As a young woman of 21 I went on a blind date with Japan. Unworldly and naive, I moved to Japan having never eaten sushi or seen a Kurozawa film, knowing little of Hiroshima or much of anything about Japan’s history or culture. My image of Japan was 1980s Tokyo — glass towers, all-night discos and Blade Runner. Japan was wealthy, charismatic, well-dressed — the perfect fling. Imagine my shock when I fell…and I fell hard. I was not prepared for this country of innate beauty and profound depth. Instead of a flirtation, I found a heart connection. A soul mate. And as happens sometimes with first loves, circumstances forced me to leave the relationship, forever changed, holding it in my heart still.
“Why Japan?” is, understandably, a question folks ask when they hear about my yoga retreat next spring. The answer is rooted in my own poignant and powerful experience of the country. I want to share Japan’s grand, powerful characteristics that so moved me —like the Zen Buddhist inquiry into consciousness, the Shinto reverence for nature, the Japanese arts’ pursuit of spiritual states through mindful craft — so yoga-like in their cultivation of inner life. And I want to share the small, everyday awakenings I adored, like the ritual found everywhere in daily life, the courtesy shown to fellow human beings, the wry humor that comes across in surprising ways.
I have traveled extensively since my time in Japan and have found that travel —and the new inspiration it brings — can be life-changing. Travel can be a form of yoga, a means of discovery — of yourself, of how to live life more deeply, consciously, beautifully. The yoga of travel, however, is different than a vacation. Lots of us have had trips that are super fun and entertaining, only to return home more exhausted than we left and without much lasting affect. Another lavish meal, another shopping spree, another set of photos posted to Facebook reminding everyone you were somewhere they weren’t.
The yoga of travel is different. It is travel with a clear intent to awaken — and sometimes challenge — our inner life. Yoga travel challenges us to truly open to new terrains, cultures, people, and return home with more expansive perspectives, passions, and capacities. We travel not so much to see sights, but for what those new vistas awaken within our own inner landscape. As neuroscientist Johan Lehrer writes, “When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has changed, and that changes everything.”
Combine the yoga of travel with yoga asana, chanting, meditation and clear intention and you are in store for a very transformative experience, indeed.
Maybe in the Land of the Rising Sun. Maybe with me. Maybe next spring.