It’s summertime, and many Americans are returning to travel vacations.
There is an allure to travel – seeing exotic places, experiencing completely different cultures from one’s own, meeting new people with openness and curiosity.
Where is your favorite place to travel?
I’ve been lucky enough to teach Unnata Aerial Yoga in several locations around the USA and in many different countries. As a result, I hear this question a lot.
I, like everyone who frequently travels, will tell you it’s impossible to choose one favorite place. Every place I travel to, nationally or internationally, is so different from each other. Rather than comparing apples to oranges, it’s more like comparing apple pie to a screwdriver.
I may not be able to choose my favorite place, but I can share with you some of the charm I find in the countries I visit (or have visited) often.
Most of the landscape of Finland is covered with lakes, and much of the country’s border is along the Baltic sea. Finland claims an archipelago of numerous small islands on it’s western side. Being so far north, they of course witness lots of snow in the winter, and explains the popularity of the sauna. (Sauna is a Finnish word, by the way.) Statistically, there is 1.8 saunas for every person in Finland! The landscape partly explains the colors of the Finnish flag: a snow white background, featuring a watery blue cross.
Imagine what it’s like to be on a wide, open lake, and you have a good sense of my impression of Finnish people. They are known to be somewhat quiet people, not keen on small talk, to the degree of even keeping a copious amount of space between themselves when waiting on lines (for example: at the bus stop).
Teaching in Finland
Some of the best students in the world! They will always show up on time, if not incredibly early. (Fun fact: the only time I’ve ever been on a flight that boarded early and left before scheduled departure time, was in Finland.) They have a great amount of respect for education, and as a result, like to study hard.
St Petersburg, Russia
I specify St Petersburg because I’ve been told that even though St Petersburg is in Russia, it is not necessarily representative of typical Russia. It’s a bit like New York City, to that regard. New York City is in the USA, but I wouldn’t choose it as the best example of a typical American city.
The feel of St Petersburg is surprisingly European, from the 1700-1800’s eras. This is most likely due to the great affection Catherine the Great and most of the tsars had with France and its culture during those years. Many of the buildings there are very ornate, and painted in a large array of pastel colors. The cathedrals and churches are each distinctive and unique. Almost every important or luxe building is gilded in gold, either inside or outside. Beautiful gardens and canals dot all of the downtown area, even many of the subway stations are ornate and gorgeous.
Imagine a city like that, and you’ll understand my impression of the Russian people who live in St Petersburg. They really appreciate and enjoy beauty and color. St Petersburg denizens pay a lot of attention to how they groom and dress. The majority of older women dye their hair various shades of bright red. There are 24 hour flower shops everywhere. Ask yourself this, have you ever had an urgent need for flowers at 3am?
Teaching in St Petersburg
Some of the best students in the world! Not many yoga teachers outside of Russia travel to Russia to teach. Therefore, I found the students were always highly appreciative. No one arrived already in their yoga pants. Instead, they dressed up a little, as if they were going somewhere special, and change into yoga clothes for class.
Everywhere I have traveled in Spain has been warm and dry. Stores and events seem to open/start a little later in the day, and go a little later into the night than in most places I’ve visited. Most people are familiar with the Spanish siesta, which means that numerous stores are closed for a good 2-3 hours in the late afternoon. When one considers how the hottest part of the day is in the late afternoon, it makes complete sense.
My impression is that the Spanish people are as warm and relaxed as their weather. This is a country where not only do I stay with the hosting yoga studio’s family, but we also eat most of our meals together, too. Even though we frequently give an extra long amount of time for the lunch break (after all, siesta), it still always feels rushed because meals are also socializing time, too.
Teaching in Spain
Some of the best students in the world! These students love asking questions, and are always really engaged in the course material. All the ones I have met are truly passionate about all aspects of a yoga practice, including yoga philosophy and meditation. Which, warms my heart in an entirely different way than the sun does.
Everywhere I have gone in Japan has been very humid. This makes for a lush, green countryside. But even in the biggest metropolis, I seem to see greenery and plants everywhere. I have the impression that every Japanese person has a green thumb, and embraces Nature in their daily lives. There is even a Japanese word or concept, shinrin-yoku, which means “forest-bathing,” and is the description of a contemplative walk in nature.
A contemplative walk in nature is exactly what I think of when I think of the Japanese demeanor. Quiet, introspective, but also observing one’s surroundings. Japan has evolved a culture of paying attention to the needs of others, sometimes over the needs of one’s own. Everyone truly cares if your needs are being met, most of the time before you realize you even had an unmet need.
Teaching in Japan
Some of the best students in the world! Japanese students are very good at listening. And whatever you ask of them, they work hard to precisely follow instructions. I have to give myself extra reminders to give breaks during lectures. Because, the students will never show signs of fatigue, and they will never interrupt to let me know its lunchtime.
How to Bring Your Vacation Back Home…
Can you see why I can’t choose one favorite place? Yoga students everywhere are amazing people!
The beautiful part of being a short-term visitor, is that one can easily focus on just the delights of the place one has traveled to. It’s not quite as easy to see only the delights of our home town/country, where we live. The longer we stay in one place, inevitably we will experience some things we don’t enjoy.
This is where a daily meditation practice can be a useful tool to help us feel the excitement and wonder of a tourist while in our own home. By settling the mind, and withdrawing from its natural tendency to delineate our experiences into good/bad, we take a mental break from whatever stresses of the moment dominate our mind-scape. When you meditate, you realize that the inner journey is just as rewarding as the most exotic of trips. And soon, your favorite place to travel, will be to your yoga mat.