The melodic vibration at dawn reminded me of the freedom I had relinquished.
I slid along my sheets with the enthusiasm of a beached whale dreading the day’s impending events.
I arrived on the rooftop as the sun crept impressively over the rice fields. Smoke from burning garbage filled my lungs.
Inhale. Arms up. Exhale. Bow down. Inhale. Look forward. Exhale. Bow down, kick back, elbows bent, toes flexed, hover. Inhale. Flip toes, open chest, lift gaze. Exhale. Plant hands, lift hips, lower heels. Inhale. Exhale.
I saluted the sun.
“Warrior one. Warrior two. Chaturanga Dandasuna,” he called.
I was so bored I wanted to cry.
Since leaving my yoga community in Costa Rica four months ago, I transitioned from practicing asana twice daily to nearly never. Hostels rarely have the space or the privacy for a self guided routine and taking yoga classes consistently has been outside my modest Southeast Asia travel budget.
I missed contorting into strange postures and expanding my ideas about what is possible in the process.
I missed deeply relaxing every muscle in my body until becoming jelly on my mat.
I missed connecting with a community of mentors who encouraged my self growth.
“I’m a different person on yoga,” I often tell people as if coordinating movement and breath was akin to Paxil or Prozac.
Experience has shown me that if I ever feel anxious, sad, confused, lost, blocked or simply out of balance, all that I need to do is step onto the mat, sweat it out, lay myself down in surrender, and let my mind go. In ninety minutes I can be born again.
So I left Koh Rong for a meditation center in Sihanoukville, giddy with excitement. I could not wait to delve back into my yoga practice and be “me” again.
Medicated by yoga.
I thought I was headed to an oasis where I would emotionally evolve on an unprecedented level.
I thought bliss was inevitable.
That was not my experience at all.
Instead I felt panicked. I wanted to leave the moment I arrived.
The center was hardly an open air retreat in the jungle like the studios I practiced at in Costa Rica. It was a tiled, soulless, dusty mansion near a busy road on the outskirts of a polluted Cambodian city. It looked downright depressing after sleeping in a grass hut on Koh Rong.
The yoga classes did not speak to me either. They differed from the fun flows, fear conquering inversions, and thought provoking intentions taught in classes I took in the past. Here yoga felt so disciplined, so serious, so stale. I began to forget that I actually enjoyed yoga, that it was fun, and that it made my body feel amazing. It became something to simply get through.
However more difficult than being bored in morning yoga or uninspired by my surroundings was being deprived of my usual freedoms.
My entire day was predetermined from 6am until 8pm. I rushed through my meals, rarely rested, and seldom reflected on what I experienced. There simply was no time. The gong constantly rang, corralling us into another meditation, another lecture, another chant circle, and another meal of cucumbers and bean sprouts.
It was the most structure I have ever endured.
I have struggled to follow convention since birth, so for me, this was exceptionally hard.
My sister hurled me out of my crib when I was a baby because my eyes told her I wanted to be free. As I child I defiantly painted my face with my mother’s scrimshaw ink, cut apart pieces of furniture in the house, and insisted on cooking my own meals. Eventually my mother encouraged this behavior. When I attended university, I rarely attended, yet set the curve on most of my exams. In the workplace I came and went when I pleased. I received praise and promotions. Today I travel alone, work for myself, and live nomadically.
I thrive under these conditions.
Being at the meditation center, I recognized immediately that I feel the most free when I feel able to do whatever I want.
But I realized that freedom is more than simply exercising my will.
I considered that perhaps if I truly had internal freedom I could feel free within the confines of this structure.
I realized that freedom is finding joy and gratitude
no matter where you are, no matter what you do.
Freedom is accepting your circumstances
and making the most of them.
Freedom is having the willingness and the ability
to let your expectations go.
Freedom is not defining yourself
by who you were yesterday
one year ago
or who you might be tomorrow
or one year from today.
Freedom is being who you are
where you are
when you are.
So even though I wanted to run
I stretched. I meditated. I adhered to the demands of the gong.
I looked within to find a way to be free.
In the process I reflected on what truly entrapped me beyond an imposed schedule or routine.
It was my own self protection that came from a place of fear.
For a moment, in meditation, I imagined myself without those limitations.
My body became weightless.
I felt an incredible release and a deep sense of ease.
I felt freedom within the cement walls of my elected Cambodian prison.
Without the burden of my baggage or the confines of my barriers, I imagined myself fearless.
I saw that in this instance it actually took more courage for me to pursue exactly what I wanted than to stay.
So I left and I flew to Bali. I followed my heart.
I realized that I could practice and grow from yoga no matter where I was.
Because my yoga is not confined
to a seated meditation
or an asana pose.
My yoga is walking down a dirt road
hopping over potholes
and waving hello to local kids.
My yoga is watching the change of the coastline
beneath an umbrella of clouds.
My yoga is entering the unknown
with the wonder of a child.
My yoga is feeling the waves
rush over my body
while sinking my feet
into the sand.
My yoga is watching the sunset
from a canyon
a city bridge
No matter where I am
no matter what I do
my yoga is always