Embrace the Unknown

Location: Palmar Tent Lodge, Isla Bastimentos, Bocos Del Toro, Panamá

Living on a beach in the jungle for over a month in a rural, environmentally conscious setting proved to have its challenges. Sand is to the beach, as glitter is to arts and crafts. It sticks to you everywhere you go, you wake up to it in your bed feeling like sand paper between your sheets, and it doesn’t rid your body in the foot-pump shower of cold recycled rain water you’re allowed once per day. There is no AC, in fact the only air conditioned room I ever stepped foot in during my time in Bocas Del Toro was to use the ATM in town. There is constantly a layer of moisture or sweat (or both) on you at all times. Plus side to that is I never needed lotion for dry skin. And things don’t dry here, EVER. The first week I hand washed my clothes, hung them out to dry, and three days later they were holding the same amount of moisture, and therefore molded. Everything molds at some point, even my passport has turned an unappetizing shade of green. Thank goodness for the laundry service in town. For $4 they take a bag of your laundry and wash, dry and fold it for you. The only bad part is I lost my favorite shirt this way. It’s a risk I was willing to take though, all of my clothes smelled of mildew and sweat and salt water combined. There are trails of leaf cutter ants on nearly every path you step on. Although the thought of being bare foot all day seems luxurious, one wrong step and your toe will be stinging for days. Those ants are workaholics, and they show no mercy for disrupting their business. Speaking of bugs, I resided with bird spiders and tarantulas, cockroaches making themselves at home in the kitchen, bats sleeping over my head in the living room, and crabs greeting me every morning for my bathroom routine.

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And yet with all of your surroundings wanting to kill you, living on a beach in the jungle was surprisingly adaptable. I suppose the human kind can instinctively adapt to any environment, if given time and patience. The first two weeks I was really doubting the living arrangements, and the last three I learned to embrace it and the conditions actually made me so much more grateful for the luxuries we have in this world. I forgot what a warm bath felt like, and instead found joy in eating freshly chopped coconuts on the beach. I forgot about wearing makeup and the need to impress others with the right outfit, and instead gave up ‘looking good,’ and felt confident in my own sun-kissed skin and miss-matched outfit. Basically if any of your clothing items were dry it was a good day. During my time in Bocas I learned to not only let go of needing the material items of this world, but I also have a much greater appreciation for the little things most humans take for granted, such as a dishwasher or working Internet.

I gave up all of the comforts of life back home in the United States to witness the natural beauty of our planet, and to search for my contribution to this world, doing all that I know and love to do: teach yoga and write. Somehow traveling and living in the elements really sheds the layers, clears the smoke and allows you to get to the root of your being. It’s not over, heck no, this is only the beginning of what I’m out to discover. Social media and articles may perceive the adventure I’m undertaking to be a walk in the park, every second of every day being some extravagant exploration and constantly undergoing life-altering experiences. But in reality it’s the opposite. What I’ve discovered so far during my long-term travel is that it does have its ups and downs, situations of hard decision making, days of doing nothing and then feeling bad about it. It’s exactly the same struggles I face living back home, but it’s heightened at a much greater scale. And if you don’t fight against it, you have the ability to learn the lessons of life very quickly, and that life is so much more beautiful.

You make close friends in a matter of days or weeks and then you have to let them go, let their own journey unfold. A lesson in non attachment. Back home you maintain the same friendships for years and then something happens where you don’t see that person, and you can’t handle it. There have been a couple of casualties of items that were dear to me, including my beloved 40 ounce HydroFlask that I used not only to keep me hydrated, but as a weapon when full of water. That bottle also served as a reminder of my yoga home in Houston, Texas, BIG Power Yoga. I got the water bottle when I first became a member, and bedazzled it with stickers along the years of my time there, from yoga teacher training to full-time manager, representing a different era of my journey. This deep loss has really struck a chord and has allowed me to practice this life lesson in non attachment more than ever. I have to trust that water bottle served its purpose for me in my life, and now it’s time for it to move on to its next purpose.

I’ve learned a huge lesson in embracing the unknown. The first couple of weeks my type A personality got the best of me. I woke up in fear of what the day would bring, because my only plan was to teach yoga at 5 o’clock. With a few days of depriving myself of having a schedule, I transformed from the need of keeping a calendar to control my every waking moment, to rising out of bed and thinking “I wonder what today will bring.” Seriously, the moment I realized I was saying that to myself, I finally realized what living actually is.

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I soon discovered that if you learn to let go of controlling what your day is going to look like or should look like, then the universe has the opportunity to step in and guide you in the direction you’re meant to go. By doing this I’ve had the opportunity to do so many things I never could have planned for. Yacht parties, driving an ATV through the rainforest, eating next to a deep sea speargun fisherman whose catch of the morning was on my plate, hanging in a hammock on a catamaran, stand up paddle boarding around the perimeter of a tiny island, staying up late around a bon fire and then letting it burn out to be in awe of the Milky Way constellation and the millions of stars scattered like confetti in the sky. Not one of those things were planned, were ever an agenda or something I checked off my list. And yet they are now a part of me, and I was in the experience of belonging in those moments as if they were always meant to happen.

That feeling of letting go cleaned the slate of my need to know what’s going to happen next. I still have no idea of what I’m supposed to fulfill during my time traveling or what it’s supposed to look like on the other side. But what I’ve gained is so much more valuable. I’ve learned a lesson in trusting the process. I’ve always known to do that, but now I know what it actually feels like in my body. It literally feels like a weight lifted off of me, that I’m not supposed to know what I’m supposed to do, and that’s ok. I believe that I am supposed to be right here for a reason, and leave it at that. I can allow myself to be with that truth and then let the universe take charge of guiding me by listening, feeling the sensations in my body when opportunities arise.

I’ve gone completely yoga teacher on you by this point, but the lessons I learned on my mat before this trip, the lessons I’m teaching to my students during this trip, and the lessons I’m allowing to sink in as I write this article, are all boomeranging back to me and showing me their effectiveness each day. These lessons are what have gotten me to this point in my journey, and I know they are what will carry me through all of the difficult situations, beautiful moments, and leaps of faith I have only tapped the surface of thus far.

It’s becoming clear to me, how I’m experiencing all of this life exploration is more important than what I’m experiencing. You can keep pictures to commemorate memories and great experiences in your life, or you can hold on to what you felt, what you learned from that experience and implement it throughout your entire life until your very last breath.

 

 

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Steph is a yoga teacher from Houston, Texas. Currently she is traveling through Central America teaching yoga wherever her heart is led to. Steph teaches vinyasa and yin-style classes and is committed to her students feeling rinsed out and restored!

The Dharma of Cycle

Beginnings, always the hardest part of writing anything.

Ok, let’s start with me just introducing without any bold bragging that I am a yoga teacher at a thriving yoga studio at the end of the world in Anchorage Alaska. I love this place immensely and the community surrounding it. This is my path, career and I believe what I was meant to do; let’s say my dharma. Disclaimer! I can’t say that I am the best at asana or probably don’t seem very yoga if you met me but this is a magic life for sure. When I was fortunate to start working as one of the studio’s yoga instructors I began to write an affirmation every morning, “I earn my way as a yoga teacher and with everything that comes with it.” That was some years ago.

This journey into working at this studio is the theme of this streaming consciousness attempt at a paper, more precisely the dharma and how it rolls out before me.

Fast forward to the immediate…

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One year ago my yoga studio opened a second venture, an indoor cycle center and put together a team of top notch instructors. Since I taught spin and group fitness classes on the side already in local gyms it seemed natural for me to want to be part of the team. I went through the process and became not only one of the cycle teachers (which we call Motivators) in addition to my yoga instructing but in the end the lead cycle teacher with many duties that support the studio’s operation. So, here I am a yoga instructor (that being my first love) still teaching asana then everyday going from this realm to the cycle studio where I wear a different hat yet for the same mission.

At first, it seemed like a contrary activity and sort of a conflict of interests since it seems very different on the surface. But on a deeper and more insightful level it is the same path and a furthering of my understandings of yoga as one might traditionally understand and its connection to the larger word. Since we are owned by a yoga studio we joke and say that we are yoga on a bike. In fact, we dangle a mandala from the center handle bar mast of the instructor bike on stage in front of the cycle room. But in all honesty, the yoga theme is kept a little covert since most people who come to a cycle are looking for a different external experience than those seeking the mat. This goes for the instructors as well. They too don’t want to hear about the yoga symbolism or philosophy behind what they teach very much, instead they are seeking something that is the same but in a far different colored package.

So, here comes my intention in full throttle-I do earn my way as a yoga professional in my life but the interesting thing is that more than two thirds of my day is involved with indoor cycle. Yet, if I go deeper past the surface, it is just a vibrant extension of my path as a yoga teacher and the intention “to earn my way as a yoga teacher with everything that come’s with it” has come true, especially when I think about the practice of yoga beyond asana. Dharma continues to unfold as it will before me and if I may be as bold to declare, that for anybody who is open and loving what they do will find the same to be true too.

 

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How to describe David? He teaches yoga and indoor cycling for sure but as a full time employee of Anchorage Yoga and Cycle he does so much more such as mentor new teachers, fix broken down cycles, client outreach and the list goes on.

Yoga for Self-Confidence: Bending to Breakthrough

 

Everyone has experienced a sense of insecurity—missing the winning goal; unrequited love; unexpected unemployment…the list goes on and on. It’s human nature after all, to recognize and learn from our experiences…and move forward.

However, when these experiences build-up over time, growing into a lack of self-confidence and paralyzing fear, it can conquer us in a life-altering way. The reality is, we all have experienced and will continue to experience these moments throughout life. The secret to our ability to move through fear and muster the courage to take steps and action that will re-build our confidence is knowing what tools you have on hand when faced with these challenging times.

Developing a strong practice and connection with the postures of yoga is not only a means of physical exercise, but is a holistic tool that has been around for thousands of years helping people move through life challenges that can impact one’s self-confidence, ranging from anxiety, to depression, addiction and fear.

Attending yoga class whether in a studio or a gym can be intimidating. Often times, new or even existing yoga students are afraid of the media images that promote yoga class as hours of sitting still or body postures that look humanely impossible.

When in fact, the practice of yoga is meant to serve as the opposite, time on your mat that is dedicated personal space to move physically and create an opportunity to connect more closely with yourself, ultimately finding comfort in your own presence.

Yoga can boost your self-confidence through:

Stress Relief & Emotional Management

There is a lot more to yoga practice than getting into shape physically—in fact, this isn’t the main objective at all. One of the major causes of mental overload is stress, which can be a trigger for depression in certain serious cases.

Yoga can help you release these stressors through a series of meditative and relaxing breathing exercises, which can increase the circulation of oxygen in the mind and body, thus enabling your overall flow of energy.

This may help you recognize and process your stress more effectively as it arises, which in turn will eliminate your fear and boost your self-confidence.

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Body-Positive Community

Yoga helps people of all ages to create a peaceful and inviting space together, outside of society’s expectations. Many body-image issues are related to the need for control, whereas yoga is about fostering the courage to let go. Silencing the mind and focusing on the breath and the body can break the habit of perfectionism, and instead creates a deep appreciation for your body’s positive capabilities.

Attending local yoga classes are a great way to have fun with like-minded friends and to build new relationships that are not rooted in physical appearance.

Release of Negativity

Yoga allows us to pause and silence the mind for long enough to actually reflect on our bad habits and negative thought process — and better understand how these may be driving our actions. We often paint lesser images of ourselves at a young age when insecurity is heightened—especially how we’re portrayed by others —which can trigger self-loathing. Often as we move through adulthood, we’re still carrying those skewed portraits of ourselves, despite their falsity.

Yoga can erase the whiteboard and offer a clean slate for newfound self-acceptance; a chance to bend until you break through all of the bull—negativity, rather, that’s been standing in the way of your hopes and dreams.

What if I Can’t Find Time to Make it to a Yoga Class?

If it seems impossible to carve out time in your schedule to take a yoga class or follow along to a yoga video at home, try taking your focus to your breathing in moments that challenge your peace of mind. Something as simple as focusing your mind on the words, “inhale” and “exhale” as you breathe in and out can help to pull you out of the mental story your mind is weaving about yourself, your abilities or the circumstance triggering the emotions, and bring you mentally, physically and emotionally grounded back in the present moment.

Performing a set of simple breathing exercises, postures and meditation can help you to begin to bend mentally, emotionally and physically to break through self-doubt, fear, sadness…whatever negative energy is holding you back from where you want to go, be, do and experience in this lifetime.

Bend so much that you have a breakthrough.

 

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Dr. Jodi Ashbrook is the owner of Open Doors Yoga Studios in Hingham, Massachusetts, founder & CEO of The BE Brand ® and President of Dr. Jodi Inc. She is passionate about creating experiences where people can grow, reflect and believe in themselves.

What it’s Really Like Being a Traveling Yoga Teacher

This article is shared by Adi Zarsadias from Love the Search

Many of us have found solace through our own personal yoga practice. We cannot imagine early mornings without meditating and practicing our asanas. Yoga has helped us reevaluate how we nourish ourselves. It has enabled us to control the thoughts that we have in our minds to create our own reality. It has saved our lives.

Those who are passionate enough about it want to share their yoga practice with the world. We believe that every soul will benefit from this ancient tradition. With a tiny tinge of wanderlust in our veins, we leave our comfortable lives and fly off into the great unknown. After all, who hasn’t dreamt of teaching in idyllic tropical destinations? Does the glamour of traveling as a teacher live up to the reality?

What’s it really like to be a traveling yoga teacher?

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You will learn to live out of a suitcase

You have no room for anything else other than the essentials: some yoga gear, two pairs of bikinis, travel sized toiletries, a book or journal and of course, your millimeter-thin travel yoga mat. You will stop the mindless habit of buying unnecessary things. There’s not much space for buying souvenirs from every country you visit, so you’ll settle with cheap little trinkets to remember places that have been memorable to your spiritual growth.

 

You will stop obsessing about the salary

It’s no surprise that yoga will pay less than your old corporate position, but the job satisfaction is incomparable. Once you start life on the road, you will accept whatever salary or donations come your way and learn to live with it. There is no turning back, and you wont want to anyway. I once had a job offer from a popular travel company in Melbourne, Australia to work as a travel writer. The hourly pay was equivalent to a day’s work in Asia. But I simply had to decline as it was an office job and I was too focused on strengthening my yoga teaching skills at that time.

 

You wont think of it as a job

Bringing your students into a deep state of Savasana might just be one of the most rewarding parts of the job. When you see firsthand the physical, mental and spiritual benefits that yoga brings to your students, you’ll start feeling invaluable. Finally, you’re getting paid to do something that actually helps people and make them feel good about themselves! When I tell people I teach yoga, they want to try it out for themselves and ask me for a class. Even though they are willing to pay, I always prefer that they buy me a meal instead. I find that energy exchange and spending quality time with people is so much more rewarding than monetary gain.

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It will expand your world

You’ll teach one, maybe two classes a day, then you’ll have the rest of the day to do whatever you want! The whole world is your playground. You will have so much time to pursue your other passions, learn the local language or explore that whole new world around you. You will meet and attract the most interesting people too! Each one of us is only limited by our energy and imagination.

 

You will get creative

Being in a constant fulfilled state of bliss, combined with lots of time in our hands definitely brings out our creative juices. You might find yourself writing, drawing, taking photographs or engaging in new art forms that never even interested you before. Tune into these energies and just let yourself go with the flow. You’ll be surprised at what you can create out of limited resources.

 

There will be a lot of distractions

Because your students love you, you will get invited to every lunch date, dinner party and weekend workshop. Your itinerary will be filled from morning ‘till nighttime. Learn to conserve your precious energy. Don’t feel pressured to say yes to everything. Keep yourself healthy and make sure you don’t lose time for personal practice!

 

So are you ready to take your yoga mat on the road? Here are some tips to get you started:

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Write a yoga resume – Mention your educational background briefly but focus on your yoga credentials and what kind of yoga you are passionate about. Include relevant skills such as Reiki, massage, bodywork or acupuncture for instance. List down workshops and retreats that you have participated in or helped organize. Add at least 3 personal references that are able to reply immediately if they are contacted.

Create a yoga blog – Our yoga journey is such an interesting process. Sharing our story with others will leave people wanting to get to know us more as a person. Add some links to teachers, books or documentaries that have changed your perspective. Post your schedule so people know where to find you. Go crazy with photos of yourself striking poses around the world. Show off that Sirsasana!

Give out calling cards – It might be old school, but it works! Listing down your social media outlets will make it easier for others to contact you or get updates on your schedule. You never know when it’ll come in handy.

Get yourself out there – Let people know that you want to travel the world teaching yoga! Register with Yoga Trade or Workaway to find opportunities abroad. Volunteering work usually requires one month commitment, while paid yoga jobs require six months to a year contract. And most importantly…

Expand your network – Yoga teachers always help other yoga teachers find new opportunities. There are so many styles and variations of yoga nowadays. We do not have to compete with each other as there is room for everyone to succeed.

 

 

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Adi Zarsadias is a yoga teacher & writer with extreme wanderlust. She is the creator of Love the Search.

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From Here To There: A Willingness To Transform

My life in Costa Rica is magical and unique and one that even I could never could have imagined I’d be living. I receive a lot of questions about how I ended up where I am… How a life evolves isn’t always apparent; how do we go from point A to B? The truth is that transformation is within the grasp of most but we have to be willing to seize it, which actually often takes the form of letting something go.

I was living just outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan where I had finally gotten a decent job out of college. I wasn’t earning a lot of money but I also was no longer stuck in a call-center with a crazy boss breathing down my neck and timing my “allotted bathroom breaks”. (Yea, no thanks… Life is more than that!)

In my small town, Lowell, I had just finished up my teacher-training program with Prairie Yoga at Cascade Yoga Studio. I had a couple of yoga teaching jobs that I did some odd evenings, but for the most part I would come home from my day-job and hang out with my cat and live-in boyfriend. We’d go to breweries, see local shows, and hang out with our close group of friends.

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It was pretty much a standard city life, full of work and activity. Yet I wasn’t truly happy. Buzzing around my head was a lifelong dream to travel. I had traveled a lot as a kid, so from an early age I was bitten by the travel bug and never able to shake it.

One day, I was invited by a distant friend of mine to join her in Lake Tahoe for Wanderlust Festival and I simply couldn’t resist the temptation to go. At the festival, I was talking to a fellow yogi and explaining my plight of living a corporate life while dreaming to be out in the world and traveling. I was told about the amazing company Yoga Trade that was just starting and a listing for a job in Costa Rica that they thought I would be perfect for. I had never met this person prior to this conversation, nor have I spoken to them since. I have no idea where they came from or how we even started talking, but they planted a seed that grew an opportunity for transformation.

I took a look at the website, found the link to apply for the job and jumped at the opportunity. In my mind, I was competing for a job with other yoga teachers who had way more experience than I, as well as more traveling experience, other yoga-related skills, and so on. I truly didn’t believe that I even had a chance.

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I went back to my regular job, sun-kissed from Cali and loving life. I actually forgot about the application until about a month later when I received an email back saying that they wanted to have a Skype meeting with me as soon as I was available. You can probably imagine the look on my face when I read this… I was shocked, excited and scared all at once. I hadn’t told anybody about having applied, especially my boyfriend.

Naturally, I accepted their invitation for the Skpye meeting with excitement. The call lasted an hour, talking about the position, who I am, and who they were. It went well yet I still didn’t think I would actually be asked to come to Costa Rica to teach yoga. Yet three weeks later, I got a reply asking to have another Skpye meeting, this time with the owner of the lodge.

After another successful interview, the prospect of actually leaving began to consume me. I wanted so badly to leave and travel. I wanted to see things other than my computer screen and the latest thing on Reddit; I was ready to do anything else with my life. At the same time I was reticent, unwilling to get my hopes up. I still considered this a dream for the distant future, not one that loomed on the horizon.

I received a kind email from my first interviewer, gently telling me that I didn’t get the position. It had come down to me and one other candidate; while they opted for the former, they emphasized how much they had liked me. They invited me to come down to Costa Rica to stay there for a week for free and to discuss future opportunities to work with their lodge.

I was not shocked or let down; I was actually, surprisingly, relieved. I had somehow managed to get a free week-long vacation at an eco-lodge in Costa Rica and didn’t have to make any crazy decisions to leave my whole life behind.

I was smiling and happy with the outcome, satisfied with myself for taking a chance and accepting any outcome. I sent a “thank you” email to my interviewer and, just as I was shutting my laptop, a new message suddenly popped-up. Curiously, I opened it to find out that she actually did want to offer me the job. The first candidate had suddenly been unable to commit to the full-length of the placement — knowing that I was ready to give up everything — she offered it to me instead!

I was thrilled, terrified, and so completely excited that I couldn’t express my gratitude enough. Somehow the cosmos had shifted, revealing that I was meant to leave for a metamorphic journey, not later, but now. Just how life-changing it would prove to be I could never have fathomed. I only knew that I was ready and willing to leave my old life behind.

A few short weeks later, I was giving notice to my job, buying airplane tickets, changing in bonds to pay off my credit card debt. Beyond professional and financial matters, I had to inform my friends, family, and boyfriend about the journey I was about to embark on. I was saying goodbye and leaving the solid life I had built in exchange for one full of new adventure.

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My friends were happy for me and celebrated my departure as opportunity. My family was excited, albeit a bit nervous, and happy to act as cat-sitters. And my boyfriend, well, he was anything but onboard with my decision.

Unwilling to travel with me, my boyfriend was afraid to break out of the mold, too fixated on the path of a 9-5 job, a mortgage and kids. My placement in Costa Rica was only six months but he was unwilling to do long-distance, saying, “You can’t really expect me to not have sex for half-a-year.” And with that I found myself finally able to let go of the last thing holding me back. I exhaled fully, cut our lease short, gave him the furniture and helped him move it into an apartment in the city. I took the cat, my yoga mat, and my smile, bid him farewell, never looked back again.

To choose my journey over my relationship was the sacrifice that I needed to make in order to allow myself to be truly happy. Perhaps not surprisingly, it also allowed me the space to meet the amazing and truly good-hearted man who has helped me stay in Costa Rica permanently. We now own an amazing ocean-front lodge, Casa Marea Alta, where I’m able to earn my living doing something I truly love. Even though it has been difficult, alien, tiring, and frustrating at times, it also has made me happier and helped me transform into a better person. I would gladly make the decision twice; it provided me a new purpose, a love, and a home.

 

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Elizabeth Arnold is a 200 RYT, Tai Bodyworker, and Reiki Practitioner. She is currently the resident yoga teacher at Casa Marea Alta in Costa Rica. You can find out more about her and life in Costa Rica by visiting her website www.BethAnneYoga.com.

Getting Clear

Twenty something quits stressful job after years of striving to be the successful, career woman, finds happiness and la la la – you know the cliché. Yes, that’s currently me, however I am struggling with the “la la la”….

From a young age I knew I was going to work hard and make my way towards a generous salary, seniority and to allow my job to define who I was for a sense of entitlement; and that’s what I did. I worked up to seven days a week, sometimes 17-hour days, always checking emails, no matter the day, time, vacation or occasion. My most recent position came with all of the above and every, complacent female in her 20s living in Manhattan’s fantasy – a relocation package to the West Coast.

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As a native New Yorker, I had been relishing in the idea of escaping the concrete jungle for some California sunshine. I was offered what would be perceived by most as a dream job and I of course said yes without hesitation. However, it never felt like the right choice. I knew – being who I am – that either way I would have to go and have this experience because I never wanted to wonder “what if?” but it truly never felt right. The company made it very attractive for me to make the move and it was a no brainer, so off I went.

I wore black, Every. Single. Day. And I did not smile in that office, once in the eight months I spent out West. It’s kind of hilarious when I look back and realize how dramatic I was being but, the story I told myself was that I was in the ultimate mourning. I was flying back to New York every other weekend and became an expert at being miserable. The amount of negative energy that permeated out of my skin infected anyone that was near me. A colleague and now dear friend nicknamed me “The Moody Yogi” (pretty fitting) I was forgetting that this was a situation I had put myself in. I made these conscious decisions on my own, no one – not anyone, forced me or insisted that I go. I felt stuck and I felt trapped until the misery was too much to bear and I decided I was going to quit. I didn’t have much of a back up plan other than the fact that I love yoga and I always wanted to complete a teacher training.

Most of my adult life I have struggled with being fully present in the now. I have always been fixated on past events or planning the future. Previously, when I decided I was going to try out therapy, my therapist told me in my very first session that everyone has a book. In this book are the pages that are already written: this represents your past; then you have today, that is half written and a bunch of empty pages following which represent your future. She told me I was petrified of the unknown and she was absolutely right.

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So, after I went into my boss’s office and broke the news; I drove back 2,600 miles east and I was off to Nicaragua for a month long, intensive, ashtanga yoga teacher training.

Nicaragua was tough, it was like nothing I have ever experienced before. I’ve traveled a ton and I’ve certainly “roughed it” but this was on a different level. Anyone who has gone through any type of yoga training can vouch for me and agree that it is draining. Not only physically because you’re practicing up to six hours each day and learning so much about the practice and yourself, but mentally because you’re being tested and challenged in so many unfamiliar ways. Mix this with PMS, a lot of different personalities and living in a remote little town in the middle of nowhere with four foreign roommates and every, creepy, crawler that exists in Nicaragua’s climate is nesting in bed with you. I had a mosquito net and one night I thought I was being pretty inventive. I sprayed the net and my bed with the Hercules of insect repellant that one of the girls had concocted. When I awoke, there was a graveyard of species on my bed and on my net. The concoction had worked so well that the critters were dying as soon as they touched the surface. Turns out dead bugs are just as creepy as live bugs. And scorpions. Scorpions in your room are a whole different story but we worked out a removal strategy that I can discuss another time.

“Happiness is within you and it doesn’t matter where you live or what you do for a living because wherever you go, there you are.”

So here I was in Nicaragua, sleeping naked every night for the sheer fact that it was so unbearably hot, eating a restricted diet that included no sugar (take sugar completely out of your diet and see how irritable you can become) taking a shower and brushing my teeth with salt water. Had I not bought such cute colorful yoga clothes prior to my training, I would have been in black, mourning, again. But what the hell, right? I chose to go to this training. I selectively picked the dates and country and signed myself up. I paid for the trip and booked my flight and purchased the necessary study materials. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in a situation where I’ve repeatedly said “how did this happen?” over and over and over, only to remind myself that I put myself in that very situation. The first two weeks of the training were brutal. I was keeping a journal and every day I wrote “today will be the day I break through” and each night I went to bed crossing the days off the calendar, counting down to go home. Again, never living in the present. Always fixated on what comes next. My time in Nicaragua taught me gratitude. For the first time in my 29 years of existence I felt true gratitude and was truly so grateful for all of my blessings and the life I have been given. Additionally, it made me want to be a better human. If I had only walked away with those two things, it was already more than worth it but I had walked away with new friends, a new practice and an experience of a lifetime that in many ways changed who I was as a person.

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I’ve come full circle and I have learned that there is so much more to life than work. It’s one thing to be truly passionate for the work that you do and I honestly admire that in many of my peers but I know now, while looking back on all of the years I spent building someone else’s empire, no matter what the paycheck was, never truly made me feel of service. That’s the funny thing, when you begin the journey to self-discovery, self-love and an overall deeper meaning of self; you just want to be a decent human being. That becomes the bigger picture and the ultimate goal.

I still feel incomplete. I feel discontent but I think this is who I am as a person. I am never satisfied and I am always craving something bigger and better for myself. It’s a gift and a curse. But in the same notion, I am the happiest, most fulfilled and most free I have ever been.

Happiness is within you and it doesn’t matter where you live or what you do for a living because wherever you go, there you are. All of you. It’s something I have heard and have been told for years; but now, I truly understand. I take each day as it comes and I’m a little less fearful of the future nowadays.

 

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Melissa is a registered yoga teacher as well as a Reiki practitioner. She is currently wandering the globe and enjoying life for all of its offers. Connect on Instagram at Melissa_Gee or email at MGee228@gmail.com

Volunteering in Costa Rica…for Free (or nearly free)

Voluntourism (combining volunteering with touring while on holiday) has received some bad press lately and there are lots of legitimate reasons why. For starters, many places charge exorbitant fees to volunteer and often these “fees” have little, to no, transparency as to how it’s funding the project. Why pay to volunteer? Isn’t that essentially paying to work? Now, I do understand that a portion of that payment goes to the local community and project, but unfortunately the bulk of the money does not. Unless you spend a lot of time researching and ensuring that your money is supporting the project directly, often times only a small percentage of the money usually goes towards the actual projects meant to support it. Most of the money ends up lining the pockets of the corrupt and greedy.

I’ve been blessed with many opportunities in the past that have allowed me to volunteer while also giving money to the local community, in a very legitimate, very transparent way. Since joining the Peace Corps in 2010, I have been engaging in various volunteer endeavors. From volunteering at a yoga conference in Asia to helping out dive instructors in Malaysia, all of my volunteer opportunities helped to benefit the local community without breaking the bank. If you’re smart about the way in which you research, you too can travel longer, have better experiences, build better relationships and contribute in a positive way.

Currently I’m living in Costa Rica and have come across lots of volunteering opportunities. Some are as cost-effective as $10/day where others can be $450/week. Like stated earlier, I’m not looking to blow my travel budget AND work, so if you have the time and the skills, below are a few volunteer opportunities that won’t cost you a penny, or at the very least won’t put a big dent in your budget.

Blue Osa Yoga Retreat and Spa, Osa Peninsula

Who: Writers, Gardeners, Photographers/Videographers
Duration: Writers 3 months / Gardeners 6 months/ all else e-mail for availability
Cost: Free

Blue Osa is located in the Southern part of Costa Rica in the Osa Peninsula. The environment of Osa is lush and beautiful, the perfect blend of ocean and jungle life. In exchange for the duties above, volunteers will be provided with a comfortable place to sleep, all meals and ample free time to enjoy the ocean just meters away from the site, the beautiful pool and the wild jungle.

The duties are writing for their blog (an experienced writer), gardening (someone with botany in their background) and photography for their website and/or taking videos for their blog or other projects. Obviously all positions require that you have some experience in whatever it is you’re applying for and because it is such a sweet deal, availability does fill up fast. This isn’t an ideal position for someone who just “decides” they want to suddenly volunteer, instead it’s for someone who has some patience and is going to take the time make a serious commitment for a few months. Once you do that, you won’t regret it.

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Proyecto San Gerardo, San Gerardo

Who: Teachers of-ESL, computer skills, vocational skills to young women, cafe volunteers, web designers and writers
Duration: 6 week commitment
Cost: $250/month for home-stay accommodation

An excellent opportunity that caters to those with lots of different skills and those who want to really be immersed in a local experience. Because the volunteer will be living with a host family, this gives the person an incredible one-of-a-kind experience and the opportunity to learn or improve their Spanish.

San Gerardo is an interesting place and volunteers flock there because of its close proximity to hiking trails and the great outdoors. It’s also close to the beach, which makes for a great weekend trip for those who are interested.

Chilamate: Rainforest Eco-Retreat, Chilamate

Who: Receptionists/Admin Assistants, Whitewater Kayak Instructor, Field work/General Labor Assistant
Duration: 6 months (they do accept shorter stays, but there is fee)
Cost: Free

Ever wanted to live in the rainforest? Now you can while also helping to benefit it. Chilamate Rainforest Eco-Retreat is a sustainable, rainforest conservation tourism project. The retreat preserves 55 acres of rainforest and runs on solar power, uses rainwater catchments, and biodegradable cleaning products.

As a volunteer you’ll be given the opportunity to help out at a local level while learning a new skill and more about the incredible, natural environment that surrounds you.

Volunteers stay in a dorm with a private bathroom and are welcome to use the well-equipped kitchen. Even though there is access to the kitchen, volunteers still get delicious meals that feature local cuisine. Volunteers are asked to help with meal preparation, but this is a great way to learn about the local food and bring a few recipes back home.

Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, Monteverde

Who: Anyone interested in entomology
Duration: 2 months
Cost: Free

Do you love butterflies? OK, maybe you don’t LOVE butterflies but who wouldn’t want to give tours of a majestic, butterfly garden set in the mountainous region of Monteverde? As a volunteer you will be trained to give 1 hour tours through the gardens, usually giving 1-4 tours a day.

Yes, this might get monotonous, but think of all the knowledge you’ll acquire about butterflies, insects and arachnids. You’ll gain a lot of experience working outdoors and learning about Costa Rica’s biological diversity. Butterflies in Costa Rica are a pretty big deal, so why not learn about this magical little creature while living here?

Volunteers live in comfortable living quarters with a shared bathroom and have all meals (or food for meals) provided for. Even though the volunteer is expected to work 6 days a week, the work life is not hectic at all and is in fact pretty laid back. There will be other volunteers around so that the work load is shared and the volunteer doesn’t feel overwhelmed. So who’s ready to get mystified in Monteverde?

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Parismina Turtle Conservation, Parismina

Who: Those interested in turtles
Duration: no minimum
Cost: $27/day

Parismina beach is a popular place where Leatherback, Green and Hawksbill turtles come to shore to hatch their eggs. Because of this, it is also a common practice for poachers to come and exploit the turtles by stealing the turtles and their eggs to sell on the black market. For this reason, volunteers are needed to help save these endangered turtles from that happening. Since the start of the project over 38% of the turtles have been saved, according to their website.

Volunteers will work alongside a local turtle guide and learn about these beautiful, sea creatures. The local guide will take the volunteer out on a nightly patrol and teach them how to guard nesting turtles, identify turtle tracks, count the number of eggs, record tag numbers and assist with relocating eggs. While this is done at night, daytime tasks will be to monitor hatching, cleaning the beach of debris and safeguarding the hatchlings.

The $27 includes a home-stay with meals and laundry service. However, if you wanted to procure your own accommodation, the fee to volunteer would only be $10 a day and you would pay for your accommodation and food independently. Overall, a small price to pay to help the environment and learn a lot about a species that is unfortunately endangered.

 

So, there you have it, my top 5 choices for volunteering in Costa Rica for little or no money. Now, you might be reading the list and thinking, “yeah, this is great if you have MONTHS of vacation time, but useless for me.” I understand that many of you might be limited to only one or two weeks of travel, therefore only looking to volunteer for a couple of days or so. Obviously, this list isn’t for you then. These options are obviously more for those who looking for an extended holiday. Maybe looking to volunteer for a couple of months and then travel for one or two months additionally afterwards.

If time is limited, then there are a few more resources out there. Sites such as Yoga Trade, Workaway, and Helpx are websites that put you in control of what you want. On these websites you pay a small annual fee (no more than $30) and get to review hundreds of different volunteer opportunities. Most places provide you with accommodation and meals, if you put in (no more, sometimes less than) a 5 hour workday. Opportunities vary but are not limited to: teaching, helping out at a hostel, gardening, building, fitness instructor, nanny and so much more. What’s great about these opportunities is that the minimum commitment can be as little as 2 days, giving you the opportunity to still give back and still have a local experience.

There’s a reason why voluntourism has become so popular. The experiences you gain are so much more profound than merely visiting a city, staying in a hotel, snapping a few shots and visiting a few must-see destinations. When you volunteer you are often stationed in a local setting which enables you to fully immerse yourself in the language, learn about new cuisine and get in touch with the local culture. These are the experiences that make travel worthwhile and help you grow as a person. You’ll gain new perspectives, and bring unique insights about your holiday back with you. You’ll create bonds and make memories that will last a lifetime, which has much more longevity than that souvenir you bought at the market.

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Tara DeAugustine is an elementary school teacher, presently taking a much-needed break from teaching, and in turn dabbling in and out of different job roles. Her travels have taken her all over the world, previously living in Thailand, Taiwan and Cambodia. Currently, she’s a volunteer writer and yoga instructor at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa in Costa Rica. When she’s not busy at work, you can find her doing what she loves, which is included but not limited to: lazing about in hammocks, eating salad, watching sunsets and reading.  

Waves of Experience

I was on the train to Cinque Terre gazing out the window at the gorgeous waters of the Italian Riviera and reflecting on my travels. I realized how traveling is a vast ocean of lessons and helps bring out the essence of who we truly are.

We’re all like rocks along the shore, molded by each wave of experience. Each wave brings new wisdom, new perspective, and new acceptance. It rounds our edges, helps form who we are, and what we bring to this world.

As we experience other cultures and learn from how others live, we gain insight on how we want to live and what we value.

In my travels so far, two things continue to have a profound impact: the ability to be flexible in my plans & the courage to ask.

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Be Flexible

Plan what you can, but also plan for all of that to go out the window. Whether it’s a train you need to catch, a housing situation that turns out to not be at all what you expected, or a change in itinerary, things will happen and it’s so important to be flexible. I’m not saying that it won’t feel frustrating or like your patience is being tested, but that’s all part of the experience. All you can do is make the best of the situation. Be willing to see where the new turn of events take you.

Just Ask

Have the courage to ask. It might feel intimidating to approach someone for help in a different language or for an opportunity to teach a yoga class, but the only thing you can do is ask. Maybe they say no, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone waiting to say yes to you.

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It’s common for people to feel afraid of looking stupid or of rejection, but acknowledge the fear and then do it anyway. Being brave isn’t about being fearless, but not letting that fear paralyze you.

I once heard that life is like a pendulum, swinging back and forth. You have to take action and even your so-called “failures” will propel you forward into success, whatever success means to you.

So take each wave of experience as it comes, be flexible, be courageous, and keep moving forward!

 

 

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Shannon Handa is a Yoga Trade Travel Rep and travels to teach and practice yoga in different countries to explore the similarities and differences in how it’s approached. She writes about her travels on her blog, Yoga Across the Globe, to share her experiences with fellow yogis.

Connect:

http://www.yogaacrosstheglobe.com/

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The Happy List: How I Found My Path, Passion, and Purpose

Guess what day it is? It is Monday… And this is me listening to Alex & Sierra’s “Scarecrow” and writing these lines. No stress, no rush, no Monday blues. I am in Thailand working as a Yoga and Meditation Instructor and putting my marketing and business development skills to work for a fitness, yoga and detox center. My feet are hanging in the pool and the sun is shining on my face. It is my day off, today. My current life situation is a real blessing. Everyday I can create a beautiful balance of business thinking, movement, mindfulness and yoga on and off the mat. Yoga has changed my life in so many different ways it is almost unbelievable to me – and I was there for every step of the way. So how did I get here?

Thinking back to days in the office in Berlin, Germany with snow storms outside and only approximately 2 hours of daylight (that’s how it felt) each day – I am now more than DCIM103GOPROG3799553.happy with every decision I have made in the last two years to take a leap and change my life according to my needs and my life callings. How did this all come together? I remember one winter day, when I sat in my room in Berlin on the wooden floor listening to music and feeling a little blue. Things were going well overall with my job, friends, family and I had my free time well organized to be a balanced mix of sports, teaching yoga, farmers market visits, art and music shows, and cooking dates with my flat mates. Pretty good life, but why does it feel heavy and strange at times? Is that just how it is? My decision was to explore this situation and find answers. I took out a piece of paper and wrote down EVERYTHING that makes me happy, makes me smile, things that energize me. My ‘Happy List’ was born.

The list was long and everything was allowed on there, everything that came to mind right in that moment – materialistic wishes or belongings, feelings, random words, colors, people, surroundings and so on. After about 5 minutes I decided I was done for the time being and when I looked at my list I realized that my everyday life here in Berlin is not really a reflection of the things that make me happy. How can that be? I chose this life. I made it all happen.

For a while I forgot about my ‘Happy List’ again. Also, unconsciously I knew every single word on that list and how much meaning it had to me. One more flashback: (hang in there) One Monday morning back in the office in Berlin I found a YogaTrade IMG_5837Newsletter with a job opening popping up in my inbox: Yoga Instructor Wanted AND Retreat Manager Wanted. Two positions that sparked my fire! ‘If I could do both, I could create a great balanced life for myself.’ And needless to say it wasn’t located anywhere close to the German winter but in sunny Cambodia. Traveling and exploring new countries happened to be things on my ‘Happy List’. In 5 minutes total I put all my power into an email to this center in Cambodia, explaining why I was perfect for both positions and sent all my information over. As I was typing the words seemed to jump on the screen and very effortlessly formed this lightly put direct email. It simply felt right. Click: SEND. Done. A smile flickered over my face before I had to rush off to a new project at work, phone calls, meetings and work emails.

For the next few weeks I didn’t think much about the job in Cambodia, as I was very busy and I didn’t really want to get my hopes up. This whole thing felt so far away from where I was and what I was doing. Emails are a funny thing to me as well – it doesn’t feel very personal to me sending emails. You send it off and wait. Maybe I haven’t fully adapted to the cyber age of communication and other elements of life.

Long story short, I was offered the position a few weeks later! Basically both positions and it made me jump. It was very exciting. I looked at my piece of paper and the only thing this job didn’t include from my ‘Happy List ‘ was water close by, a lake, or the sea. But that was fine with me, all the other 20 things are part of this new life. I quit my job the next day and prepared for my trip. Flights, insurance, canceling my contracts in Germany and full of anticipation started to get very light in my everyday life in Berlin.

Ever since, I began living a life that I love with all my heart. A life that took me to Cambodia, Bali, Gili Islands, Thailand and so many other places. I found a healthy lifestyle with enough room for my personal development, yoga, and a job. A life full of purpose, connection and sun, based on a piece of white plane paper with black maker scribbles all over it. It has been a journey of self discovery and love. Something very simple like the ‘Happy List’ and the world’s timing changed my life. The ‘Happy List’ and a moment of pausing and digging deep to understand the true motivation of my heart and spirit.

Get to know yourself and write a ‘Happy List’.

What is on your ‘Happy List’ and where will it take you?

Thank you Yoga Trade for great opportunities and connection. It is a true inspiration.

 

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Maike, from YogaWithMaike, is a traveling yoga-entrepreneur, a seeker, inventor, and life lover. She has been teaching yoga in many forms and shapes. Her love for holistic living and balance leads her to new adventures every day.

Connect:

yogawithmaike.com

From Ashram to the Andamans

A Yogi’s Transformational Journey through India

I’m not your typical world-traveling yogi. There aren’t too many 40-year-old women leaving everything behind for a taste of adventure. I mean, unless they’re having some sort of mid-life crisis, which I am not. No, really.

However, after recently becoming an empty-nester (I started young!), and after recently divorcing my husband, I felt the need to explore life differently, a new way to think, a new way to be. (yes, I’m aware that part does sound a bit mid-life crisis-like)

Yoga was a big catalyst for this new way of being… I had been practicing daily for a couple of years and was getting stronger by the day- mind, body and spirit. I felt the next step was obvious, to become yoga certified.

So I began the search for teacher certifications. Initially, I wanted go to Bali, Indonesia. Maybe it was because of reading Eat, Pray, Love– but I had this image of Bali being this goddessy-glamourous place toThe-Flying-Elephant-yoga-studio study yoga, and who knows maybe I’d find love there. I wasn’t looking for love, I was (am) already in love but the man of dreams didn’t (doesn’t) love me back. Anyway, I digress.

I found a few options for yoga training in Bali, but for whatever reason- doors kept closing. So I thought, maybe that’s my sign to stop looking so far away and just find training nearby in Florida where I live. But again, doors kept closing and nothing seemed to be working out. As I was taking a long walk on the beach one day- a thought became crystal clear: I needed to go to India to study yoga. Duh! Why wouldn’t I go where yoga originated?

I have a friend who quit her job, sold all of her possessions, and is now travelling throughout India. I remembered her telling me about a small ashram that offered yoga teacher training AND it was cheap. So I found out the name of the place, emailed them, and almost too-perfectly everything just sorta lined up. Tuition- check. Airfare- check. Indian Visa- oh, shit. No one told me how time consuming this part would be and after all the waiting there’s a chance I could be denied a visa. But just in the nick of time, the FedEx guy showed up at my door with my visa-stamped passport. Whew! (By the way, I highly recommend anyone traveling to India to get their visa FIRST. This will save a lot of stressing out!)

I read all kinds of blogs from people who had travelled though India. I spent a lot time working myself up over a bunch of stuff I didn’t need to be worrying about… but it did help me to prepare for my trip. And somewhere during this time of searching blogs, I came across an awesome blogger “This American Girl”, and that’s where I heard about Yoga Trade. I signed up and immediately found a posting for a yoga-exchange opportunity in the Andaman Islands. I had never heard of this part of the world but as it turns out, it’s a cluster of islands between India and Thailand but it is considered part of India. Perfect! I’ll be getting my teacher certification about the time they need an instructor at this resort on Havelock Island.

I remember telling my friend, the one who quit everything and moved to India, how I planned on going to Havelock Island in the Andamans after my training at the ashram. She responded with “are you sure you’re not just wanting a cookie at the end of your India trip?” I hadn’t looked at it that way at all. I saw what looked like this amazing paradise where elephants swim and the water is the loveliest iridescent turquoise, yes, but it was also a wonderful opportunity to get some hands on experience after my ashram training.

After weeks of going back and forth, and trying to organize the travel from the mainland to the islands (it’s not easy to get there)… it was finally set. I would be going to an ashram in south India for three weeks, then I would make the journey to one of the most remote places on the planet- the Andaman Islands.

As I write this, it’s now been two months since I’ve been back from the most exciting adventure of my life. And here’s my observation. Life at the ashram on the mainland and life in the Andamans on Havelock Island, couldn’t be more different.

At the ashram, we had a disciplined schedule. Up at 5am to “shower” (it’s a bucket with a cup for rinsing) and get ready for our asana practice, yoga history and philosophy throughout the day, volunteering at a rural school-house, and an all-vegetarian diet with little to no sugar or caffeine and definitely not any alcohol.

Whereas, on the island, 8am for yoga but many times people missed class because they were up too late Havelock-Beachdrinking the night before, Nutella pancakes for breakfast, prawns as big as your head on the barbeque, the wine is flowing and cigarette smoking is quite common.

The ashram life allows you to reflect on everything, why am I here, what am I doing? I had dreams of conversations with goddesses, I faced my demons head-on, and I came to peaceful conclusions of letting some things (and relationships) go. Spirituality thoughts seem to overtake any thoughts of the flesh.

On the island, all I could think of was how unbelievably grateful and happy I was to be alive. I met new friends, I met a very young, very attractive Indian man, made out in the ocean and on the beach, had totally different kinds of dreams and felt lots of love.

Now as I reflect on these two experiences, I would like to somehow be able to balance my life somewhere between the disciplined schedule of the ashram in India and the carefree frolicking on Havelock Island.

Vegetarian diet with almost no sugar or caffeine most days, but sometimes Nutella crepes and espresso for breakfast or a late-night dinner feast and the wine is flowing.

Practice yoga and meditation for hours but occasionally skip the mat and go swimming in the ocean with a gorgeous boy as we kiss with the crashing waves on us.

Get up early most mornings enjoying peaceful solitude but not missing birthday celebrations, nights on the beach watching the full moon, and staying up late talking with new friends about love, life and God.

How can these two places be so close and yet so far away? But I think the drastic contrasts of the two helped me learn something about myself. I’m not a typical yogi. I’m not a typical anything, really. I’m just me. I’m somewhere in between these two lifestyles. I’m not following “the path”. I’m making my own path as I go along. Yes, I could stand to incorporate more discipline into my life but I also need to make time for carefree living too.

And as it turns out, my friend in India was right, I did get my cookie.

 

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Angie is a yoga certified instructor with a passion for traveling and learning about new people and new cultures. She teaches yoga on the beach at sunrise in Florida, USA and organizes yoga retreats around the world.

Connect with Angie:

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