Okay, I admit: I’ve never been to India.
Why is it that these five words used to make me feel almost ashamed, as though it’s not possible to be interested in yoga — and definitely not be a yoga teacher — if you’ve never visited the vast continent that is India? I practice yoga every day. I study my books, I go to classes, I work hard at improving my teaching. I am diligent, committed, and yet for a while, I felt like I was cheating in some way because I haven’t been to India.
I’ve done my fair share of travelling many years ago, but somehow never quite made it to the home of yoga. “So what,” you might ask, and indeed who cares? Who does care? As yoga instructors line up their teachers on their spiritual CV, does our Western ambition start to persuade us that in order to be good yoga teachers, we must invest large sums of money and time on expensive retreats or teacher trainings?
It’s not that going to study or practice in these beautiful locations is a bad thing, just that we shouldn’t let ourselves feel bad if we’re not able to do these things. Yoga is yoga, no matter where it is practiced. Can we let ourselves believe this?
Luxury, Not a Right
The ability to pick up and leave your work, family, friends, and home whenever you choose is not a luxury that is available to everyone. When I travelled in my early 20s I had a (mostly) great time, and I feel very glad that I took those opportunities when I had them. Now, in my early 30s, I feel the need to connect and be still more strongly. This is what my yoga practice is bringing me — the opportunity find my roots, feel connected to this earth, and find a security and safety that I didn’t believe in when I was travelling.
The journey of yoga is a deeply personal one, and whilst for some, the practice may uncover a deep desire to travel, for others, the desire to root, connect and be grounded will emerge. The point is to listen to what your heart is telling you and respect the wisdom that lies within.
Through yoga we connect more deeply to ourselves, and through those connections, we are able to connect more deeply with the world around us. Ever watched a beautiful sunset and felt deeply at peace, or trudge through the autumn leaves with a great sense of satisfaction? These connections to the environment around us can help us feel deeply satisfied with our life right where it is. Sometimes the urge to go ‘searching’ for something better fades away as we realise that the feeling of happiness and contentment is right here within us.
Yoga is a journey within. You don’t need to spend thousands of pounds travelling around the world. If you have the time, the money and the inclination, that’s wonderful — but if yoga is to be truly accessible to all, we must not fall into a trap of thinking that people who have been to India are somehow more ‘spiritual’, or simply ‘better’ than those who haven’t.
Home Is Where Your Mat Is
So why is there this assumption that everyone interested in yoga has either been or plans to visit India? Whilst disparaging yoga as middle class, on the one hand, it’s not so uncommon to hear those same voices plan their very expensive trips to Kerala/Bali/Thailand.
It’s not that travelling is bad — hell no! — more than we mustn’t get fooled into thinking we have to go to that expensive yoga teacher training overseas, or spend 6 months in India, to be truly ‘yogic’… whatever that means.
As for me, well, of course I’d like to go to India. I’d also like a bigger house, more dogs, and open hips – maybe I need to refresh myself on raga! Right now, my work now is here, in my community, and in my home. Who knows, in a few years maybe I’ll get the urge to take off, have a big adventure. Or maybe I’ll be staying at home, trying to find a way to get more cocker spaniels in my life.
Your Yoga, Your Way
Ultimately, so long as I am practicing my yoga, it doesn’t really matter what I’m doing on the outside. Yoga is as much about how you spend your time off the mat as it is on the mat. Working hard at your job, taking care of your health and that of your family and friends, and participating in society are all practices of yoga.
So go ahead and enjoy that overseas retreat, that teacher training intensive in India, or simply your usual class at home. Just don’t be fooled into thinking one is better than the other.