A lot of people get into yoga because they’re looking for something—they want to be happier, kinder, calmer. They want to be able to handle life better.
But a lot of the positive results of yoga only happen once we get “good” at it.
For example I understand rationally why meditation would be a beneficial exercise for me and have countless friends who say it had an extremely positive impact on their lives. But unfortunately after years of trying and even qualifying as a yoga teacher, I’ve never really felt its benefits. I’ve never managed to get “good” enough at meditation to reap the mental rewards.
The same goes for a lot of the other potential benefits of yoga too. In order to acquire the positive changes to our personality that yoga could bring about we need to internalise the principles of yoga and to get the mind calming benefits of some of the yoga postures we need to practice so that we don’t just spend the whole time thinking about how we’re going to manage to get into the positions.
What I’ve realised though, is that travel actually brings about all of those benefits that people are striving for when they decide to take part in yoga. And they come about a lot more quickly and easily through travel than they do yoga. With travel, the beneficial effects on our personality happen accidentally, whether we want them to or not. They creep in unexpected and there are a lot of them.
I’ve been on the road for almost two years now. These are the positive changes travel has brought about in me.
I understand myself so much better now than I ever did before. I have time whilst traveling to listen to my thoughts, to pay attention to the types of things I enjoy doing and notice the ones that I don’t. I have time to reflect. I don’t have to force myself to sit down and take some time out to consider and reflect on any emotions I might have and let go of the unhelpful ones—it happens all on its own.
I have a more positive outlook on life now than I have ever had before. Not because my life is perfect or because everything always goes right, but because traveling has given me the time to realise that I have a choice about how I feel about things. If something bad happens I can choose whether to be upset about it or choose to focus on the good things that I can take from the situation. For example, if a bus I take arrives five hours late, that’s not ideal but there will almost definitely be something positive I could focus on rather than the negative—the delay might meant I missed a thunderstorm that I would have arrived in the middle of otherwise. At the very least it will have given me some more reading time.
One of the things I love the most about travel is that, instead of feeling like I always have to be doing something now, for possibly the first time in my life, I have an abundance of time. What that means is that I’ve naturally become more present in the moment. Instead of always thinking about the next thing I have to do in the back of my mind, now I just focus on the one thing I’m doing at that moment—and it’s brought me so much more joy. I can now see a beauty in things that I never even noticed before just because travel gave me that time to really be present.
A lack of patience when traveling would lead to having a horrible time. It is so common for journeys to be delayed, activities cancelled or things not going according to plan that being patient just becomes the norm, otherwise life would be spent in a state of extreme irritation. I have to be patient and accept that things aren’t always going to go the way I planned.
I used to be a bit of a judgemental person. When I’d meet new people I’d more often than not make a snap decision as to whether they were “my kind of person” straight away. Or if I started spending time with someone and noticed any traits which I thought were less than ideal I would write them off. I’ve probably ruled out hundreds of people from being a part of my life because of silly reasons. Traveling solo has beaten that out of me because there aren’t always that many options of people to hangout with so if I want company and have just arrived in a new place, I’ve got to work with who’s there. As a result I’ve become so much more accepting of others. I’ve learnt to give everyone a go and that someone having one trait I don’t like doesn’t mean I can’t have a great relationship with them. I just have to accept that character trait as part of them.
Since things frequently don’t go to plan when traveling, travel has naturally silenced the control freak in me and made me realise that I can’t control everything that happens in life. Instead, I have to work with whatever the actual situation is, whether that’s how I wanted things to be or not.
Letting go of the expectation that things will always go as I want them to has meant I’ve become a lot calmer. I have less negative emotions and there is a peacefulness that comes with that. There’s a peacefulness with knowing that it would take a lot to get me riled or become angry, I feel calm. I mostly feel calm because I know whatever happens I will handle it and it won’t be that bad. I’m stable. The world can carry on with its craziness, but it’s not going to get me.
I never expected travel to do any of these things, but actually I’ve seen these qualities displayed in more travelers than I ever have in yoga aficionados. I’ve seen people yell at each other across yoga studios, b*tch and moan when a class doesn’t start on time and not be present in the moment of the class at all.
On the other hand I’ve seen countless travelers display all of the above positive traits that I’ve gained from traveling and many more.
I have no idea how long it would have taken me to get to these mindsets and develop these traits through yoga but I’ve been doing it for years and never even got close. Even just a month or so of traveling though and could see myself change.
Sorry yoga, I’m going to stick with travel for now.
This post was originally published in Elephant Journal.
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