In Yoga Thoughts

iceland horsesI’m always on the lookout for elements of vacation that I can bring home with me. Though I’m famous for toting bags of sea shells home with me and my son is a master at finding obscure t-shirts wherever we go, I’m not talking about souvenirs. I’m talking about the feeling of being on vacation – the spaciousness of each day, the “let’s just see what the day brings” mindset and the wide-eyed sense of wonder that comes from experiencing a new place.

I know that it’s fanciful to hope that regular life can be as free and easy as vacation. But the two trips that I’ve been fortunate enough to take this month have taught me that there is something about being on vacation that translates easily and powerfully to life at home. We drove 1200 miles during our time in Iceland. It’s not a stretch to say that we were gazing out the window in awe at our surroundings for every one of those miles. Even when we weren’t out of the car and exploring, we were intensely in tune with the world around us – celebrating its beauty, allowing it to stir up our emotions, awash in gratitude to be able to see these sights.

I was much closer to home last week – and drove only about 5 miles in 7 days – but the world around me played a significant role in the joy I found as I vacationed on the beach in Stone Harbor, NJ. During my daily walks to the tip of the island I marveled at the changing beauty of the coast. Though I walked at low tide each day, the beach was never the same. Tide pools moved and the colors of the water changed dramatically. The sky was as changeable as the sea – shifting from vivid, bright blue with cotton-white clouds to a blue so faint it was almost white.

stone harbor pointBut it wasn’t just the beach and the ocean that captivated me. Walking into town, I found myself paying close attention the houses I passed and the festive shop windows. Sitting on our front porch, the nature of the light at different times of day caught my attention. Leaving the air conditioned house, I found myself relishing the feeling of the warm, humid air on my skin. It crossed my mind that I was experiencing a place I’ve visited for years with the same sense of wonder with which I explored a far-away country.

This week, as I’ve bounced around the town I’ve called home for 15 years, I’m finding that I’ve managed to bring home a wonderful souvenir from our travels – a keen awareness of my surroundings. I’ve found myself taking a deep breath as I appreciate with clear eyes the rolling green fields dotted with beautiful, black cattle on the way to my children’s voice lessons. I’ve strolled through town smiling at the familiar shop windows much as I did when at the beach. Even the view out the window of my own backyard – the hummingbird that visits my hibiscus, the boxwood hedge stretching toward the sun, and the ferns waving in the shade by the fence – makes me feel grateful that I can experience such beauty whenever I want.

ardrossan cowsUntil I developed a yoga practice, I’m not sure I understood that awareness is a skill like any other. It can be sharpened with practice and can become dull without. As we move and breathe on our mats, we allow ourselves to be fully absorbed in our experience of the moment. With practice, we discover that a single exhale in downward facing dog can be as changeable and fascinating as the scenery on a drive alongside a glacier in Iceland. With practice, we realize that in the space of a single inhale our entire forward fold can open and change as much as the beach does from one day to the next. With practice, we become reluctant to miss any of these experiences. We strengthen our resolve to avoid distractions. We become determined (and – more importantly – able) to pay keen attention to everything.

On our yoga mats, we focus so intensely on what we’re doing and feeling that our awareness of our surroundings – be it the room we’re in or the people around us – fades away. This can seem the opposite of the vacation-induced awareness I’ve been relishing lately. But yoga has a way of turning itself inside out. We devote time to care for ourselves in order to be better able to care for the people in our lives. We embark on a practice of change and discover that we’re better able to accept and embrace ourselves as we are. And (drum roll, please) we turn our senses from the world around us to focus within, only to discover that we’ve managed to hone our awareness so that we’re better able to appreciate the world around us.

As you move through your day today, I invite you to lavish your attention on the world around you. Notice the big things and the small. Feel the wind on your skin. Really see the sights along your way – maybe even stop and explore like a tourist in your own life. I promise, you will discover a sense of awe and gratitude at being able to experience this wonderful world that will brighten every corner of your life.

Namaste,
Amy

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