August 29th, 2016
From Nancy in Enfield, England:
I am fairly new to yoga, only starting about a month ago. I can’t believe how much stronger, calmer and overall happier I am. I just wish I had started it sooner.
I do have a few questions: Firstly is there a certain type of yoga I should be practising? Secondly, can I practice only yoga to stay fit and healthy or do I need to mix in other forms of exercise too? And finally, what about weight loss? In the last month I have noticed fat loss, with my clothes feeling looser and I am looking visually smaller, but when I weighed myself I have put on 6 pounds!
Erica: Hi Nancy!
I’m so glad you’ve found yoga and that it seems to be working for you! It’s an amazing combination of strength and relaxation, isn’t it? Here are some tips to address your questions:
* There are so, so many types of yoga out there, from gentle/restorative to vinyasa flow, to alignment-based styles such as Iyengar, to traditional disciplines with set sequences such as Ashtanga or Bikram. There really is no certain type of yoga that is “correct” to do, besides the kinds that feel good in your body. I recommend experimenting with different styles until you learn more about what feels right, what your body needs, and give yourself time to see what’s out there. There’s no rush – yoga will be here forever. J YouTube is great for checking out different types of yoga. What you practice also depends on what your goals are – Flexibility? Weight loss? Stress management? Better sleep? Injury recovery? You get the idea. 🙂
* Many people practice only yoga as a form of physical exercise, but there are lots of us who do other things too. There is no catch-all formula; it is completely up to you and again, it depends on what your goals are. Personally I love to do other things besides yoga, but that’s because I enjoy being active. If you want to improve physical fitness, it’s usually a good idea to vary your activities, e.g. including some cardio conditioning with your yoga practice. But ultimately it depends on your health as it stands now, and how you feel (if you’re feeling fulfilled, or if you’re looking for more).
* Ah, the weight loss question! It makes sense that yoga will make you lose fat – that is a great thing! Through yoga you are improving your toning and strength, building muscle. Remember that muscle weighs more than fat, so when you weigh yourself you might look thinner but weigh more. It’s because you’re gaining lean muscle (very healthy!) and your percentage of fat is decreasing (also very healthy!). Don’t put too much stock into the numbers on the scale; the way your clothes fit can be a more accurate indicator.
I hope this helps – I hope you have a great start to your week!
July 31st, 2016
From Clay in New Jersey:
I just recently started running, and while I am taking it slow, I’m already starting to feel some aches and pains in my knees and hips afterwards, so I was wondering if you could recommend some yoga poses that would be beneficial to helping me stretch out and keep everything loose and hopefully pain-free after a run.
Erica: Hi Clay!
Congratulations on your new running career! I’ve had a long-running (pun intended!) relationship with this wonderful activity. It started when I ran track and field in high school, and has since played a significant role in my physical fitness in various capacities and intensities. Running in general has always been a part of my life, although I’ve found that throughout different periods, my body has responded differently to the intensity and impact.
I’m sorry to hear that you’re having some pain and tension. In my experience, preventing and alleviating pain associated with running has as much to do with stretching as it does with the way I run. So, my answer has two parts:
On days that I run, I tend to practice lots of front body and hip opening. I do lots of thigh stretching (to ease tension in the knees); ankle mobility work (to loosen the muscles and connective tissues in my feet); and hip opening (to mobilize the hip joints and keep tension out of my back). I also use a foam roller for the muscles in my legs and hips. Some of my go-to stretches include:
- Low crescent lunge (thighs and hip flexors)
- Ankle circles and rolling my feet on a lacrosse ball
- Half pigeon (glutes and outer hips)
- Upward dog or cobra (thighs, hip flexors, chest)
- Downward dog (chest, lower back, hamstrings, calves)
2. The way I run.
Several years back, I had to stop running for awhile because of bad knee pain. I did some research that led me to a book which completely changed my outlook on running. It’s called Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall, and it takes a really interesting and in-depth look at running. It caused me to pay extremely close attention to my stride, gait, and posture, which resulted in huge changes in all of those areas (in addition to switching the style of my running shoe) and eliminated ALL of the knee pain I’d been having. I highly recommend reading it – you don’t necessarily have to adopt all the ideas in the book, but at the very least it will cause you to pay closer attention to the way you stand, distribute your weight, and propel your body forward.
I hope this helps you – best of luck and have a great Sunday!
July 10th, 2016
From Anne in Romania:
I’ve been reading your questions every week and have a question too – in chaturanga pose my arms don’t look very bent from a top or side view – I’m wondering if I’m doing it correctly. I move forward a bit and my body moves down. I’m not sure if my arms are bent enough?
Erica: Hi Anne!
Ah yes, the ever-challenging chaturanga pose! I really think this is one of the hardest poses, at least for me. Some tips for you:
- I really recommend taking this pose with your knees on the ground until you feel confident in your upper body positioning. Good alignment in chaturanga requires a lot of strength, and it’s easy to do it incorrectly if your shoulders and core are not fully prepared for it. Taking the pose with your knees down isn’t easy by any means, but it will allow you to build the habit of good form in your upper body.
- In chaturanga, your elbows should be bent at a 90 degree angle. So the upper part of your arm (tricep) should be parallel with the floor. If that’s the case, then your shoulders will not be dipping below the height of your elbows. The reason you don’t want your shoulders to be lower than the height of the elbows is because if they are, then the fronts of your shoulders end up bearing a lot of your body’s weight which can strain those small muscles and tissues. You may not feel a strain at first but it is something that can build over time and cause inflammation or tearing in the long run. So a lot of yoga instructors will tell you, and I agree, that it’s better to really focus on keeping your shoulders at elbow height.
- Core engagement! Chaturanga will feel lighter and “easier” the more you lift and activate your core. When you lower yourself down from plank pose, pay a lot of attention also to pulling your belly in at the same time as you push your chest and collarbones slightly forward. It will feel more difficult, but it will help you keep your shoulders and your stomach from dipping. Tuck your hips slightly under you (the opposite of sticking your butt up) to help maintain the straight line from shoulders to knees (or feet, if you are practicing the un-modified variation).
- When you are lowering into the pose, draw your elbows in toward your ribcage so that they don’t flare out to the sides. At the same time, pull your shoulder blades down your back (toward you hips) and closer together on your back. This will help you press your collarbones further forward.
- The more you can use your hands, the more support you will have. Engaging your fingertips a lot will help you to support your bodyweight on your hands and bend your elbows to the correct degree without collapsing.
I hope this helps! Don’t be discouraged – it takes time to build strength for chaturanga. Practice and all is coming! Have a great Sunday!
June 26th, 2016
From Rebecca in Dublin:
Hi Erica! I’ve been doing yoga for 6 months and although it’s challenging, I feel I’m getting a bit stronger every day. What other kind of exercise is good to supplement my yoga practice?
Erica: Hi Rebecca!
I’m happy to hear that! It’s a great idea to vary your physical activity. Yoga has wonderful physical benefits, and you’ll probably find that those benefits increase when you mix in other activities too. As far as what those activities are, the easiest (and most fun) way to work out is to find something you like doing. If it’s fun and doesn’t feel like something you are required to do, you’ll probably have an easy time sticking with it. Team sports can be a great way to be social and active at the same time, and you have a sort of built-in support network of people with similar interests. I do a variety of things like jogging, cycling, swimming, and light strength training – I find that those things keep my energy level up, and I don’t get bored of doing the same thing too much. J Cardiovascular conditioning and strength training are important and can be a little more challenging to get from a yoga practice (of course it depends on what type of yoga you are doing). There are so many different ways to be fit; have fun experimenting!
Most importantly, you’ve got to listen to what feels good in your body. Running isn’t necessarily the best form of exercise if for example you have knee or hip injuries. And training with weights may not work as well for you if you are already very muscular and need to work more on flexibility. Try out a new activity once or twice a week, and make sure that you stretch (or practice yoga!) while your body is adapting to it. It might even be something as simple as a quick daily routine of lunges, squats, push-ups, and crunches. To get started, you can find some great bodyweight workout routines of varying levels at calisthenicsguide.com.
I hope this helps – have a wonderful Sunday!
June 19th, 2016
From Marsha in Texas:
I have a hamstring injury, or the “yoga butt”. I noticed a little soreness in my hamstring 3 months ago and kept stretching it thinking that would be good, but I’ve been slowly injuring it. Now it’s painful. I rested it for 24 hours, and since I have a related lower back soreness I did your yoga for lower back pain video on YouTube. Yesterday I decided to do a “modified” yoga practice, which then made my hamstring sore again. As I rest this for several days, is it okay for me to do your yoga for back pain video? It feels good and doesn’t stretch my hamstrings. Is there such a thing as a good yoga practice for someone who has a hamstring injury?
Erica: Hi Marsha!
I’m so sorry about your hamstring! Unfortunately, many of us have been there before! My left hamstring and hip are generally tighter than my right, and the same thing happens to me if I practice too much forward bending. I also have some low back tightness (which is what inspired me to make that back pain video on YouTube) and it limits my hamstring mobility. When my hamstring gets inflamed, I stop forward bending for at least 24 hours. Then I start again, but take it very slowly. Think forward folding with knees deeply bent, whether standing or seated. I also do a lot of front body stretches to try and ease the tension. It’s easy (and common) to have imbalances in flexibility and strength between the front body and back body, so I try and lengthen things like my quads, IT band, hip flexors, psoas, and abdominal muscles. All this stuff, when stretched, alleviates some of the pulling and tightness in the back body. At least this is what has worked for me in my own practice.
What can you do? Use your intuition to listen to what will make your body feel happier. Ease off the forward folding for a bit, and focus more on opening up the front of your body. You can still practice yoga, but maybe instead of standing forward bend, just stand all the way up into mountain pose. Instead of down dog, if it bothers you, go for plank or forearm plank.
Some poses you can do for front body opening:
* Low lunge or Anjaneyasana – your back knee is on the ground and you push your hips forward to stretch the front hip and quad;
* Hero – start on your hands and knees, knees close together, walk hands back until you can sit on the ground or a block between your ankles;
* Bridge or full wheel – open up your chest, stomach, and hip flexors;
* Superman – lie face down on the ground, arms forward or out to the sides, and lift your legs and arms up for 10 to 30 seconds at a time;
* Half frog pose or Bekasana – lie on your stomach and prop yourself up on elbows. Reach back and grab your foot with the hand of the same side for a front hip and quad stretch;
* Savasana. 🙂
I hope this helps! Best of luck with your hamstring and have a great Sunday!
May 29th, 2016
From Linda in the Philippines:
I am a mom of 2 boys, working a night shift and I would really like to learn more about practicing yoga at home. Can you give me some tips on what to do, and where to start?
Erica: Hi Linda!
I’m glad you’re interested in practicing yoga and I think it will be a wonderful way to increase your awareness of mind and body. Don’t worry too much about what exactly might be the “right” way to start – the important thing is for you to carve a bit of time regularly to dedicate to yourself.
Step onto a mat, and focus on your breath. Watch a few beginner-friendly yoga videos, and try some of the poses that are interesting to you. There will be things that are fun, and others that will feel like more of a challenge. There’s nothing that you absolutely must do; just listen to your body, focus on breath, and be open to the lessons you will learn both physically and mentally. If you can, designate an area of your house that you can keep as your personal practice area. Establishing a space for your yoga can help create comfort and solace. There are tons of resources for beginning yogis – I have beginner friendly YouTube yoga routines as do many other great teachers. You can follow along with those videos online, or you can pick and choose a small group of poses based on what you feel your body needs. For example, fitnessmagazine.com has some helpful articles for beginner yogis, including a group of poses to start with. You just need patience, and an open mind, and your yoga practice will start to unfold.
I hope this helps – have a great Sunday!
May 15th, 2016
From Tako in St. Petersburg, Russia:
How many calories can you burn from one hour of yoga?
Erica: Hi Tako!
The amount of calories you burn while doing yoga depends on so many things: the length intensity of the yoga routine; your level of activity and fitness; your weight; and your diet, are just some of the factors. It really is difficult to give a general answer. I have seen a 30-minute yoga workout burn anywhere from 100 to 300 calories (for a 117-pound person), but again there are a lot of variables. According to popsugar.com, a 150-pound person can burn almost 600 calories from one hour of Vinyasa flow yoga (477 for Bikram, and 351 for Ashtanga).
If weight loss is your goal, you need to reduce the amount of calories you consume. Controlling your diet and caloric intake is more important than how many calories you burn during any workout, at least for the sake of losing weight. Try drinking water before meals, eating lots of veggies and fruits, keeping a food journal, and increasing your intake of healthy fats and proteins. The good news about a regular yoga practice is that while it may not burn quite as many calories per hour as other types of exercise, it can help to regulate hormone production and reduce stress: two things that also contribute to weight gain.
I hope this helps. Enjoy your Sunday!
May 8th, 2016
From Lindsey in Philadelphia, PA:
How do I stop my hands from slipping on my yoga mat when doing upward facing dog?
Erica: Hi Lindsey!
Great question! For me, it tends to be mostly a question of shoulder activation and wrist/finger strength. If you can really draw your shoulder blades down your spine, and press the blades together on your back, your upper body is more supported, and the muscle engagement can help a lot in taking some of the weight and pressure out of your hands. Then, try really gripping your mat with your fingertips (imagine gripping the ground with your toes when you feel like you’re losing your balance). This will not only balance the weight distribution across your whole hand, but the muscle activation in your fingers will help create more lift in your chest and upper body. And of course, the more engaged your core is, the more you will be able to “hold the pose together” and rely more on strength than on the weight that you’re putting into your hands.
And finally, you might try a different yoga mat. There are lots of different fabrics and textures and it is worthwhile to experiment with different ones, in my opinion. There’s also a ton of variety by way of price and quality. You can also double up the front end of your mat, giving the heels of your hands a little extra cushion.
I hope this helps, and happy Sunday!
May 1st, 2016
From Sherry in Sacramento, CA:
Ok…Child’s pose. I’m having a bit of trouble with this. I can put my heels to my legs. I can put my head on the ground. I can’t do it at the same time. Why? It doesn’t seem to be a problem for anyone else I’ve asked. Is this too hard to ask without a visual?
Erica: Hi Sherry!
Your question is totally normal – a lot of students have trouble getting their hips onto their heels and their foreheads to the floor at the same time. It’s just a question of lengthening the spine and opening the hips a little more. When you’re in Childs pose, you can try resting your forehead on a rolled up blanket or towel to allow your neck and spine to relax more. You can also take your arms out in front of you and press down and forward into your fingers, pushing your hips a little further back toward your heels. As I said, this is what many people do – don’t feel like you’re the only one! I hope that helps. Happy Sunday!
The Palm Of The Universe
One day in Thailand I went to a canyon. The bottom of the canyon was an intimidating and eerily serene quarry filled with water. I climbed down to the water, slipped in, and swam off.
The sun blazed silently and the sky burned blue. The only sounds were a distant breeze and the tops of my shoulders gently rippling the water’s surface. I was in the middle of nowhere and I felt invisible. I looked around and saw towering red stone cliffs. Above me an infinite sky. That huge expanse of water was all mine.
All of a sudden I felt intensely at home. I felt at the center of the universe, in complete stillness. I was at the center of the axis, the only unmoving object in everything. The center of everything. As I treaded that deep quiet water, my mind and heart came to complete stillness. I am here. I am fully present. My soul is in perfect sync with the earth’s orbit, like clockwork. I had found my own energetic rhythm.
It dawned on me that this was a very special moment. Everything stopped, because I fell into stride. I was filling the space in the universe intended for me. Everything moved so fast and yet stood still, held together and in place with perfectly timed energy.
It does not matter where we are. If we open our hearts and our eyes, take that walk across the planet just to see how we’ll like it or what experience we’ll have, we open the door to coming home. Truly Home. Where geography and distance and circumstances are of absolutely no consequence because our hearts have synced with the greater heartbeat. It’s the peace of being. It’s the end of questioning, wishing, fearing, trying, moving. It’s perfectly placed stillness.
Where is enlightenment? Where is home? Where are We?
It is Monday in Chiang Mai. I’ve finished morning training and now I sit at an outdoor cafe resting my feet. The week has just started and I am already feeling exhausted. Last Monday I decided to step it up a notch and I’m now doing the only thing I said I wasn’t going to do here: running. In addition to the usual five hours a day on jump ropes, pads and bags I am somehow running about 8 miles a day. The running is done before each session in order to both toughen up and exhaust our legs prior to training.
Every morning at 6:15 I hear the alarm. I have ten minutes to get down to the gym and start the run. I hate this moment. I groan out of my blankets trying to claw my way through foggy dread, stumbling over pathetic excuses about why I am just not going to make it today. Despite my best efforts, I make it out the door with my shoes tied and my iPod charged. Even so, my first mile consists of a mental dialogue that goes something like, “Oh Godddddddd why am I here. Why am I doing this again. I hate my life I hate my feet I hate this pavement I hate everything forever.”
But all of a sudden I am distracted by two stray dogs on the side of the road. Someone has set out food for them. My eyes wander just past the dogs to the tiny woman outside her tiny doorway, sweeping her tiny doorstep with the care of a mother bathing her child. Next to her is her husband, setting up his tiny cart with its tiny stove and tiny dishes of food that he will cook and sell on the tiny sidewalk in front of their house. And then, all I see is love. That intimate, unconditional and unwavering love. There is love in the way this woman sets out day-old rice for the neighborhood dogs. Love in the way she keeps her sliver of concrete doorstep immaculately clean. Love in the way her husband carefully assembles his food stand. I’m so touched by this.
I keep running, and I begin to hit my stride. Maybe it isn’t so bad after all. Another mile or two and now I am passing a middle school. It’s about 7:15; students are beginning to arrive. I watch their parents drive up on motorbikes and unload their kids in front of the gate, and all I see is love. Love in the way these parents drive so carefully, love in the way they hand over perfectly prepared lunch bags, love in every young teenager’s crisp navy blue uniform and bright white protective face mask, despite the dust and smog that permeates almost everything in the city. It brings tears to my eyes.
Another two miles and I round a bend in the road. I catch a glimpse of my training friends ahead of me and again, I see love. I see their will, their dedication, their mental strength. I see that these things are motivated by their love for Muay Thai and their desire to reach their own goals. Right on cue, one of them turns to look back at me, makes sure I’m still there. We wave at each other and I pick up my pace. Not because I am falling behind, but because I am happy they’re there.
I smile and feel a fresh burst of energy as I remember why I am here. Why I am running at 6:30am every day, training like a crazy person. I am here for love. I am here for my love of challenges, my love of Muay Thai, of travel, of new connections with wonderful people, of my life, and of my Self. I follow love in the form of commitment to exactly what it is I want to pursue. Everything I am doing here is in the name of and in search of love, in its infinite forms. It’s everywhere, if I open my eyes and see.
And so I drain the last bit of melted ice from my glass here at the cafe. It’s now 102 degrees and I’m feeling more than ready for training #2 this afternoon. Just keep following love, be motivated by love, be in search of love, and be in love. The rest comes naturally. <3
Sundays are rest days here, and there is no Muay Thai training. I use the days for sleep, sunshine, ice cream, and YOGA.
This past Sunday, after my mocha frappe, I went looking for places to film a yoga class. Chiang Mai has a lot of temples and I was looking for a quiet one, not too large and not too overrun with tourists. I have to be careful filming near temples here; there are statues of Buddha in, on and around each temple. It is considered disrespectful to point your feet at Buddha (or anyone for that matter), so I need to make sure my yoga videos aren’t anywhere near a statue or painting. This can be tricky, and the idea of offending the monks that stroll the temple grounds horrifies me.
So on this lazy sunny afternoon I found a small temple on a small street, with a small courtyard and a small area perfect for some yoga. After deeming the area Buddha-free I went to work setting up my camera. The yoga class I filmed was 60 minutes long. What I love most about filming these classes is the meditative quality. I am listening so intently to cues, to my body, to my breath, that nothing else exists besides inhale, exhale, sink deeper, relax. When the class ends and I am in savasana, I feel renewed. Like I have just pressed the reset button. I fucking love yoga.
But this particular filming session took on a slightly different quality – about 15 minutes in to the film I sensed a presence. Trying not to be obvious about it in front of the camera, I scanned the area and located an old monk about 15 feet behind my tripod. He was sitting on a stoop watching me. But not just watching – he was really taking it in. At first I was nervous, thinking I was doing something wrong and he was getting ready to kick me out. But I continued with the practice and he did not interrupt. I started to pick up a really interesting energy from him. It was genuine curiosity, and genuine respect. His eyes did not leave me for the rest of the practice. I could tell he was giving me space and appreciating my concentration. There were even a few moments of the practice, during handstands, where I felt his encouragement.
When I got up to turn off the camera, he came shuffling toward me in his yellow robes bearing homemade snacks for me. He took my hands in his and bowed, murmuring words I did not understand through his shy smile. I thanked him in English for the treats and for allowing me to use this beautiful space.
We didn’t understand each other’s words, but words were not the vehicle for the message. The message was an exchange of recognition. We were both in a sacred place, following our passion for what we love most. How special it is to connect with souls so far away through the common forces of love and dedication. By allowing our passion to lead us through life, we can find our way back to the essence of what matters most.
I am almost to the end of my second week of training at Lanna Muay Thai. I have begun to learn how to accommodate the constantly varying string of aches and pains I get, listening intently to my body’s messages as I struggle through round after round of pad work, jump rope, and sparring. It seems like each day I trade one discomfort for another, moving through micro-levels of conditioning both exciting and discouraging. In some training sessions I feel like I’m on fire; in others I feel like I’m underwater.
I listen to music a lot. Whether in Austin or New York or Chiang Mai or anywhere in between, I usually have a pair of headphones on. Since training started last Monday I have been unconsciously and consistently plugging into Bob Marley. He’s always been my hands down favorite artist of all time, so I guess it’s not too out of the ordinary. But what gets me is that as I move through this little chapter of my life, Bob’s words echo my sentiments almost perfectly.
“If you are the big tree, we are the small axe, ready to cut you down.” I feel this as I approach my challenges, trudging along the dirty street to the outdoor gym in 100 degrees of unbroken afternoon sun. Everything about training is hard, physically and mentally. It is a big challenge and I am small. But with persistence and motivation I’ll eventually make a dent, right? Keep at it long enough, and I might break through. We can chop down huge trees, and overcome big obstacles, with determination and commitment.
Yesterday I finished morning training, and decided to take a long lazy walk around town. I stopped to buy a package of Oreos and as I walked and munched in the midday sun, I heard Bob sing “I’m happy inside all of the time.” It dawned on me that this is what life is about. Why not do what you want to do? Why not pursue what makes you smile from ear to ear? Why not aim for constant happiness? We have precious few moments to be alive in this body and this life. What will we do with our gift of time? Similarly, “we’re all in the same boat, rocking on the same rock.” Underneath it all, the goal is connection. Through facing challenges with open eyes and welcoming people with open hearts, we can keep moving forward smiling in the sun.
Like in Rebel’s Hop, We’ve got to keep on moving. And we can be what we want to be. <3
Falling Into Step
It’s Monday afternoon in Chiang Mai and I am counting my blessings, all billion of them, for the billionth time.
The last seven days have been a strange and perfect storm. At 6:30am last Monday morning I stepped cautiously into Lanna Muay Thai boxing gym. It was my first day of Muay Thai training in Thailand and I was nervous. I took a deep breath as I approached the mats, stooping to untie my running shoes. There was one person shadowboxing in front of the mirror, with an instructor. As I got closer my eyes met a tall, fiercely beautiful girl with jet black braids and sharp blue eyes. My first thought was, I’m about to get my ass beat.
But she skipped toward me, grinning, extended a hand, and chirped, “Hi! I am Julie! It’s my first day and I am so happy to have another girl here!” She had a jovial French accent and an open smile. We were instant best friends.
To say that the following six days of training were hard would be a pretty big understatement. At Lanna we train twice a day – two and a half hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. Julie and I have held each other up through every session, pushing forward with shouts of encouragement, gloved high fives, sweaty hugs and shared water bottles.
After training we sit at the picnic table behind the gym with the other Muay Thai students, talking and relaxing. Pom, the owner and our honorary mother figure, feeds all of us fresh and delicious home cooked food. Julie and I are usually the last ones to stumble home, filthy and exhausted and happy.
This past Saturday we went on a 12 kilometer run up the mountain with a group of other students. The two of us were worried we wouldn’t make it, but just like that last round of bag work, the last five minutes of jumping rope, and those endless sit-ups, we pushed each other along until we arrived at the top.
One of my absolute favorite things about traveling is this kind of connection. We take ourselves outside of our home context, away from our houses and possessions and friends and routines, and we plug in somewhere else on the other side of the planet. All we have is our Selves. Since we have nothing to lose and nothing to prove, we are naked and open again. As we pare down to the very essentials, we get back in touch with that fundamental and instinctual self awareness we can so easily lose sight of when we are comfy at home. We open our receptors as we realize that we are part of something bigger. In spite of, and because of, being alone in a new place, we are open to connections and relationships that we might not otherwise pick up on. It feels incredible to meet someone from another part of the universe and feel instantly like we have known each other for a long time. Julie and I are much the same in many ways, and we have fallen into step beside each other here in Chiang Mai.
So on this Monday afternoon we sit side by side working in this coffee shop sipping iced green tea. And I count my blessings for being willing to step outside of my own little world, off the edge of what is familiar to me, and into a special connection with a kindred spirit.
Changing The Pace
Well, here I am.
I stepped out of a taxi last Thursday afternoon into a traffic jam in Bangkok and immediately realized I had no map, no money, and no idea which direction to go. I stood for a few minutes trying not to get sideswiped by hurried pedestrians returning to their offices, or running to the bank, or picking up their kids, or wherever they were going. All the skills I’d picked up while fighting my way through life in Manhattan, Madrid, and Rome came back to me as I shifted into City Mode and began to thread my way through the crowd toward…….wait, where am I going?
I stopped again, moved out of the way of the crowds and stood for a minute just looking at the other side of the planet. It is so strange to step on a plane in your hometown and after 28 hours of plastic food and tiny bathrooms poof! You exit the aircraft 180 degrees around the world.
I was filthy and beyond tired but I decided to do what I came here for – Muay Thai. I remembered seeing a gym on a map somewhere in the vicinity of where I might be at this moment. No idea really. BIt the easiest way to find something is to start looking, so I stepped back onto the sidewalk highway and started moving.
I asked many people “Muay Thai?” pointing a finger in the air and shrugging my shoulders. It occurred to me that I didn’t even know how to say yes or no or thank you in Thai. Eventually I found someone in a Western Union office who drew me a map on the back of a receipt to Sathorn Road. As I walked I tried to feign confidence. It kind of worked. Forty minutes later I was standing across the street from a giant silver statue of a Thai boxer. It marked the entrance of Legends Thai Boxing. Yes!!!
Inside, I was treated like family. I spent the afternoon talking and learning from these friendly trainers using mostly hand motions and trying not to pass out from the humidity, heat, lack of AC and beginning stages of jet lag. Finally it was time to go to my hotel, shower, and sleep for about two days.
Finding my way to the hotel was an interesting adventure. I began to slow down, observing and falling into step with the rhythm of the traveler in a new place. A few steps, stop and look at a street sign. Check iphone for time. A few more steps, stop to take a sip of water, look at another street sign (like I have any idea where I am). Somehow I ended up at a river taxi that takes me to the royal palace, which I had been told was near my hotel. I spotted two foreign looking tourists and decided to follow them for no real reason. They led me straightstop the temple with the reclining Buddha, which is a massive golden statue of Buddha lying down. It was unbelievably beautiful. It started to dawn on me that I was in Thailand.
Exiting the temple, I came face to face with a dear friend from Austin. We had both arrived in Thailand that week, but hadn’t talked since. We ran right into one another and I realized just how small, however unfamiliar, this planet is. Over dinner at a nearby vegan restaurant we remarked on the unplanned nature of travel, of life, and of perfect timing.
In my hotel I thought about how nice it is to be able to step out of your doorway, of your comfort zone, into some huge crazy scene and allow yourself to be swept along with its current. Moving with the tides, listening for rhythms, staying aware and being flexible to change, we open to beauty. We let life lead us to new places, new feelings, new sights, and along the way old friends greet us. If we can trust the flow of life and our ability to stay calm, the world is our oyster.
Welcome to Thailand. 🙂