is matched by the need for connectedness. If I stay secluded for too long, my contentment changes. As my teacher says, "We are always changing … happy, sad ... happy, sad."
The tea seller, vegetable vendor, rickshaw carrier and those who wash laundry by the lake, are all a part of my infrastructure here. Everything is local and everyone is essential. I am not alone nor am I independent. Even something as simple as needing the Internet means that I must visit a cafe and create connection with others; it fosters community. I am part of the whole, and that connection is so crucial to me.
5. Everyone I meet is my guru.
I've learned from so many people here — the travelers that helped me find the local tea shop, or the assistant in the yoga room who offered advice for my practice. There's the neighbor who offers to cook a simple meal and the people who wave me in to join their chanting class.
I opened my eyes to the offerings that appear every day, all of which expand my life and consciousness. They show me a way and I learn from them, which interrupts my habitual American way of thinking. It adds to the vocabulary of my life.
Yes, studying Sanskrit is fun and engaging, but learning how to make really good chai with whatever I can find at the nearest market and sharing it with friends; this is the key to a rich, full life.