I recently indulged in a traveling binge. When I say binge, I mean pack the suitcase and the mat, and say goodbye to daily life for a month and a half. I do have to admit that the travels were not yoga centered nor were they by my own planning (meaning that they were company sponsored).
The most recent of these trips was a weeklong hiatus to the beautiful and overcast city of Budapest, Hungary. Budapest is alluring in its architecture and impressive in its history, but does not necessarily possess a yogic draw. Determined to experience a yoga practice in this foreign culture, I set out on an exploration. The day began with a charge to experience an alternate culture, and it ended with my learning a couple of exceptional practice lessons, and here I’ll share them with you!
1. English is not universal, but hand gestures seem to be. I can get by in South America or even Western Europe. Hungary, however? I knew not one word of the rough language, and I was very naïve in thinking that the beautiful Hungarian yoga instructor would know English. What resulted? A very interesting, and at first frustrating exchange, with just a hint of hopelessness casting its nasty gray cloud over two very sunny people.
Just as you would never leave an umbrella at home when it is forecasted to storm, never visit another country with the assumption that everyone will know English. Learning at least a few of the basic phrases such as hello, thank you, please, and yoga, is a launching point for a successful conversation.
Any dialogue beyond that involves keeping a kind expression, a patient heart and very lively hands. The expression and heart will translate a calm and inviting energy, while the hands will do the talking for you. Everyone knows what pointing at your eyes means, or cupping your ears. With or without words, yogis are gifted with international communication.
2. Let’s not roam too far out of the pastures. Master or beginner, I think everyone should experience yoga in a different culture. However, everyone should not attempt bird of paradise for the first time overseas. For safety’s sake, taking a class that you are familiar with will make up for what the language barrier lacks. This is one time that I recommend not taking chances unless you have an English guide. The risk of injury soars when attempting a new pose without proper cues or assistance.
3. Trust yourself. With a major language barrier comes confusion, and with confusion comes clumsiness and injury. You have the basic knowledge even from a couple of classes, so trust that and apply it to your practice. When entering into a pose, make it your own and use the adjustments that you are familiar with to correct yourself. If the instructor wants to change something, they will make a hands-on correction. Otherwise find your focus and center inward rather than looking around and risking strain.
4. Open up. The beauty of my entire experience on the Hungarian mat came not from within, but from the awareness that I gained for my surroundings. I found myself following the hum and inflections of the instructor’s voice, the number of breaths she was taking, and the noise of the class as they began moving into a new pose. Just as you feel yourself when your eyes are closed, you hear everything else when words are absent. Free your senses and notice the world come alive around you.
Whether your practice is to go inside or to break free, experiencing and sharing the gift of yoga with another culture is a rewarding experience. We were given feet for wandering, eyes for seeing, and yoga for sharing. I encourage anyone and everyone traveling to a retreat, a resort or a rainforest, to take their practice with them.