In this guest blog, YOGO Ambassador and Yoga Instructor Michelle reveals her cultural and logistical surprises taking yoga to Spain.
Yoga is like the soft hum of OM--it's quietly everywhere, waiting for you to notice it long enough for your breath to relax and your heart to smile knowingly.
Excitedly sitting at the San Diego airport, I slow down enough to scan the faces in the room and recognize a longtime student of mine who recently relocated for work and frequently travels. We link eyes and hug immediately. Of course we started talking about practicing on the road. Out of habit to connect and teach, I show him my practical YOGO mat, attached to my leather purse nearby on the floor. He immediately nods in appreciation and sees the value in its compact size and sticky nature. Years of practicing together culminate in my sending him off to practice his yoga anywhere and I feel the beautiful pulse of gratitude for having such great opportunities to teach and deepen relationships even in a public airport. Besides a quick full-body-stretch in Downward-Facing-Dog in front of the tinker-toys moving art display in the Philadelphia airport between flights, my YOGO mat reveals itself as a necessary travel companion in many unexpected ways. On the plane, my YOGO mat is a flexible back support and a pillow--both luxuries much appreciated by my tired body traveling 17 hours across the Atlantic Ocean.
Yoga Lessons from the Airport:
#1. Be prepared and have your props nearby at all times.
#2. Be open to teaching your travel peers how to de-stress and stretch out before, during, and after flights.
#3. Practice patience and listen to your body--the benefits of your props reveal themselves to you as quietly as the postures themselves.
In Madrid, the Americans do headstands in El Retiro, the "Central Park" of the city. Between the headstands and the acoustic rock concert we drum up a little attention from local passersby, photos and videos taken on the sly. Traveling with a Spanish-speaking Italian and an Italian-speaking Spaniard makes it decently easy to get around the city and the band even panhandles in the metro station for entertainment and change. My yoga so far is more mental than physical--speaking in Spanish with the bride-to-be's aunt and uncle about what yoga is and the many benefits that accompany the practice. Communicating across language barriers on absolutely no sleep about such a profound practice while consuming heavy fried food is difficult, to say the least. Of another generation, they know nothing of the physical postures but seem interested and understanding of the breath work aspect and how it might be good for stress.
Hot from the deep-fried Calamari, saucy Patatas Bravas and the surrounding city air, their eyes pop out when someone mentions Hot Yoga and they seem scared that's all there is. Hot Yoga?! Through mostly present-tense Spanish translation because of my jetlag, I assure them there is much more to yoga than what they've heard about the Hot Yoga classes there in Madrid. I wish I had my mat with me then and there for an impromptu lesson, but realize, like the postures nothing can been rushed or forced.
At dinner we feast family style and the father of the bride, "El Canario" (from the Canary Islands) tells me he wants to start Ashtanga yoga soon but doesn't seem to know what it is exactly. Over half-drank beers, the Italian groom-to-be laughs hysterically because he thinks I've mispronounced the Spanish word rather than speaking in Sanskrit and that I am talking with his aggressively flirtatious friend about a g-string, Ass-tanga. I laugh out loud. Even in Spain yoga seems to be socially mixed up with the notion of nicely shaped buns!
From Madrid to Barcelona, my YOGO mat unrolls often -- as a blanket to lay on, a means to stretch and breathe, and a way to sit on dirty public floors without reservation. The few times I did not have it with me while I was out and about, I wish I had it in that moment -- like an extra towel to sit on at the beach when all my friend's forgot theirs or a barrier between my bum and the wet grass at the park. I walked around the beautifully busy city and near every fountain, alley-way garden and street art scene I saw, I envisioned a plethora of postures in my mind to enhance their beauty even more. Walking quickly for miles, I didn't see a single yoga studio in over a week (but lots of ham shops and bakeries!), no one dressed in yoga clothes on the streets, and I was often given a blank stare when preforming any kind of stretch in public. But just like in the United States, once you get people talking, connection flows like breath to movement and people start unpacking their fears and preconceived limitations about yoga and life and there is room to grow, move, and unite--even across languages and cultural barriers.
Yoga Lessons from Spain:
#1. More people need to open yoga studios in Madrid and Barcelona, ASAP.
#2. Carefully pronounce your Sanskrit so that the locals know you are not hitting on them in Spanish.
#3. Carry your YOGO mat with you everywhere - it fits in your bag and will manifest purpose on every corner, even if it's just the ice-breaker between you and a new friend.
Michelle Buysse discovered yoga aboard Semester at Sea in 2003 and has been hooked on yoga and world traveling ever since. When not teaching yoga or leading a teacher training program in southern California, you can find Michelle freelance writing or creating artwork of some kind---soothing her creative spirit and putting her Master's degree in English Literature to good use. As a yogi and a teacher, Michelle blends her love of meditation with her need to move and strengthen.