When most of us think about yoga, we think of the asana – the physical postures of the practice. We think of our yoga practice in terms of what we do on the mat. And we can feel our bodies changing, growing stronger and more flexible. We might experience that our minds calm down and we feel less stressed. This is great, this is what attracted me to yoga, and also the reason I keep coming back, because it feels good.
But sometimes I find myself in situations, in life, far away from my mat, where I still experience the effects of yoga.
The last couple of days I’ve had the opportunity to see my “yoga mind” at work in real life. I’m currently in Bali, and as you might have heard there was a volcanic eruption on the neighbouring island of Lombok a few days ago. I was meant to fly out around lunchtime on Wednesday. As I was having breakfast in Ubud my friends at the hotel asked if my flight was cancelled. “I don’t think so” I said “I haven’t heard anything”. So off I went to the airport. Where, as soon as I got out of my taxi, other drivers asking if I needed a taxi surrounded me, “all flight cancel” they told me. Inside, the atmosphere was even more chaotic than the regular airport-buzz and I realised that all flights out of Bali were, indeed, cancelled until further notice. So I stood there, in line to the airline, and this is where things started to get interesting.
I had no idea what would happen: how long was the airport going to be closed? Would I have to wait here, or would I have to try to find a hotel? Were they going to give me a new ticket, or would I have to buy a new one (I have the very bad habit of travelling without insurance). How long was this going to take?
A few years ago I would’ve been freaking out. I would’ve been nervous, angry, annoyed, frustrated and scared. And I could see people around me expressing all of these feelings. People in line complaining and swearing, people up at the counters arguing and raising their voices when talking to the airline staff.
And all I could think was “everything will work out just fine” and I totally believed it, I felt completely calm, I read my book, listened to some podcasts, got up to the counter and got a new ticket, booked a hotel online and that was it.
It turned out that my new flight got cancelled as well. This time I didn’t go to the airport but headed to the airlines office instead. Which a lot of other people also did. So we were standing there, in the scorching sun, on a parking lot next to a road with heavy traffic. For five hours. And again, I felt calm, and, even more surprising, I felt gratitude; I kept thinking “things could be so much worse- none of us are hurt, we are all going to be just fine”. It almost felt a bit weird, how could I be so unruffled when almost everyone around me were stressing out? (Obviously I wasn’t loving it, it wasn’t fun to stand there for five hours, BUT, even though i wasn’t loving it, I wasn’t hating it either…)
And what does yoga have to do with any of this?
Well, in yoga, when we practice asana, we practice present moment awareness and acceptance. By letting go of our attachment to the need for control, power and approval we can be content with things as they are.
Most of us, when we first turn up to yoga, are trying to fit in, “be good” and do all the asanas exactly like the teacher are showing them (even the advanced variations although we are beginners). This doesn’t serve us; it sets us up for disappointment. But in time, if we keep showing up with the intention to learn, focus will shift from the outside to the inside. We learn to turn out attention inwards, to listen to our bodies, stay present, and do what feels comfortable, what feels good rather than what looks good, or what everyone else is doing.
So I suppose that when I was standing there out on the parking lot, with no way to change or control the situation, instead of looking at how everyone else were reacting (anger, fear and stress) I could (instinctively) turn my intention inwards and be relaxed and content, accepting the situation as it was and letting go of expectation. “Whatever will happen will happen and everything will be fine”.
Basically, when you find yourself in a stressful situation that you cannot change (stuck in traffic, in a line, on a train that is running late) you have the choice of how to react; you can be angry and annoyed or you can be calm and collected. How you react won’t change the outcome of the situation (you will still be late) but it will impact your experience of the situation. Had I stood there in line feeling angry, I probably would’ve carried that anger with me for the rest of the day (and even if I didn’t, those five hours would’ve been like a self-inflicted torture). Instead, as I got my ticket and left, it just felt good.
I think this is one of the hidden benefits of yoga. You don’t even realise that it’s happening until you find yourself in a situation where you usually have a set reaction and suddenly you find that you have a different reaction.
It’s pretty cool, really.
I’m still in Bali. My new flight is tomorrow morning. Hopefully the airport stays open and I can go home. But if not, I still know that everything will work out just fine. And in the meantime, I will drink a mojito and enjoy my unexpected holiday-extension.