By Michelle Chua
Costa Rica 2018
Travel can be a fun and meaningful opportunity to connect with your inner nature and new places and beings in life-enriching ways. Some powerful tools I’ve found transformative and simple, yet require intentionality and authenticity, are the Yogic practice of ahimsa, or a heart-centered mindset that values non-harm, compassion and loving kindness, and the practice of mindfulness, defined by Teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn as, “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Both practices invite wholehearted connection with the present moment and all of life that is there, for the purpose of deepening wisdom and enhancing wellbeing. It’s important to remember that our everyday decisions while traveling to other lands impact those who live there and our Mother Earth. Here are some ways to take your Yoga off the mat and travel mindfully with ahimsa for the benefit of all:
Bali, Indonesia 2017 (left) & 2019 (right)
1. Choose modes of travel that are more sustainable. Google flight allows you to sort your flight searches by emission rates, enabling you to be aware and choose flights that cause less environmental pollution.
2. Choose accommodations that practice environmental care and support the local people where you are visiting. Sites like Booking.com allow you to filter your search for accommodations based on Travel Sustainable, which means you can opt for places that have sustainable practices, such as producing less waste. For example, in our upcoming Yoga retreat in Bali, all three of our accommodation sites have sustainability practices, with our second accommodation heading a reforestation and coral reef restoration project, which we’ll support during our stay.
3. Do your research beforehand to choose to support local businesses that practice sustainability, have kind work ethics, such as providing local workers with fair wages and hours, and positively impact the community. For example, our Yoga Retreat in Peru this June teams up with a retreat center managed by a local Peruvian family and has a non-profit organization through which guests’ purchases support a rural Andean children’s school.
4. Balance your itinerary with time to slow down, be spontaneous and authentically connect your senses with what’s around you. Value quality over quantity of experiences, letting go of expectations and letting yourself find ease and freedom in also going with the flow of what’s unplanned. Some of my best solo travel experiences came from trusting my instincts and following, with discernment, friendly invitations to new adventures. For example, while I was traveling in Ghana as a volunteer teacher and sought to learn West African drumming and dance, I met a choreographer who graciously invited me to attend a funeral and dance with his performers during the memorial celebration, at which numerous tribes came together to share in music and dance. It’s still one of my most memorable and uniquely rewarding travel experiences of feeling part of the local community, even if just briefly.
5. Consider when it’s helpful or harmful to bargain for locally made souvenirs. For some, bargaining is a fun pastime and can feel rewarding when gaining a huge discount. In the broader perspective, remember that sometimes people in developing countries who sell handmade goods or produce at a market are earning the only income source to sustain an extended family. What you save in a few dollars can mean a week or more of meals in the local currency.
6. Find beauty in simplicity. When visiting a new place, everything can seem fresh and enchanting, especially if you’re in a highly stimulating environment, busy with social media influencers posing at the touted attractions. Consider walking the footsteps of a local, visiting less touristy spots and appreciating hidden joys and insights embedded in their everyday lives.
7. Keep your daily meditation and mindful movement or physical Yoga practices alive during your travels! As you bring your wellness practices with you, notice how they support you in feeling grounded and resilient, such as when unexpected conflicts may arise. When I first traveled to Bali alone, an ash-spewing volcano extended my planned 7-day visit indefinitely. I felt deep gratitude for my physical Yoga and Meditation practice that empowered by ability to calm mental What If’s and worst-case scenarios. My meditation practice spurred me to cultivate friendly curiosity about the situation and take things moment by moment, eventually awakening me to the reality that I was gifted the privilege of staying longer in such a beautiful paradise, and I was safe. Moreover, my physical Yoga kept me healthy, agile and strong to better enjoy my experiences, especially when I first arrived after sitting for almost a day in airplanes.
8. Integrate mindfulness throughout your travels as fun ways to fully immerse in moments. In the context of walking, eating, sitting and people watching or riding a taxi, experiment with allocating a few minutes to consciously focus on what you can feel through your various senses that are applicable – smell, touch, taste, hear and see. With a caring attention and non-judgment, hold space for what comes and goes through your senses, and tune into your body, breath and mind. Notice how they respond as well. You can also practice deep listening while having a conversation with someone, sensing the feeling tone they are trying express to you through words, tone, gestures and energy, and pausing with a deep breath before responding.
9. Take actions to truly learn about and connect with the land and living beings where you are visiting. Before arriving, you might learn a few important greetings and words of gratitude in the local language. These can be helpful in other countries, as saying “Thank you” in the local tongue with a smile can do wonders to break the language barrier and help see each other’s common humanity. Also, research the local etiquette in dress and manners to come with knowledge and respect for the culture. Use discernment in practicing behaviors that may be common and acceptable at home, as they may mean something different where you are visiting. For example, a specific hand gesture in one country can be deemed playful and friendly, while in another it’s translated as rude and confrontational.
10. Find ways to personally harmonize and intimately connect with the natural world, attuning your body’s intelligence with the plants and earth elements surrounding you. For example, you might seek out local organic produce to taste and boost your immune system with, as nature’s medicines often grow where they may are most needed. Coca leaves grow abundantly in the Andean region of Peru and are a natural remedy when brewed as tea for appeasing altitude sickness in the high elevation of Cusco. Spend quality time in nearby nature and enjoy meals at farm-to-table restaurants to acclimate with the planet in this region.
Michelle Chua is a lover of nature, traveling as a form of expanding perspective, dance, delicious plant-based foods and Yoga. Find her bio here. See the upcoming Nature, Culture & Yoga Retreats she's hosting here.
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REviews of Root 2 Rise Yoga with Michelle chua:
Michelle truly lives out what she teaches. She is so much more than a yoga teacher - I learned this when I went on her exquisitely curated trip that she organized to Costa Rica this past June 2018...Hopefully like me, you'll be delighted by her effervescent love of movement, nature, and all people!
Michelle clearly stands out with her beautiful and bright energy. I love how her practice and teaching encompass body, mind and spirit. She not only teaches yoga but lives and exudes it.
Michelle not only teaches 'yoga', she embodies it fully with her heart and soul...
Michelle is by far one of the best instructors I've ever had, period. Patient, clear in her explanations and demos, and so encouraging...
My first yoga class was with Michelle years ago. You can have the best (yoga pose) sequence and not teach from your heart. With Michelle, I also feel her passion when I'm in her class. I can see she loves what she does, and she inspired me to want to teach yoga, too.
I'm so grateful to have met Michelle! Her kind energy opened up my interest in pursuing yoga and meditation. She is such an incredibly light and soul. She starts with grounding ourselves through mindfulness and breathing exercise. She brings the most authentic energy to the class by sharing the history and understanding behind poses, names, and techniques. I truly appreciate her work and impact on my well-being!
I’ve had dozens of instructors over the years, but Michelle is far and away the best yoga mentor I’ve ever practiced with. She epitomizes grace during these difficult times. Michelle has saved my sanity and my back while working from home, keeping me grounded with her sharing of yogic teachings and meditation techniques. Her repertoire of physical asanas is encyclopedic, and I’ve loved learning new poses and stretching my boundaries. Jump in, all. You’ve got this!
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