“So, wait – you are going to Portugal to practice yoga? Not to explore Lisbon, hit up the coast for great beachtime, coastal views, and seafood, tour some vineyards, and drink lots of Portuguese wine?”
I got asked this question (or some variation thereof) more than a handful of times as I was explaining my trip to people. My response? “Well, of course I’m going to explore Lisbon and the – I had heard – stunning coastline, hopefully tour vineyards, and drink lots of wine!” But, why Portugal, why now? “Yoga.” I had the opportunity to practice with an amazingly gifted Ashtanga yoga teacher, who happens to be Portuguese and runs a shala in Lisbon, so, yes, yoga is what brought me to Portugal for two weeks this summer.
It was while I was walking along a bike path that follows the coast from Cascais to Guincho – a stunning 10 or so kilometer hike – that I started thinking more about this trip and my response, and realized that the truth is, I actually always travel for yoga. Last year, it was Tucson, Arizona. I spent time learning more about my sister and brother-in-law’s lives there; I drove through the middle of the desert to see a dear friend from law school and meet her gorgeous newborn son; and I practiced on my own, in a perfect space on the second floor of my sister’s house (well, almost on my own – her cats took quite in interest in me). The year before that, it was Morocco. I wound through the tiny streets of medinas; took trains from place to place so that I could really see the landscape; feasted on olives, dates, fruits, breads, purchased from small market shops; drank mint tea; found out how different it really was, being a woman on my own there; and I tied my mat to my backpack and practiced in hotel rooms from Casablanca, to Marrakesh, to Fez (the mat almost made it home, too – Air France was on strike and whatever folks were filling in somehow lost it on the return flight…).
On my walk up the coast and back, 40 minutes outside of Lisbon, Portugal, I started to understand why I always practice yoga when I travel, and why travel is a crucial part of my yoga practice. Yoga is my Lodestar; the component of my life that most helps me maintain some sort of balance, even in the most challenging times. Like any compass, though, when I encounter unexpected magnets in life, my practice can go out-of-whack, and need recalibrating. For all the ways it improves my life and my overall wellness, my practice can either get lost in my “daily routine,” or it can fall totally out of routine. Travel forces me out of my “daily” or out of a rut – or both, as the case may be. Travel puts me into new – usually incredible and inspiring – but different situations and shakes me up enough to cause me to reexamine all kinds of things I had forgotten, or started to take for granted, or simply become complacent about. Travel challenges me to see myself in a new light, by giving me a deeper perspective on the lives of others and the ways the world moves in other places. And in so doing, travel causes me to rebalance in a new way – it brings me back to my yoga practice, but from a different direction, so that I can start afresh again. Because yoga and travel meet for me in this way, when I return to my “daily” from the travel, I am not only carrying the incredible memories of my trip; I have found a renewed practice and a new balance that will keep me going – until the next trip…