Years before Sara received a prophetic Facebook post and our planning began for a year long journey, she introduced me to Travis Eliot’s Ultimate Yogi program. I should preface this by first stating that in 2007, Sara had given birth to our first born, Anjali, and shortly thereafter joined a fitness group for moms called Stroller Strides. I had been exercising and getting into better physical condition by that point and I scoffed at the notion that I would be challenged by a fitness routine for a bunch of stroller toting moms. I was most assuredyly wrong. I so enjoyed the group that I even attended on a fairly regular basis when Sara was out of town or otherwise unable to go, Anjali in her Bob Stroller and all. So it should not have surprised me that several years later, having recently moved to Madison, that Sara would inroduce me to a new program which I would underestimate only to learn to love it later.
My initial misgivings with the program revolved predominantly around the idea of Yoga as a fitness routine. I guess I envisioned a white bearded old man sitting cross legged surrounded by a plume of incense smoke and humming mantras. The first few practices I saw Sara doing I was unimpressed and I am sure I made it known. But, as a strong woman, and someone who knows me well, she took no offense and continued after her objective of achieving the 108 day program laid out by Mr. Eliot. I continued about my regular routine of running and visits to the gym until one day I saw Sara doing a practice that left her barely able to breath. Sara has always been a better athelete than I so for her to be winded made me think back to the Stroller Strides days and to reconsider my thoughts on the Ultimate Yogi. So, sometime around mid-May, Mother’s Day if I recall correctly, I agreed to join Sara for a yoga practice. I should clarify that I had done a practice once before at the local gym and rather enjoyed it, but I was somewhat hesitant about sitting in my living room and having a dvd version of Travis Eliot talk me through an hour long program. To up the ante a bit this particular practice was going to be way, way outside my wheelhouse.
You see, the Ultimate Yogi program is 108 days of scheduled practice, meditation, and diet. The program for this particular day called for a practice known as Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga, for those unfamiliar with Yoga parlance, is a practice in which you get into a yoga pose or asana, and hold it for a long period of time. I had thought at this point that I was fairly flexible, and I was very wrong. The one hour program proceeded to stretch muscles I was unaware even existed and in my competitive spirit I stupidly tried my hardest to stretch more than I could. I fortunately did not pull anything but I did proceed to become phsysically ill from the release of years of pent up toxins. I felt immediately terrible, relaxed, loose, and exhausted simultaneously. It was blissful in hindsight.
I share this rather embarrassing event because, as we fast forward to present day, I am gazing across our room at the two yoga mats Sara and I insisted be part of our travels. We weren’t sure what our fitness regime would or could be while travleing but we knew that no matter where we were we could find enough room for a mat and that we could carve out an hour for yoga. I have not been a diligent practitioner of Yoga, not nearly as much as I would like, but in the last three years or so I have greatly increased my flexibility. My body feels better, my fitness routine is improved, and I can see a palpable difference in my mood and sense of well being on the days I practice. This is by no means an infomercial, but rather an observation on the benefits of flexibility, and not just physcially. Through this process we have learned to be flexibile in so many ways. The Apostle Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Philippians.
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-14
His faith gave him the flexibilty to handle the challenges that he encountered because God gave him the strength to do so. In times of stress we have leaned on the same faith to give us the ability to smile through our troubles and know that our outcome is in the hands of God and that His plans will prevail. Likewise our physical ability to handle the trials of travel has been enhanced by our yoga practice. We are more physically and mentally able to handle the change and challenges ahead because we have been given the tools and strength to do so.
We are currently residing in Thailand and to be sure this was our first real challenge of this journey. With very few English speakers and immediate obstacles to our travel plans upon arrival, we had to muster every ounce of our flexibilty. We found ourseleves in the Bangkok immigration office working on a visa extension for 30 days. However, some improper planning on our part had put us into a bind with our hotel check-out time and plans for a flight to another city that night. For a brief time we were stressed, lamenting just what would happen and how we could possibly make everything work. And then we let go. We became pliant and allowed the situation to come to us rather than fight our way through. We had a budget that would allow for unexpected costs and we had been been under budget in other areas. It was not ideal to spend the extra money to accommodate the changes we needed to make but once we finally let go of our concerns and made the choice not to fight the reality of our situation, but rather embrace it, we were at peace. We looked at the benefit of being able to spend one more night in Bangkok, another night for the kids to swim in a pool, less stress to concern ourselves with how we could race back to make the flight. We simply…were.
The world is a yoga mat. Every day we have a choice to practice, to engage, or to quit before we start. We can embrace challenge and change and become stronger or we can walk away from it and hope that tomorrow will offer something easier and more familiar. Either way the mat is always there, always waiting, for whatever we choose to do. I end with two quotes. One from Buddha, fitting since we are living in a country that is over 90% Buddhist, and one by Travis Eliot.
“Freedom and happiness are found in the flexibility and ease with which we move through change.”
“I know it can be a little challenging but the benefits are worth it. Be focused, be committed, and be ultimate. And we’ll see you next time on the mat.”
– Travis Eliot