For most everyone with a consistent work or school schedule, we know all about the pros and cons of routine. There's something comfortable about knowing what's coming next. Oh, it's Monday? Back to work. Oh, it's Friday? T.G.I.F.! Maybe it's Taco Tuesday or Thursday night sitcoms (do you remember Thursday night sitcoms?); these rituals give our lives structure and meaning.
Likewise, a consistent yoga practice with an adequate balance of challenge and relaxation becomes a regular get-together with an old friend (i.e. yourself, and possibly actual friends if you attend class in a studio). But what happens when your interrupt your everyday routine with a sudden change in circumstance, or travel, for instance?
It can be quite easy to disrupt an otherwise-consistent yoga practice in the face of a new reality, with the justification that "it's only temporary, I'll get back to my practice soon enough." Sure, it's also relatively easy to bring a travel mat on vacation or seek out a class in a new location, but it's hard to deny that a disruption in routine has occurred.
Having faced this sort of disruption several times over this year (for better or for worse), I've come to realize that my yoga practice tends to be the glue that holds together everything else in a state of constant flux. When I travel from place to place with a yoga mat strapped to my backpack, it reminds me that-- wherever I go-- there I am. If I neglect my yoga practice on the road, it's the same thing as neglecting it at home-- and, perhaps, even worse. After all, at home I have the comfort and familiarity of other routines that I lack on the road.
This past weekend, I found myself in New York City for the People's Climate March, which brought out somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 people into the streets of Manhattan for the common cause of insuring sustainable energy for a sustainable planet. Initially, I thought I would practice yoga beforehand in Central Park with some friends, but it quickly became apparent that there was too much excitement in the air to actually roll out my mat and focus on myself.
In that moment, I decided instead to practice yoga off the mat-- challenging myself to remain fully present amongst the masses and every conceivable distraction. Over the next several hours, I carried my yoga mat around like a teddy bear-- a comforting talisman that constantly served to remind me that "repairing the world" has to start from the inside out. There would be no antidote to climate change more powerful than all of us living in harmony with yoga values and "being the change we wish to see in the world."
Towards the end of the March, a few friends and I even managed to practice 15 or so sun salutations literally on Eleventh Avenue, amidst the thousands upon thousands of people making their way along the route. Later that night, I attempted a Short Form Ashtanga practice with a friend on a hill at Central Park West and 107th street, where we were joined by a recent immigrant from Central America and her nieces, who wanted to share in the fun.
All of this reminded me of the other definition of "practice"-- a preparation for something more "real" or "important"-- some "main event" that matters more than the practice itself. And then I realized what that consistent practice at home was preparing me for: the "main event" of living my life in the present moment-- wherever I happen to be.
Yes, breaking with my everyday routine and traveling can be fun, but it can also be disconcerting, stressful, and exhausting. Sometimes the "not knowing" of "what next" can result in increased anxiety, tension, and even dread. Sometimes I'll wake up on a friend's couch two thousand miles from home with a sinking feeling in my stomach and the question resonating in my head-- why am I here?
These are the times when I'm glad I strapped that mat to my backpack-- when I know that I can roll out the rubbery green rectangle that serves as my "hometown embassy" in unfamiliar environments and sit for awhile in the presence of myself and the present moment-- when I can find my bearings amidst the constant flux that is my life-- when I can find myself at home in myself, wherever I happen to be.