When we set out to live in our van for the summer, I knew I’d want to write about taking my practice with me on the road. I remember thinking, I am going to practice yoga and meditate every day, no matter what. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, I will find a place to practice and prove that it can be done! All one needs is determination and willpower. Easy as that. Plus the photos we could take will be fantastically diverse and show that, really, it can be done anywhere.
Now, three months and 6,000 miles later, I realize how silly and unrealistic that was. My traveling practice has been inconsistent and spotty at best. I’m even baffled at my own naiveté in my original (and genuine, albeit limited) interpretation of the word “practice” itself. As a trained yoga instructor, I would know better, you’d think. But today, and for the purpose of this article, when I say “practice,” I am referring to yoga in its entirety, beyond just the physical poses. I’m talking about the union of mind, body, and spirit.
At first, my inability to develop and maintain a daily practice on the road left me feeling frustrated and guilty, like I lacked self-control. It made me feel inefficient and less than. In acknowledgement of this, I worked on letting go, detachment, and observation. I realized that sticking with my rigid view only created suffering and limited the space for me to open, grow, expand, and deepen.
Anything can be a chance to practice, to develop your self and the mastery of your thoughts and body—not just asana and meditation.
What I’ve realized is that while on the road—and anywhere, at any time, for that matter—it is easy to feel a disconnection among mind, body, and spirit. And though asana is a great way to yoke them together, it’s not the only remedy for a dwindling physical practice. Anything can be a chance to practice, to develop your sense of self and the mastery of your thoughts and body—not just asana and meditation. When seeking a path of compassion and wisdom, every moment is an opportunity to learn and grow, to transform and transcend.
With that lesson in mind, here’s what I’ve learned about finding your practice, whatever it is.
Take Time to Observe
The first step to finding your practice is to observe, to become aware. Notice your actions and reactions without judgment. Be honest with yourself and seek the truth.
The further down the road I went, the further away I was from everything I knew to be my “norm.” This provided the distance I needed to observe where I really was at that moment.
So I asked myself:
Am I looking for fulfillment through my senses? Yes.
Am I attached to material wealth/comfort? Yes.
Can I make more space in my life? Am I hanging onto relationships, places, or things that no longer serve the awakening of my higher self? Yes.
(These questions are from Tea Medicine by Aaron Fisher, a great read for the road, by the way.)
The more I tuned in, the clearer I saw these answers. And the answers very much surprised me, highlighting my tendencies toward denial and pretend.
There is no need for a mask along the open road. It is only you and the expansive horizon. There is no place to hide, and if there were, what would be the point? The road is a giant battlefield for you to combat your inner demons. It provides a safe haven to navigate the dark places and bring what lies beneath to the surface.
By detaching from positive and negative connotations and observing what comes up, you learn a lot about yourself and the ways in which you respond to the world—especially if you are feeling vulnerable in a new environment. The more you are aware of your reactions, the more you are aware of the causing stimulus, heightening your sense of presence. You also discover the ways in which you are not in harmony with your mind, body, and spirit.
Go Beyond the Familiar
Beyond your known threshold is where you start to see and understand your cravings. The ones that make you dizzy when you can’t fulfill them. The ones that make you feel empty when you must go without. Going through the body’s physical responses to these cravings can be very powerful, helping you realize that you don’t actually need them at all.
For example, we have been morning coffee fanatics for, at the very least, the entire length of our five-and-a-half-year relationship. One morning in the middle of the desert we awoke to a bean-less van and turned everything upside-down in disbelief. How could we have allowed ourselves to run out of coffee in the middle of nowhere? Would we ever find beans again? Oh the horror! Oh the pain!
At first, facing a long drive ahead of us with no coffee pushed us beyond our capacity to function. We drove with dazed eyes, constantly jumping at the sight of anything that might provide a quick fix. Once the craving faded and I felt hydrated after a few glasses of water, I realized that, no, we didn’t actually die from a lack of caffeine, and, yes, we were able to drive, and quite well at that. I also realized how absurd we were acting and that—wow!—we actually are coffee addicts.
In the spirit of self-betterment I went the next few days without coffee to see how I would respond. After a week, I found that I didn’t actually want the coffee at all—it was the ritual of waking up and making something hot and yummy that I craved. I never would have realized this crutch I was holding onto without first going through the withdrawal.
Move With Intent
Movement of the body is deeply intertwined with the mind and spirit.
Two months on the road of not practicing asana taught me that when I sit with my emotions and thoughts, my mind starts to go nuts and it manifests as discomfort in my body. A physical outlet is essential to my mental stability and cultivation of soul—I have to move to process my thoughts and work through my emotions.
I first realized this when we arrived in Colorado after a 30-hour, three-day trek from Vermont. I finally had the chance to go on a hike alone in the wood for the first time in weeks. Each step was filled with emotion, as if every time I put a foot down, I was getting further from the source of discomfort and deeper into a powerful insight that would help me navigate my journey. After 20 minutes or so I realized I was actually stomping through the woods with a full-on scowl. At the end of my hike, I felt refreshed and light, a sensation similar to the floating bliss after a solid yoga class.
When you are on the road, it is so important that you get out of the car and move your body. It is incredible how easy it is to become sedentary and watch the world pass you by through your window. After our stop in Colorado, we made a point to get out and hike every chance we got, and that changed our whole trip. Not only did our bodies thank us, but our minds were much more at ease, as well.
Your practice does not need to be recognizable. It does not need to be “by the book,” nor limited by what it should “look like.”
What is it for you? To you? How best do you connect with yourself?
I found that for me, trying to forcefully implement asana and meditation into my daily routine didn’t make sense for where I was. The constant movement of the road pulled me into each moment without any clear gaps for “practice time.” Even in moments of stillness, even when I had all of the time and capability, I never felt like there was an obvious
When you allow space, you may find that you are called to your mat more and more out of pure intuition and feeling, understanding that your soul yearns to move.
Maybe one day I will develop a deeper sense of self-discipline and devotion to asana and meditation, but not by making them into “should’s” or “have to’s.” For in my moments of summer, I can say that when I started letting go and allowed space, I was walking in practice. In consciousness, in understanding and compassion.
Photos by Sasha Juliard
Nicole Lindstrom is a travel writer based in New York City. She is the creator and editor of the online travel guide GLDMNE and co-author of Wanderlust, A Modern Yogi’s Guide To Discovering Your Best Self.