Love in Southeast Asia: At home on the Indian Ocean

Maybe it’s jet lag. Or anxiety. Or excitement. But on our fourth travel day I’m wide awake at sunrise.

I brush my teeth and slink out of our quiet, dark room.

I step softly over the sand to the concrete cabana. I unroll my yoga mat with a view of the Indian Ocean.

I drop into child’s pose and find my breath.

With my eyes closed, it feels and smells like home. Like rubber and sweat. Like my sinking hips on my heels. Like a wave of relaxation coming over my body. Like a calm mind.

The sensations of familiarity fill me with joy.

Right now my yoga mat is blowing my mind.  Seventy inches of pure magic.

I take myself through a detox flow. Later, I try to convince my skeptical travel partner that my yoga mat is the solution to all of his current, travel-induced issues. Maybe a few of his ordinary issues, too.

He is resistant to my persuasion.

My body needs no convincing. I feel open and radiant. I feel light and fluid.

I feel like I feel when I get off my yoga mat, every time. Only better.

Today it feels extra special. It feels like I’ve tapped into some secret resource for weary travelers. I want to bottle it, sell it, and retire from lawyering before I even start.

In savasana, I listen to the waves of the Indian Ocean.

I’m having one of those moments that I judge people for when I read about them on Elephant Journal.

One of those moments yoga bloggers describe using words like divine and awakening.

I spend the rest of the day connected to my body. It feels easy to laugh and swim and relax. I am present with my friends.

I am reminded why I fell in love with yoga. So simple. So accessible. So powerful.

Here, there, and everywhere else.

Love in Southeast Asia: Getting High in the Rain

We left our hotel room at 4:00a.m. By the time we landed at the Colombo airport it felt like we’d been awake for a week and a half.

Today is a struggle and it’s not even noon.

Our friend Priyan, native Sri Lankan and gracious host, meets us at the airport. He’s dressed in chic South Asian attire. His hair is perfectly styled.

My hair is matted to my forehead and I’m wearing crusty Lululemons.

We drive towards the capitol city and he educates us about his home. The longer we’re on the road the more I lose hope in the sugary-caffeinated beverage I’ve been dreaming about.

Two hours and two iced coffees later we arrive at our first destination. Priyan’s friend is running a school/shelter for Sri Lankan street kids and they’re anxiously awaiting a visit from the exotic American tourists.

We walk through the primitive playground into a small building. My tall travel partner is practically on his knees trying to squeeze himself through the doorway.

Inside, 50 skinny kids are crowded around short, metal tables. They are staring up at us, wide-eyed with anxious enthusiasm and wonder.

My first instinct is to drop low to them, smile and wave.

Immediately though, I’m paralyzed.

None of them speak English. Only a percentage speak the same language as Priyan and some barely speak at all. For the first time in my life, I’m in front of a group of kids with no idea how to act, what to say or how to keep their attention.

They crowd around me kneeling on the floor and we stare at each other. Still smiling.

For five or six minutes I struggle trying to translate through Priyan. I can feel their energy bubbling to the surface and I still have no idea what to do with them.

I look up at Priyan, “can we play?”

Before I get a response, I walk out onto the playground. A six year old boy jumps up behind me and touches my back.

“Thank goodness.” “I know this one.”

I start chasing the little boy around the tall metal slide. He climbs to the top delighted with his escape method. I pretend to be frustrated trying to jump up to tag him. He laughs hysterically at each of my failures.

“Yes, I can do this.”

Before long, twenty kids and I are playing a game I’ve played a million times with eight hundred kids in the United States. I run around. Freeze. Make a face. Do a dance. Strike a pose.

They mimic and follow me. I growl in their faces, start chasing them and they scatter. Screaming, giggling, screeching with delight.

I am winded. And sweaty and blissfully happy.

Thirty minutes later the sky erupts in a furious down pour. My new friends cling to my waist and drag me inside.

We dance and play keep-away. They show me their favorite toys.

I feel alive, invigorated, inspired, loved, connected, full.

I feel like the best version of myself.

When it’s all over I have tears in my eyes. I am flying.

My friends can’t believe what’s come over me.

I try to share my feelings with them but all I can come up with is “I’m high from all of it.”

The entire afternoon felt like a miracle.

I’ve been babysitting since I was eleven years old. I’ve been working with kids for over a decade. Again and again I’ve been humbled by how kids are so loving, so expressive, so honest and unconditional. But even in all my experience and wisdom, I feel overwhelmed. In disbelief.

On the other side of the world I walk into their lives a stranger. I don’t look like anyone they’ve ever seen. I don’t speak their language. They have been through all the trauma and heartache that would leave any human heart untrusting and closed off. And yet, they embrace me. With love and laughter. With hugs and smiles and boundless energy.

I am moved beyond expression.

How could I ever be a lawyer?

Love in Southeast Asia: Sacred Space

I was 22 when I first stepped on a yoga mat. I was an atheist gym-junkie who was too busy to stretch and had little interest in OM-ing about anything. I used to read, listen to my Ipod AND watch TV on the treadmill.

Back then, I had most of the world figured out. I knew for sure that sitting still and silence were waste-of-time activities that should be reserved for the elderly and boring people. I was far too young, vibrant and interesting to stop moving between waking up and (barely) sleeping.

I liked power yoga. I could get a vigorous workout without having to poach a cardio machine from a sorority girl at the John Wooden Center.

6 years and seventeen billion sun salutations later, I’m in the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

It’s a labyrinth of exquisite temples. Each one has an ornate gold roof. They are adorned in shimmering stones, meticulously placed and impossibly well-maintained.

I’m in awe of everything, everywhere I look.

Hoards of noisy, bustling tourists obediently remove their shoes, cover their shoulders and enter each temple.

Inside, our collective energy is calm and meditative. We are quiet, reflective, introspective. We pray, we listen, we pay attention.

There is something magical about sacred space. Space reserved for worship, devotion, prayer, humility, kindness, compassion. Space that transforms each of us, as soon as we enter it. I look around and see people of all ages, cultures, religions, nationalities. Each of them has a look of serenity and appreciation.

We are not all Buddhists, but each of us is filled with respect and reverence.

I wonder what it would feel like if more space was sacred. If Starbucks, the freeway, the Santa Monica parking garages, were all areas in which we spoke softly, tread with awareness and honored each other. How it would feel if in ordinary places, we honored the silence.

I sit in meditation and gratitude. I feel myself get calm and still. I think about how far I’ve come. How many miles from home, how many lessons in letting go, how many breaths, how many yoga practices, how much work it’s taken to get to this moment. To be in this space.

To share it with my friends and the strangers around me.

I feel indescribably blessed.

Love in Southeast Asia: "I’m not going"

“I’m not going”

I posted a sign on my bedroom door a week before our family vacation to New England. I used red marker and underlined each word individually. I concluded the sentence with three exclamation points to convey the seriousness of my position.

In the summer of 1995, I had already survived two airplane flights. On flight number one bound for Honolulu, I unbuckled my seat belt and attempted to charge for the exit as we taxied away from the jetway. It took my mom thirty minutes to convince me that I’d missed my opportunity to get off the plane.

During our flight home, I tortured the middle aged woman next to me by crying uncontrollably and shifting anxiously back and forth in my seat for four consecutive hours. As soon as the plane landed, I decided I would never fly again.

I’m still not sure what combination of motherly voodoo and parental control of my free will got me to Boston, but it was the last trip my family took on an airplane. It was the last place I flew anywhere for vacation.

In the weeks leading up to my trip to Asia I made a mental “I’m not going” sign ten or twelve times. I imagined all of the terrible things that might happen to prevent me from making the trip. I’d calculate how much money I’d already spent and immediately decide that my emotional well being was worth at least that much. I’d sit wide awake in bed and count the hours before my first flight.

The morning of my departure, I indulged one more time in the contemplation of bailing on my trip.

“My friends will understand.” “I have the rest of my life to travel” “Maybe I’ll get therapy, or hypnosis.” “I’ll get on an airplane when I’ve recovered from the fear.”

I pictured my eleven year-old self in the Salem Witch Museum on that New England vacation. I remembered feeling completely transported and totally mesmerized. It was my favorite stop on our trip. My mind flashed on every memory of my childhood that required me to get on an airplane.

I counted seventeen years that I’d refused to fly.

I got out of bed and started moving.

At 10 a.m. my friends arrived at my apartment to pick me up.

At 11, I checked my bag to Bangkok.

I shoved my yoga mat through security, ate a yogurt parfait and texted my mom.

I kept moving.

I buckled myself into seat 16G. Before I could even think about escaping, we were up in the air.

“Shit,” I thought.

I guess I’m going.