This past week I traveled to California with my husband. He was there for work; I was tagging along. This meant I had the days to myself, with new roads to run, shops to shop, Starbucks to drink, and yoga studios to discover. Basically, it meant that I’d do exactly the same thing I do at home during my summer teaching hiatus, but in warm and sunny California. Not a bad deal considering the Wisconsin I left was 60 degrees and rainy.
Being the travel aficionado that I am, a new location makes even the most mundane tasks exciting and adventuresome. Throw me in a line or traffic jam in my town, and I’m upset and bored; take me to a different city, state, or country, and every day annoyances seem fun to me. Similarly, when mother nature interferes with my regular runs at home, I’m less than amused. But, on my first day in California, I was so taken by the palm trees and sunshine that I overlooked the intense heat beating on me during my 3:00 p.m. run. As I peeled out of the hotel parking lot, happy to be out of a cramped airplane and on the open road, I noticed the beautiful scenery; not the 90 degrees. I ran six miles easily, excited to take in all of the new sights and sounds on my journey. However, had I done that same distance under those conditions on my home course, I’m guessing I would have been focused on the heat, not the landscape.
Similarly, I found that my three-hour stint in Starbucks the next day brought on a huge dose of inspired writing. Same “venti coffee with room for creme,” same leather chair, same pumpkin bread… but the people and vibe of the place did something to make me want to stay there longer than I normally would. I wrote and wrote, until I finally had to stop when my husband picked me up after his meetings. While I love Starbucks, I don’t love sitting anywhere for three hours… so to accomplish that was significant to this “runner”chica.
Now, note that my novel run and Starbucks experience weren’t so life altering that they caused me to stop in my tracks and proclaim, “Wow! I’m a new runner, a new writer. I could go on for hours, this is amazing.” In fact, I didn’t really notice that anything great had happened in my psyche until I dropped into a hot yoga class towards the end of my trip.
As a self-proclaimed Bikram Yoga addict, I was very anxious to get in a little mat time while in California. After all, it had been four whole days since my last class. Internet research led me to Innerevolution Yoga (if you’re ever in Redlands, CA check it out!) just blocks from my hotel, where I signed up for the noon “hot yoga” class. I was hoping it would be comparable to my beloved Bikram, but I’d heard differing accounts. Friends had told me that “hot yoga” was not the same as the rigid 90 minute, 26 pose, 105 degree Bikram experience. So, while I knew that the hour power hour wouldn’t be exactly the same, I was hoping it’d at least be close.
It wasn’t close. Yes, the studio was hot. Yes, the studio had a positive vibe thanks to cool owners that gave the same welcoming feel of my studio back in Milwaukee. But, other than those things, little felt familiar during the hot power hour. Not different- bad. Just different.
You see, with Bikram, the lights shine brightly and the room is filled with only the instructor’s voice. In this new class, the instructor’s voice was complemented by great music, and the room had high windows flanked by palm trees. And the moves… were completely different. With Bikram, I had memorized the 26 prescribed moves. I knew what came next before the instructor gave the instruction. This was great, but also gave my mind excuses to go on mini vacations while my instructor told me what I already knew. Here in hot yoga, automatic pilot was not my M.O. I needed to be fully present in the moment just to keep up. I focused on the instructions and the examples in front of me. At times, I’d get frustrated, only to have the yogic mind reader say, “Don’t worry about what you can or can’t do today. You’re not in competition with anyone. Just go where your body takes you and accept that it’s exactly where you need to be.”
This was great advice for me at that moment, because I’m neither flexible nor coordinated when it comes to yoga. I also thought that philosophy made sense in a lot of life situations. Later, while doing stretches on the floor, the instructor provided more thought-provoking material. As I reached my head for my toes, but instead hit my knees, she said, “Remember, you can’t force flexibility. You have to take it where you are today and build on it. If you try to force flexibility, you’ll only hurt yourself.” Amen, sistah. I was thinking about how good her advice was when suddenly, the Bikram script came back to me. I recalled my Milwaukee instructor’s familiar advice for that same pose, “Reach forward. Your goal is to touch your head to your toes… you may not get there today, you may not get there tomorrow. You may not get there in this lifetime. Just keep on trying…”
And then it hit me. So much of what I did and heard in that class that seemed so new, wasn’t new after all. It just seemed new because I was truly listening while engrossed in the moment. I realized that only by getting out of my element and in a new setting was I able to tune in and truly see and hear the world around me. The messages, the revelations, the chances to “get” my yoga moves, and more importantly this thing called life, were being overshadowed by distractions in the form of routine.
The final words of that yoga class brought it all together. As we sat in prayer position with our eyes closed and “thoughts turned inward,” our instructor asked us to do one thing, and one thing only… that was to “be aware.” Be aware of our breath, aware of where we were exactly that moment. She reminded us that there are so many times in our daily lives that we are not aware, but rather going through the motions. It turns out that advice might just be the ticket to making every run, every yoga class, every day… seem like a new adventure, with much to discover and learn.
So, whether today takes you on the same path you’ve run your entire life, or on an entirely new one… today, try being fully present and see what the world has to offer you. It might just turn out to be pretty cool.
by abbey algiers