Drop-In Yoga Classes in India: Part 2

In last week's post I shared about my experience with finding drop-in classes in India, as well as what I've found in terms of asana styles. In this week's post I'll share some of the similarities and differences I have found with yoga asana classes, as compared to classes in my home of New York City; I'll also share what I've encountered in terms of language and the backgrounds of both the students and teachers I have encountered. A few things I expected to find in asana classes were less music, more chanting and pranayama, and more sanskrit. Read on to learn if my expectations proved true.

Music, Chanting, Pranayama

As I expected, music is definitely not a priority for yoga classes in India; of the 12 drop-in classes I have attended, music was only utilized in two of them. This has been very different from what I was used to in my vinyasa classes in New York, where the playlist for a class would come together with the sequence to make the whole experience, and it usually involved some heavy beats. Surprisingly, though, this has not been something I have noticed during class. It's not until after class, when reflecting on my experience, that I have thought about the absence of music. 

Agonda, Goa, India
The lovely shala at Monsoon Guesthouse

I also expected to find a lot more chanting, which has not really been the case. Many classes have opened and closed with one to three OM's, similar to what I found in many classes in New York, but only a couple of the classes have included the chanting of longer mantras. This could be largely due to the fact that the classes I have attended have been mostly attended by western students, for whom chanting is presumably unfamiliar, for the most part. There are chanting and medication classes offered in various places, but as my backpacker budget has not allowed me to attend every single class, and as yoga asana is where my passion lies, that is where I have placed my focus.

An element that I have found a lot more of in the asana classes here in India is pranayama. Kapalabati (skull shining breath) and alternate nostril breathing have been used in many of the classes I have attended. I find it interesting to note that ujjayi breath, the breath that I found most commonly taught and practiced in classes in New York (and in the west in general), has not been emphasized very much here in India, though attention to inhaling and exhaling through the nose is emphasized. The increased focus on breath control has been nice, and has encouraged me to add it more to my home practice.

Language and Background of Students & Instructors

Palolem, Goa, India
Bulletin board at Parinama Yoga - notice everything is in English!

I expected to find a lot more Sanskrit used in yoga classes here in India, which I have not found to be the case. All of the classes I have attended have been taught in English, which actually makes a lot of sense when you consider that English is one of the national languages of India (more on the languages of India in this post), and the fact that classes are largely attended by westerners. This has been one of the most fascinating things I have found - the only two classes I attended where I was either the only westerner or one of two, were in Mysore and Mumbai. Every other class has been made up entirely of western students. This could be because when it comes down to it, I am a tourist in this country, visiting places that other tourists visit, and a lot of us tourists are interested in yoga. 

Going in to all of these classes, I have not known who the instructor would be, and something that I have also found interesting is that every Indian teacher has been male, with the exception of one (the instructor for the Mysore-style class was an Indian female), and every western teacher has been female (German, Danish, Polish). Historically, in India, yoga was a male-dominated practice, which could be why the majority of the Indian instructors I encountered were male. In the west the opposite is true; most yoga teachers are female (although this is changing), which again explains why all of the western teachers I encountered were female.

From Drop-In Classes to Immersive Training

Overall, my experience with drop-in yoga asana classes in India has been fascinating. Each class was interesting in it's own way and allowed me to learn something new, either about myself or the practice. Now that I am in training, I am learning and growing even more! 

It may be a few weeks before I am able to post again, so I invite you to follow my journey on Instagram and Twitter (IG & Twitter handles: _roamingyogi). Wishing you a happy, healthy month of February - and for those of you in cold climates, stay warm!

Drop-In Yoga Classes in India: Part 1

Today I begin my 300-hour Yoga Teacher Training at Rishikesh Yog Peeth, located in the state of Uttarakhand in northern India. For the next six weeks I will be immersed in all things yoga, with very little time for much else. As such, I prepared this post and one to follow that will post next week, and after that it may be a number of weeks before I am able to post again. In the interim, please join me on Instagram and Twitter, where I will be documenting my YTT journey (IG & Twitter handle: _roamingyogi). 

My training is my last stop in India, bringing to a close my time in this fascinating country, so today I bring you the first part of my recap on drop-in yoga classes in India.

Expectations

I have attended a drop-in yoga class in almost every place we have visited in India - a total of 12 classes, with 11 different instructors. There are a few things I expected to find: less music, less focus on the physical, more sanskrit, more pranayama (breath work), and more chanting. Some of these things have proven true, while others have not. I have decided to break up my experiences into two posts, as it was becoming quite lengthy.  In this post, I'll share my experiences with finding classes, and the asana styles I have encountered.

From what I have experienced, drop-in classes range in time from one to two hours, and in price from 200 to 500 INR (about $3 - $7.50 USD), which is cheaper than most classes in the states.

Finding Classes

Many schools don't offer drop-in classes; they offer courses ranging in time from one week to three months. These courses require registration in advance and obviously, a time commitment, which unfortunately, I could not make, so my focus has been exclusively on drop-in classes.

In bigger cities (Mysore, Mumbai), finding classes on a drop-in basis is a bit easier. If you find yourself in one of these bigger Indian cities, my recommendation would be to do a Google search for yoga in the area that you're staying in. You may find some websites with schedule and pricing information, but for the most part you'll just find names of schools and their locations on the map, so I suggest taking an afternoon to stop by the schools and inquire about schedules and pricing.

South Goa, India
Some of the flyers and chalkboards of South Goa

Finding classes to drop in to in smaller (more touristy) places (Hampi, Goa) is even easier. Many of the guesthouses have shalas that offer drop-in classes, and you'll find flyers for them everywhere; or they'll have a chalkboard outside the guesthouse with their yoga schedule. In these places I would inquire with my guesthouse if they offered classes, or I would take an afternoon to walk around and take photos of flyers - some will have all of the information you need, while others will have a website, email, or phone number listed that you can reach out to.

 

Asana Styles

The most popular asana styles I've encountered are Ashtanga and Hatha; of the 12 classes I have attended, only two of them were vinyasa flow, and only one was the fast-paced vinyasa I'm accustomed to. I have relied heavily on my own practice for that type of movement. The Hatha classes have all been fairly similat: there is a good amount pranayama at the beginning and end of class, asana is begun with sun salutations, and postures are held for a number of breaths, rather than flowed through. Some classes have included chanting and mudras at the beginning and end of class, while others did not.

The Ashtanga classes, however, have all been a bit different, and I still don't feel I have a good grasp of what, exactly, Ashtanga is. Some classes included sun salutations at the beginning, while others included them at the end; some classes opened with chants, while others did not utilize chants at all. The holding of postures and transitioning from one to the other has been consistent, however; there has been no flow between postures and each pose has been held for a number of breaths, sometimes repeating a posture twice on each side.

The postures of the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series

I think part of the problem I'm facing is that I have this idea of what Ashtanga should look like - I'm familiar with the Primary Series, so I have expected each Ashtanga class to follow that series exactly, which has not been the case. I have also expected each Ashtanga class to be very physically vigorous, which also has not been the case. I'm realizing that Ashtanga is simply a different experience for those who drop in to classes, and those who are dedicated Ashtanga practitioners.

While I was in Mysore I had the opportunity to attend a Mysore-style class, which was very interesting. Mysore style is self-practice, where the instructor is there to guide you through whatever you are working on. It was my first time in such a class, and it was wonderful to be able to work on postures one-on-one with an instructor and ask questions about postures while I was working on them. It is a tough practice, and it gave me a glimpse into the physically rigorous side of. My interest in Ashtanga has definitely been peaked; when this whirlwind trip begins to wind down I hope to join an Ashtanga school and really learn what it's all about. If there are any Ashtangis out there with insights or advice, please do share!

Stay tuned next week to read about some of the similarities and differences I've found in yoga classes in India, as compared to home, and my experiences with language and the backgrounds of the students and teachers I've shared classes with.

Encountering Language Barriers on the Road

I recently received a request for a post about how I'm handling any language barriers while traveling, which is actually something I haven't had too much trouble with. I have the benefit of speaking a second language - Spanish - which is helpful in parts of the world, though not helpful in Asia. Once we get to South America it'll come in really handy! 

Getting Started in Europe

We started our trip in Europe, in English-speaking countries - Ireland, Scotland, London - no problems there, though the accents can take a minute or so to adjust to. Then we moved on to Barcelona, where my Spanish was quite useful, though Catalan is a whole different beast and I found myself at a loss when faced with it. Thankfully everyone in Barcelona speaks Spanish, so I had no trouble.

From Barcelona we made our way to Italy - Venice, Florence, Rome - where my Spanish helped a tiny bit, as I could pick up bits and pieces and follow the gist of some conversations, but this was the first place we really encountered a language barrier. Particularly as we tried eat at non-touristy, local places, we found that in many of those places, English is not necessarily spoken and the menus are entirely in Italian, as you would expect. We found ourselves just taking a chance on menu items, with mixed results; sometimes it was a fantastic surprise, other times I got full prawns with the eyes still in staring up at me - not so fantastic. We found Google Translate to be a helpful app in these instances, as we could quickly and easily type in the words we needed translations for, or use the camera function, which is pretty cool.

Language and Yoga

Language barriers are actually something I have been very interested in encountering, specifically with regards to yoga classes; I've been very curious to see if Sanskrit is used more widely in other countries. I'm finding that it's not. I've heard the odd Sanskrit names for postures here and there, but no consistent use. In Barcelona I attended a class at a studio called Yoga One (you can check out that review here), where the class was taught in Spanish; this was not a problem for me, but it was my first time taking a class in Spanish, so it did take a few moments to adjust to. Italy was the first place I expected to take a class in a language that I did not speak, but the class I attended at It's Yoga Firenze was actually taught in English (you can check out that review here)! Apparently most of It's Yoga Firenze's classes are taught in Italian; I just happened to go to an English one. I would have to wait for my foreign language yoga experience.

From Europe to Asia

Ella, Sri Lanka
Hand gestures and pointing can be great ways to communicate

From Italy we moved on to Sri Lanka, where the local languages are Sinhala in the south, and Tamil in the north. I have to admit, I was quite nervous about encountering language barriers upon arrival, but what we found was that English is very much used in Sri Lanka, and most signs are in English as well as the local language. We did encounter occasional miscommunication with tuk tuk drivers, and the average local either did not speak or had very limited English. In the more touristy areas, however, and specifically in the hospitality industry, English is widely spoken; we had no problems ordering food and getting from place to place on local buses. It actually makes quite a bit of sense for English to be so widely used in Sri Lanka, as it is a former British colony. I attended one yoga class in Sri Lanka, and that too, was taught in English; this was in the touristy town of Mirissa, so that came as no surprise (you can read about my Sri Lanka yoga experience here). 

From Sri Lanka we made our way to the Maldives for a few days; we did this backpacker style, no pricey resorts for us (James wrote a great post about how we accomplished this on a backpacker budget - you can check it out here!). We were on the tiny island of Rasdhoo (you could walk the whole thing in 8 minutes), where there are just a few businesses, and most people speak English. There were a couple of instances where we had trouble communicating with some of the guys who worked at our guesthouse, but someone with better English was always a phone call away. From the Maldives we flew to India, where we've been for over a month now.

The Many Languages of India

India has a large number of local languages, depending on where in the country you find yourself, as each state is at liberty to declare their own official language. Our first couple of stops were down south in the state of Kerala, where Malaylam is the local language spoken. From there we headed north to the state of Karnataka, to Mysore, Bangalore, and Hampi, where Kannada is the official language of the state. We now find ourselves in Goa, where Konani is the official language and is spoken by most of the population. What we've found, yet again, is that in all of these places most people also speak English! Again, this makes a lot of sense because India is also a former British colony. In addition, the large number and variety of local languages has created a need for a common language nationwide; India's two common languages are Hindi and English, which are spoken across the country. English is taught in schools here in India, and it's the language used for all parliamentary and legal documentation; most people in India speak great English.

Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Written language and technology can be common ground.

Getting Past Language Barriers

When we have encountered any trouble communicating, we have employed body language to help us through. Remember that spoken language makes up just a small part o communication. Hand gestures, facial expressions and body movements can help to convey a lot of meaning when words fall short. Another tip for interacting with people with limited English is to keep your language simple - avoid contractions, slang, big words, and wordy sentences. The fewer words you use, and the simpler those words are, the better you'll be understood. Writing things down can also be helpful; many people have experience with written English but not spoken English, so putting it in a context they are familiar with can help.  And smile! Smiles are universal and can go a long way :)

With regards to yoga classes in India, I admit that I expected to find more Sanskrit used here, but that hasn't been the case. I have attended a number of yoga classes here, taught by both Indians and westerners, in varying styles, and every single one has been taught in English (a post about my yoga experiences in India will be coming your way mid-January!). I guess my foreign language yoga experience will have to wait.

What Language Barriers?

So there you have it - four months of travel across seven countries and little to no language barriers to be found. If you're thinking about travel and you're worried about language being an issue, don't be, and don't let that stop you. The truth is, most of the world speaks English to some degree. We'll see if this holds true when we make it to Southeast Asia - stay tuned!

How to Night Travel in India and Actually Get Some Sleep

We've been on the road for almost four months now, and in that time, we have been on quite a number of different modes of transportation - planes, trains, buses, rickshaws, boat; you name it. In the last two weeks we have experienced quite a bit of night travel in India, as we have been bouncing from city to city. Here is what we have experienced thus far.

Semi-Sleeper Bus
Our first night travel experience was from Kochi to Mysore, via a 12-hour overnight bus. All the sleeper buses were booked out, so our only option was to take a semi-sleeper bus. We took an A/C Semi-Sleeper, which is basically a coach bus with seats that recline more than your typical coach. Unfortunately I didn't snap any photos, but it really is just a coach bus; if you've seen one before, you know what we were working with. When we saw how much the seats reclined, it didn't seem too bad...until the people in front of us reclined their seats back, leaving us sandwiched in our seats with very little wiggle room. This was not as much of an issue for me, as I'm only five feet tall and my legs don't require very much space. For James, however, it felt quite cramped. As the A/C does get a bit cold, blankets were handed out to everyone - we thought the blankets to be of questionable cleanliness, so we were glad we came prepared with hoodies, a shawl, and sleep socks.

There is no bathroom on the bus, so my recommendation is not to drink any liquids for about three hours before departure time. The bus does make stops for snacks/bathrooms, but better to be safe than sorry. Plus, if you want to get some sleep, it's best to avoid getting up during these stops. As with any long trip, we were prepared with eye masks and earplugs, which we found to be absolute musts on this bus, as there were small children on board. Again, eye masks and ear plugs will make it possible to actually get some shut eye.

Double berths on a Paulo Travels sleeper bus.

Sleeper Bus
Our 8-hour ride from Hampi to Goa was via a Paulo Travels A/C sleeper bus (we thought we had booked the cheaper non-A/C sleeper, but we ended up with A/C - no complaints here!). Again, this is basically a coach bus, but these have bunk beds in them instead of seats, so you can lie down to sleep for the night. Paulo Travels is not the only way to go; there are a number of companies that run these buses, and the set-up may vary by company. This particular bus only had double sleeper berths (two people on one bed).  Some buses have single sleeper berths (one person per bed), or a combination of single, double, and seats. When we booked numbers 17 and 18 for our trip to Goa, we expected to each have our own berth, but 17 and 18 turned out to be one berth, so we were sharing. This is particularly important to know if you are a solo traveler because when you book just one spot on a bus with double sleeper berths, that means you will likely be sharing your bed with a stranger. If you are traveling with a companion, be sure to book two spaces next to each other, not one on top and one on bottom, because again, you'll likely end up with strangers next to you. 

Now when I say that these spaces are doubles, I literally just mean that they are for two people; they are not truly doubles in size, so prepare to get cozy. The sharing is not an issue in single sleeper berths, as those are just for one person, but again, space is quite tight. Whether you're in a single or double berth, there curtains on either side so you can block out light, but as always, we were prepared with eye masks. As with the semi-sleepers, there are no bathrooms on the sleeper buses either, so again, no liquids for a few hours before departure, although stops are made along the way, in case of emergencies.

We found actually sleeping in a double sleeper berth to be extremely difficult and uncomfortable. Because you move around with every bump and turn of the bus, it's impossible to lie on your side, as you are constantly being rattled about. James had particular trouble because he was on the aisle side, and every time the bus stopped and people got on or off, he had arms and elbows jamming into him as people squeezed by the narrow walkway. The rattling is somewhat alleviated in the single sleeper berths, as the space is so small that you don't really have the room to rattle about, but you still have the arms and elbows issue. My recommendation is to sleep as close to the window as possible, and if you can sleep on your back, that's probably your best bet.

Aboard a train in sleeper class on a top berth

Sleeper Train
Our other experience with night travel in India was our overnight train from Bangalore to Hampi. There are a few options in terms of comfort for an overnight train in India. There are the A/C cars, classes 1, 2, and 3, where A/C 3 has the least privacy, while A/C 1 has the most. These cars are air conditioned and offer varying levels of amenities, such as bedding and meals, depending on the class you choose. The next option below A/C is Sleeper Class, which is how we rode. Sleeper Class is not segregated from the rest of the train, and as most cars are labeled Sleeper, it is how most Indians travel; it's also not air conditioned, but there are fans and with the windows open the breeze from the moving train is enough to keep cool. In Sleeper Class, seats and berths are assigned, so it's recommended to book ahead to ensure you have a berth to sleep in. It is not uncommon for people to sit wherever, so if someone is in your seat, you have to be willing to ask them to move. There are three levels of berths in each compartment, one on the bottom, one in the middle, and one on top. The top has the most room - a short person like me can sit up in it, but someone taller like James can't really. Length-wise they're all the same size and allow you to lie down to sleep.

There are bathrooms on the trains in India. I cannot attest to the conditions of the bathrooms in the A/C classes, but I can tell you that the ones in Sleeper Class are vile. There's just no getting around that; it is what it is. There are both western style (toilet) and Indian style (hole in the ground) bathrooms - both are going to be disgusting. The sooner you come to terms with this, the easier it will be. I recommend using the bathrooms on trains only when absolutely necessary. You also don't want to interrupt your sleep with trips to the bathroom. 

As always, we slept with our eye masks and ear plugs, and for this ride, we also utilized our sleep sacks, as the berths are sat on all the time and cleanliness is questionable. I've read many accounts of people locking up their baggage with chain and lock underneath the bottom berth for safety, but we opted to sleep with our bags by our heads - another plus to traveling with a backpack that's not too big! The sleeper train has been the most comfortable night travel experience thus far - no bumpy roads on the train!

Lessons Learned
The biggest things I've learned about night travel are to always be prepared with eye masks and ear plugs, as you never know what your surroundings will be like  (loud passengers, crying children, food vendors, etc.). Also be prepared with items to keep you warm; again, you never know what the temperatures on these vehicles will be. Lastly, take care of going to the bathroom before departure, which includes no liquids for at least three hours. I say this for two reasons: 1. you don't want to have an emergency on a vehicle with no bathroom, and 2. you don't want to disrupt your sleep - you want to get as many hours as you can so you're alert when you arrive at your destination.

We will have many more night travel experiences moving forward, in India and in other countries; some may be more comfortable that what we've experienced thus far, but most will likely be less comfortable. Luckily India is teaching me quite a bit about dealing with discomfort, so hopefully I'll be ready. Stay tuned!

Homesick in Paradise: The Downsides of Travel

With Christmas coming up in just a few days, I'm feeling a bit homesick - just one of the downsides of travel. I felt homesick on Thanksgiving as well and it was a hard day for me. This is the first Christmas I'm spending away from my family, away from New York, and I expect it will be a tough day as well. We're currently in Goa, where there is a Christian population so there should be some festivities, and James and I will be sure to celebrate the day; but it's very bittersweet, being on this journey. 

The Good
Goa is paradise. We've been here for a week and a half, and will be here through New Years; we're moving around within Goa in that time, but no long distance moves. Last week we were at a guesthouse where the restaurant looked out on a very secluded beach - it was wonderful. This week we're on a different beach at a different guesthouse, where the restaurant also looks out on a secluded beach - also wonderful. Life is nice here. To give you an example, last Wednesday my day consisted of walking a minute and a half to the lovely shala at our guesthouse for my yoga practice, writing after breakfast at the breezy guesthouse restauarant, and laying on the beach for the afternoon - certainly an upgrade from whatever I was doing on a Wednesday afternoon at this time last year. 

Colomb Beach, Goa, India
Our view for breakfast just a few days ago

It dawned on me that I'm not just on vacation - I'm not heading back to my desk job and subway commute in a week - this is my life! As I had this realization, and as I write about it now, I'm pausing to appreciate how good life is at that moment. This is one of the good parts. We're in one place for more than a few days (a few weeks!), where we have real mattresses, hot showers, and decent wifi. We can do laundry without worrying if it'll dry before we have to pack again, we can get work done - we can relax (yes, getting work done allows us to relax). And that's the thing I'm learning about travel - it's not a vacation - making the time to relax and take it easy is just as difficult as it was when I was living in New York, it's just different now. 

The Bad and The Ugly
The truth is, this life of travel is not always great. It's cramped, uncomfortable overnight buses and trains. It's peeing into a hole in the ground that's covered in shit and maxi pads (graphic I know, but this shit is real - literally). It's being hungry some days because budget only allows for two meals per day that week. It's staying in some gross, cheap rooms with dirty bathrooms and cold showers because again, budget. It's long days of hot, uncomfortable travel lugging around my 20lb backpack to get from one place to another. It's not all roses. Sometimes it's actually shit. 

I only post photos of the good stuff - of the beautiful landscapes, the sunrises and sunsets, and of course, my yoga practice - but there's a lot that I don't post. Because let's be real, no one wants to see that shit covered hole in the ground. You're welcome. 

New York City
At the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree on Christmas day, 2013

I may be in paradise right now, but even in paradise I'm still feeling one of the downsides of travel - being away from my family for the holidays. In a few days it will be Christmas and I won't be able to hug my mom and my brother. This is the first Christmas without my grandmother, who passed six months ago, so it's my mom's first Christmas without her mom and without her daughter. The guilt is palpable; I would give anything to give her a squeeze over these next few days. It sucks.

Now don't go feeling too bad for me; we do have friends coming out for New Years and I am having a blast - it's 88 degrees and sunny here! But remembering the shitty parts, the sad parts, that makes the good parts all the more meaningful; and that applies whether you're on the road or at home. So I invite you to take a moment and appreciate something that's good in your life right now, and to remember something that maybe wasn't or isn't so good - doesn't that make the good stuff so much juicier? If you can, I also invite you to hold your loved ones close this holiday season - for me, for those of us who can't.

Wishing you all very happy holidays and a stupendous new year! Stay tuned for more adventures from the road, including my 300hr Yoga Teacher Training, in 2016!

Backpacking Kochi

Kerala Continued: Kochi
Our last stop in Kerala was Kochi. We took a bus from Alleppey, which took about two hours, and then an auto rickshaw (apparently they don't call them tuk tuks here) to Kochi Fort, where we set about searching for accommodation on foot. We've started to realize that booking ahead locks you in to a higher price than you would pay by going door-to-door and negotiating, so we decided to wing it in Kochi. Backpacking Kochi with a backpack made this easier to do, and we'll be doing it a lot more as we continue to travel. We asked around at a few places that were out of our budget range and finally found a spot for 500 rupees (about $7.50) per night. It was really basic - no towels, no soap, and questionable linens; but we're prepared for such things - travel towelsDr. Bronner's soap (which is also great for laundry!), and sleep sacks. Cleanliness left a bit to be desired, but all the more reason to spend time out of the room! 

Kochi Fort
One of the highlights in Kochi Fort is walking along the waterfront, where you can see fishermen using huge Chinese fishing nets. It's really quite a sight. There are some outdoor restaurants and vendors along the waterfront, making it a nice place to stroll in the afternoon.

The Chinese Fishing Nets
Kochi Fort, Kerala, India

Another highlight was walking through Mattancherry and Jew Town (literally what it's called). The walk to Mattancherry allowed us to see local life in action; fast-paced, small shops and crazy traffic. Jew Town is quieter, more quaint, and set up for tourists, with many shops selling trinkets and loose clothing geared towards westerners (I picked up a pair of pants myself). Kochi Fort also has a few yoga options. I dropped in to two classes at Santhi Yoga, which was fantastic! More to come on my India yoga experiences in a later post.

Wonder La Amusement Park
On one of our days in Kochi we decided to venture out to Wonder La Amusement Park. We took a local bus an hour out of town, and then a 10-minute rickshaw to the park. We purchased our tickets (foregoing the more expensive fast track tickets) and made our way in. It was the most interesting amusement park experience of my life. Wonder La is half water park, and yet everyone was fully clothed. Not a swimsuit in sight. The large majority of women and girls were in salwar kameez, a traditional outfit consisting of pants and a long shirt, and not a single male was to be seen without a shirt. Everyone was getting on the water rides fully clothed, walking around the park in their dripping wet clothing. Now, I did not expect to see swimsuits at an Indian water park, as I know the culture is too conservative for that, but I did expect women to be wearing more t-shirts and capri pants or leggings, and I thought most of the guys would just be in shorts.

James and I were the only westerners at this amusement park; as such, we found ourselves becoming the source of amusement for many of the teenagers who were in the lines with us! We were greeted hello by many groups of kids, and some of them ventured to ask us questions. They were particularly interested in where we're from and what our professions are, and they were downright fascinated by the nature of our relationship - we encountered lots of giggling. All in all it was a very entertaining day.

Kathakali
On our last night in Kochi we attended a Kathakali performance at the Kerala Kathakali Center. Kathakali is a classical Indian dance-drama that is known for it's elaborate makeup and costumes, as well as very expressive hand and face gestures; performers train for a minimum of six years, perfecting their craft. The stories performed are typically religious in nature, and originally Kathakali performances were meant to last an entire night! Nowadays just a portion of the story is told so that a performance lasts about an hour and a half. We arrived early to watch the makeup application, which was remarkable. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to take off all of that makeup at the end of the night! The drummers and singer who accompanied the actors were great, making for an overall very enjoyable experience. We did note that the audience was mostly made up of westerners, begging the question whether Kathakali is something that locals really know about and enjoy, or if it's just done for tourists now.

A scene from the Kathakali performance
Kochi Fort, Kerala, India

Goodbye Kerala
The people of Kerala are quite friendly, and the food is pretty good as well; we particularly enjoyed parotta, which is similar to a pancake but thinner - it goes great with curries and sauces. From Kochi we made our way to Mysore via a 12-hour bus (yep, you read that right...12 hours on a bus - more on that to come next week), where I attended a number of Ashtanga yoga classes. After a few days in Mysore we took a train to Bangalore, and then an overnight train to Hampi before making our way to Goa, where we find ourselves now. We'll be here for the next few weeks, enjoying the beach and celebrating the holidays. Stay tuned for more adventures!

Backpacking Kerala Backwaters

We've been in India for over a week now, most of which has been fantastic. We flew from the Maldives into Thiruvananthapuram in the state of Kerala, India, which I've got to say, is a shithole. It's filty, chaotic, smelly, and overwhelmingly unpleasant. We had two nights there before moving on, and we spent most of it in our hotel, The Royal Heritage, which was actually quite nice and had amazing and cheap room service. I don't think we ate a single meal outside of the hotel – they were delicious meals though! We certainly did not expect to be ordering in room service while backpacking Kerala, but it really was so cheap, and quite good. After a day and a half we got the hell out of there and made our way to Alleppey via train – our first Indian train ride! The train wasn't bad; not as nice as Sri Lankan first class, but comfortable enough. After three hours we arrived and got a tuk tuk to our guesthouse, Paradise Inn, which we had booked ahead.

Alleppey

Alleppey is another city in Kerala, and it's known for the houseboat cruises on the Kerala backwaters. Alleppey itself is a nice enough town, though there is not much to do. Our guesthouse did offer yoga classes, which we did one of the mornings, but it was nice to have some downtime. We were really in Alleppey for the backwaters and the houseboats. These are fantastic; they are huge boats that are equipped with a kitchen, dining area, bedroom(s), bathroom(s), and usually a viewing deck. The boats are staffed with a cook and a driver who takes you around the Kerala backwaters, which are beautiful. During check-in, our guesthouse owner, Antony, told us all about his eco-friendly houseboat – one that does not have a motor and remains docked so as not to pollute the environment. The tour of the backwaters happens via a mid-sized canoe oared by a guide in the morning, and kayaking in the late afternoon; meals and air conditioned accommodation are provided on the houseboat.

The houseboats of Alleppey
Alleppey, Kerala, India

We loved the idea, but still wanted to check out the other houseboats, so after lunch we headed over to the lake to make the rounds. It was so much fun walking from boat to boat, checking them out, asking for prices, and collecting business cards. If you want to do a houseboat cruise in Kerala, this is the way to do it – booking in advance will always cost you way more than it should and you can always haggle in person; plus you want to see the actual boats, as some can be quite rundown and grimy. We saw some smaller, one-bedroom boats, and some massive thee-bedroom boats, but we didn't find one that stood out or that was significantly cheaper than what Antony was offering, so we decided to go the eco-friendly route. 

An Alternative Alleppey Houseboat Experience

The canoe that would bring us around the backwaters
Alleppey, Kerala, India

On the day of our houseboat check-in, Antony provided a tuk tuk to take us to where we would meet our canoe and guide, Rajeev. We threw our bags in the back seat and set off (another plus to backpacking!). Rajeev was wonderful! He sang, told us about the backwaters, tried to teach us some of his language, and made a couple of nice stops, which we would not have gotten with a big houseboat. The first stop was to take a walk to see these tiny island homes; once again we were so happy to be backpacking Kerala because we were able to strap them on and take them with us, rather than leaving our belongings in the canoe. The second stop was for a sweet snack! We forgot to ask him what they were, but it had a thick rice pudding-like consistency, and was wrapped in a banana leaf. I was a little apprehensive at the sight of it, but it was quite tasty! Another upside to touring the backwaters in a canoe instead of houseboat is that you get to see some of the smaller canals that the houseboats don't fit through. These can really be quite magical and allow you a glimpse into the lives of the locals who live along the backwaters. We saw many ladies doing laundry and children swimming, and most people waved and said hello to us as we made our way through; everyone was so friendly, it was delightful!

Our delicious lunch aboard the houseboat!
Alleppey, Kerala, India

Around 2pm, Rajeev brought us to the houseboat for lunch. We settled our bags in the bedroom and the boat cook (whose name I can't remember, but he was super sweet!) brought us some refreshing lassies before serving lunch (Lassi is a popular drink yogurt-based drink, almost like a milkshake). Lunch was great! It consisted of fried fish, rice, vegetable curry, green beans and a cabbage salad – it was delicious.

Our awesome guide, Rajeev!
Alleppey, Kerala, India

After lunch we relaxed on the boat for a while, enjoying the peaceful lake view, and around 4:30pm we set out to kayak with Rajeev. We cruised down some even smaller canals, watched some kids play in the water, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the kayaks. Afterwards, Rajeev invited us to his home down the street, where we met his wife and daughter, shared a cup of tea, and watched his wife make rope out of coconut fibers. It was a so touching to be invited in and welcomed in this way, and another plus to going with a boat that remains docked in the same spot all the time and isn't surrounded by other houseboats - there's an actual community around it. We had another delicious meal on the houseboat, lounged a bit and were gently rocked to sleep.

Home for the night; an eco-friendly houseboat!
Alleppey, Kerala, India

The next morning we were woken around 5am by very loud music coming from a temple across the lake – not an ideal way or time to be woken, but so it goes. I got myself out of bed and headed up to the boat's small roof deck for a sunrise yoga practice. Breakfast was served around 7:30am and Rajeev came by to pick us up in the canoe around 9am, to bring us back to where it all started. From there we got a tuk tuk to the bus station and boarded a bus for Kochi.

The Kerala backwaters experience was wonderful and I would highly recommend it to anyone planning a visit to south India. Stay tuned for more Kerala adventures in Kochi Fort!

Yoga in Sri Lanka

Where's All the Yoga?
Our time in Sri Lanka was wonderful. It's a country rich in culture, wildlife and gorgeous landscapes. One thing it does not seem to be rich in, much to my surprise, is yoga. I arrived in Sri Lanka expecting to find an abundance of yoga classes offered at a variety of studios, in varying styles; I was very excited begin experiencing yoga in the east! I was disappointed to find, however, that there really is no yoga culture in Sri Lanka. In every city and town we visited I searched feverishly for yoga options and was only able to find one - in nearly three weeks of travel I found just one yoga class to attend! I have a friend who teaches yoga in Colombo, and she expressed that there really isn't much of a yoga culture there, and I found the same everywhere we visited. To be fair, we did not see a lot of the country; during our time we visited Colombo, Kandy, Dambulla, Sigirya, Polonnaruwa, Ella, and Mirissa, which left a lot of the country unexplored. 

Sri Lanka does seem to have a number of options for retreats and yoga holidays, but as we were only spending 2-5 nights in each place, that's not what I was looking for. The only place I was able to find a yoga class to drop in to was in Mirissa, located on the south coast of the country. Mirissa is a beautiful, lazy beach town. The four days we spent there consisted of laying on the beach, writing, reading, and generally relaxing. On one of those days I attended a local yoga class taught by a man named Chanaka Rukshan.

Rukshan Yoga
had read about Rukshan Yoga before I arrived in Mirissa, so I knew I wanted to check it out. During a walk on the beach on our first day, I came across a gentleman on who was promoting the classes. I asked him about it and he told me classes were held at 9am at the Hill Top Temple. He told me that if I came to that spot on the beach at 8:45am, he would walk me there. So the next day, I arrived at the beach at 8:45 and he did, indeed, walk me up to the temple. It was a steep climb up to the temple, and I later learned that there is a much easier way to get up there, up some steps. Ah well, it was a good warm up.

The Hill Top Temple in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

The Class
Chanaka's class was two hours long and unlike any class I have ever attended. We started with a walking meditation around the temple while holding an incense and chanting a mantra of devotion to Buddha. Chanaka indicated that this portion of class was an element of Bhakti yoga, which is the yoga of devotion. When we had made it around the temple, we made three silent wishes or offerings, and listened to Chanaka chant a long mantra. This was followed by another walking meditation into the classroom; this second walking meditation consisted of pranayama (breath control) with mudras (hand positions), and Chanaka indicated that this was an element of Kundalini yoga. We made our way into the classroom and on to mats, where we started asana (physical posture) practice lying down.

Chanaka tailored the class to the group (from what I have read, he always tailors class to the group) - during the introductions a number of people mentioned that they were hot yoga practitioners, so Chanaka started our asana practice with some traditional hot yoga. This consisted of rubbing the palms together quickly to create heat, we then rubbed the arms and the legs and practiced some energizing body stretches. I have to say, it did generate quite a bit of heat! Although nothing compared to a heated room. After the traditional hot yoga, we moved into traditional sun salutations, which we practiced with the surya mantra, and then on to our backs, where we brought the legs up to 90 degrees and back down to hover over the ground a number of times. After this bit of core work we practiced half shoulder stand, plow pose, shoulder stand, fish pose, bridge and wheel. These postures were followed by a relaxation technique where he had us tense every part of our bodies and then release a few times, and then alternate nostril breathing pranayma before savasana. During savasana he guided us through a meditation.

Conclusion:
I found Chanaka's class to be very interesting and I would certainly return if I found myself in Mirissa again; mostly because I am curious about what the asana portion of class looks like each time. Two hours does feel like a fairly big time commitment, but in a town where there's not too much to do anyway, why not spend two hours practicing yoga?! Chanaka himself is very knowledgeable about different traditions of yoga, and I liked that his focus was not only on asana.

Ella, Sri Lanka
With views like this, who needs a yoga studio?!

I do wish that Sri Lanka had more yoga options in general, but as I said, we did not make it to many areas of the country. On the upside, it did give me more time to work on my personal practice!

Here are a few points I noted about Rukshan Yoga:

Cost: LKR 1,500 (about $10.50) for two hours
Cleanliness: Cleanliness is not the highest priority in most places in Sri Lanka; this is just something you accept. The walking meditations are done barefoot, as the temple is a holy space, after which you rinse your feet with water before entering the classroom. The classroom itself is sheltered, but is an open-air space, so the floor is not the super clean floor of a yoga studio.
Class types: Chanaka changes up his classes each time, but you don't necessarily know what you're going to get beforehand; he always incorporates a good amount of meditation and pranayama.
Changing Rooms/Shower Situation: None.
Accessibility: Accessible on foot.
Schedule/Number of Classes: One morning and one evening class offered daily, with the exception of Sunday.

How to Travel With Just a Backpack

Aside from how I can afford to do what I'm doing (check out the post on that here), what I've brought with me is the second question I get the most. So in this post I'm going to talk about how to travel with just a backpack. 

Why Backpacking?
I remember when James and I first started talking about traveling the world, and he told me that backpacking was the way to do it - he emphasized many times that all of my belongings would have to fit into a single backpack. This took me quite some time to adjust to; I would look around my bedroom and feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of that task. Somehow I needed to minimize my life and all of my belongings down to one backpack and then live out of it for over a year. Getting into this mind frame was incredibly difficult; you can read the posts I wrote as I struggled through this process here and here. In the end, I got it done, and I'm so glad that I did. 

To clarify, backpacking as a way of travel does not necessarily mean traveling with just a backpack. Backpacking is a cheap way to travel, which includes staying in hostels and guesthouses, using public transportation, eating cheap meals, etc. It is possible to travel this way utilizing a suitcase, but it's not as easy. Backpacking with an actual backpack offers the most flexibility and freedom when traveling; it leaves your hands free, allows you to move around quickly, and easily fits on all forms of transportation. Keeping the backpack to carry-on size maximizes your freedom, as you'll never have to check a bag when you fly, and will make it possible to cram onto a crowded bus or into a tuk tuk. I will say, backpacking is not for everyone - it's not the most comfortable or luxurious way to travel, but it is the cheapest, so some comfort must be sacrificed.

The Backpack
Invest time and money in a good backpack, as it will essentially be your home while you travel - turtle style. You want it to be comfortable and hold everything you need, but you don't want it too big or too heavy. Remember, you'll be carrying this thing around on your back. If you want to stick within carry-on limits on the strictest budget airlines, make sure that your backpack is no larger than 44 liters, and that it weighs no more than 10kg (22lb) when fully packed. Make sure it has a padded waist strap - this is crucial and non-negotiable when it comes to your backpack, as you'll want the bulk of the weight to sit on your hips, not your shoulders.

Wearing my Kelty on departure day.
*The large suitcase was for Burning Man, that did not make it out of the states.

My backpack is the Kelty Redwing 40 and I chose it because it's 40 liters, which satisfies the carry-on size limit so I never have to check a bag, and because it's a panel, or side loader. Most hiking and travel backpacks are top-loaders, which means you can only access it's contents from an opening at the top of the bag; so if you need something at the bottom, you'll basically need to unpack everything to get to it. Panel loaders open more like a suitcase, making it easier to access to the items in the bag, plus it makes packing and unpacking easier. Now that I've been traveling with my Kelty for a couple of months, I wish it's side and back pockets didn't extend out so far - it makes it the bag round out so that the weight pulls away from me, which causes strain (and actually makes me look like a turtle). I think it would be better if the bag was made a bit taller instead, thus keeping the weight closer to my body. This is my only complaint though, and in reality this issue would be solved it I had less stuff, so it's really my issue; it's a great bag and I love it.

What to Pack
Ladies, this section is mostly for you; if you're anything like me, this is the hard part. Here's a list of what I have with me.

Clothing:
7 pair underwear
7 pair socks
7 bras (I hate underwire bras; I wear these Coobie seamless bras, which I purchased at the Equinox shop in New York)
2 sports bras (one high support for HIIT workouts, one medium support for yoga)
1 swim top + 2 swim bottoms
3 pair leggings (one for yoga +2 more for everyday wear)
1 pair long pants (from Athleta; they're nice and loose, making them great for visiting temples in hot temperatures)
2 pair shorts (also from Athleta; they're flowy shorts that look like skirts - super cute and so comfortable in 90 degree heat)
1 pair spandex workout shorts
5 tank tops (two of which are workout tanks, but can also be worn day-to-day)
2 t-shirts
1 long-sleeve t-shirt
1 hoodie
1 jacket/coat (this one from Uniqlo is water resistant and packs down very small and light)

These are most of the items in my backpack; a few of the items listed below are not pictured.

Shoes:
1 pair trekking/workout sneakers (James and I both have these from Merrell)
1 pair waterproof walking shoes
1 pair sandals (can't go wrong with a pair of Tevas - I love this flip flop style)

Items I brought to Europe and dumped before heading to Asia:
1 pair long corduroy pants
1 pair sneaker wedges

Items I have acquired since leaving NYC:
1 medium support sports bra
1 pair spandex workout shorts
1 shawl (for temples)

You will do a good amount of hand-washing. Particularly if you work out regularly like I do, you'll find yourself hand-washing your workout clothes after every workout. A great item to have are these laundry soap sheets; they're super compact and a great way to ensure you always have laundry soap (whether you have access to a washing machine or not).

Additional Items:
Travel towel
Eye mask & ear plugs
Travel adapter (we brought one with many different plug options)*
Medical kit
Day Pack
Small purse
Toiletries - again, because we don't check bags, all of our liquids have to be carry-on size, which can prove tricky if you're particular about the brands you use.

Non-Essentials:
Laptop or tablet, depending on your needs*
E-Reader
Travel clothesline (so handy for all the hand-washing!)*
Sleep sack & pillow case (for those sketchy hostel beds)
Yoga Paws (unfortunately, even the thinnest travel yoga mats take up too much space and add too much weight)
Makeup
Portable water purifier
Water bottle

* James actually carries these items in his backpack - one of the perks of traveling with someone is you can split up some of the items you both use!

A couple of packing tips:

  • Bring clothing items that are quick-dry. Most of the world doesn't use dryers, and if you're spending just a couple nights in one place and you need to wash some things, you'll want them to dry quickly before you have to pack them again.
  • Pack socks and/or other small items into your shoes to maximize space in your backpack.

So that's how I'm managing to travel with just a backpack. One thing I'm learning is that any necessity can be bought. People all over the world use clothing and toiletries and have medical needs, so if there's anything you need, you will likely be able to find it (and probably for way cheaper than you would at home).

If you have any questions or additional tips for how to travel with just a backpack, please share in the comments! Let me know if you have any requests for future posts too; I'd love to hear from you!

How I Afford to Travel

I was recently asked a series of questions about how I'm managing to travel the world for over a year, and how it's going, so I've decided to address some of those questions with a few posts. In this post I'll specifically address the how I afford to travel, and what I've done to make world travel a reality. Check back next week for tips on packing.

Saving (Learning to Live with Less)
When I made the decision to travel the world, my biggest concern was how to afford to travel for such an extended period of time. I had a year to save up, so once the decision was made, I immediately made another one: buy nothing new for the next year. No clothing, no accessories, no electronics. There were a couple of reasons for this decision, and I won't lie, it wasn't easy. The bigger reason was so that I could save money; you can live on $15 per day in some countries (including accommodation, food, activities, everything!), which really puts a $20 t-shirt into perspective. It's about prioritizing what you want. The other reason was that I needed to stop accumulating stuff. You probably don't want to pay to store your things while you travel, and getting rid of stuff is royal pain in the tits, I can tell you from experience. I'm in a unique situation, in that I don't intend to return to my home to live; I plan to settle somewhere new, and as such, I needed to get rid of most of my belongings in New York. This may not be true for most people, but still, paying for storage is an unnecessary expense. Stuff is just stuff anyway and getting rid of most of mine was a real lesson in attachment; you can check out my post about that here. So learning to live with less has been crucial for me and has allowed me to save, save, save.

Free or Super Cheap Flights
A huge part of being able to afford to travel is the flights. If you live in the states, get on the credit card game to help pay for your flights. See The Points Guy's website for details on how to do this successfully (he has a great beginners guide), but basically, credit card companies in the United States will periodically have bonus point or miles offers, where if you spend a minimum amount (say $3,000) in a certain amount of time (say 3 months), then you get a certain number of bonus points or miles (say 50,000 points or miles). You earn these points on top of whatever points you earn on your actual spending (most cards give you one point/mile per dollar spent). To be clear, you do not go out of your way to spend more money than you normally do. You place all of your day-to-day purchases (groceries, utility bills, drug store purchase, dining out, everything) on that credit card and pay it off each month. This way you earn the big bonus without spending any extra money. Once you've earned the bonus, you stop using the card and move on to a new one. Again, see thepointsguy.com for more detailed information, as well as how many miles you'll need for long flights. In Europe and Asia there are also budget airlines where you can book flights for as little as $11 per flight (no joke, our flight from Ireland to Scotland cost us $11 each on Ryanair; it's amazing). James wrote a great post on how much our first six flights cost us; you can check that out here.

Free or Cheap Accommodation
Aside from flights, accommodation is the other element of travel that will cost the most. In Europe, the most expensive part of our trip, we were lucky enough to have friends and family to stay with so that we didn't have to pay for accommodation until we reached Italy (a huge thank you to all of the wonderful people who put us up during that time; it helped us out tremendously and made the Europe leg possible for us!). In Italy we had no connections, so we used Airbnb to find the most affordable options, with the exception of Rome, where we did stay at a hotel - again, by playing the credit card game. By opening an IHG credit card and spending the minimum amount during the allotted time frame, we not only earned bonus points, but we were also awarded two free nights at any IHG hotel.

Now that we're in Asia, we're staying in guesthouses and hostels, which can cost anywhere between $3-$15 per person, per night. Sites like Agoda, HostelBookers, and HostelWorld are great resources for booking these cheap accommodations. So far we've had all great experiences!

Ella, Sri Lanka
A double room with a balcony that looked out on this view cost us just $17.50 per person, per night!

Changing Currencies
I opened a Charles Schwab checking account. Charles Schwab has no foreign transaction fees, reimburses you all atm fees, and always gives you the best possible exchange rate, which makes changing currencies as easy as going to an atm and taking out cash. Just make sure that when you leave a country, you don't have any of that country's currency left over; Euros are worthless in the UK and Sri Lankan Rupees will do you no good in India. Changing currencies is really that easy.

Budget
Numbers are not my thing, so I'll be completely honest, I did not put together the budget for this trip. James did that, and you can check out all of the budgets we've used thus far (by country) on his blog, thewinevagabond.com. All I know is that I saved up close to $10,000 in the year before this trip, and that's what I'm working with. James, being the brilliant man and Excel genius that he is, crunched the numbers to make it work. Seriously, go check out his blog, he has tons of great info on there. One budget tip I will share is an app called TrailWallet. TrailWallet was created by a world-traveling couple, to help keep track of budget while traveling. It's super easy to use; you just create a budget (we've done it by country), input spending as you spend it, and the app will let you know how you're doing. The app is free for up to 25 entries, and then costs $4.99. Having a budget that you stick to is an extremely important part of being able to afford to travel.

So that's the rundown of how I've been able to afford to travel long-term. Of course, we're only a few months in, so we'll see when the money runs out; stay tuned! I'd love to hear if you have any questions or thoughts about this post, so please share in the comments!

Gym Access On The Road

In addition to yoga, I am also passionate about physical fitnesst. When I started working for Equinox Fitness in 2013, I fell in love with group fitness classes, HIIT, and lifting. James is equally dedicated to fitness, so as we prepared to travel, fitting in a consistent workout regiment was a high priority.

Initially, we planned to use bodyweight workouts and/or find playgrounds to use, which is what we've read from most travel bloggers is the best way to stay fit on the road. As we got started, however, we found this more difficult to implement than we thought. Part of this has to do with the fact that we started in Europe in the fall, so it wasn't exactly warm out and space in our accommodations was limited. As such, we started looking for free or discounted gym access on the road. Here's how we've done it.

Friends/Family
In Ireland we were lucky that James' sister is a sports science major at the University of Limerick, and works at a gym; she was able to get us free gym access to her gym, Grove Island Leisure Center, and discounted access to her university gym (€6 each/about $6.50). Let me tell you, those first gym experiences made me see just how spoiled Equinox had made me - no towel service or Kiehls products here (I miss you, Equinox!). Oh well, beggars can't be choosers, and it was great to get pick up some weight again.

In Edinburgh, James has a friend who's a personal trainer and he hooked us up with a couple of day passes to Edinburgh Leisure, which was great; again no towels or products, but there were blowdryers in the locker room (winning!). In London, I have a friend who is a member of Fitness First - they allow members to bring friends on Fridays, so we got in a free workout there. Fitness First's amenities were great - towel service, soap in the showers, and dryers in the locker room - the locations we went to were a bit small, but again, not being choosy here.

The Trial Pass
When we were in Dublin we dropped in to a YMCA, intending to pay the €6 day pass fee, but when we got there they offered us a trial day if we filled out some information. We were on to something!

We had a whole week in London, so we decided to play around with this day pass loophole - the trial pass, which we realized can often be found online. These are typically offered for people who are new to an area and want to try out a facility before committing to a membership. We pretended to be new to the area and were able to get free gym access to another Fitness First location for a second London workout.

During our week in Barcelona we used the day pass loophole to gain free gym access to two gyms. DiR is a major gym chain in Spain, and they offer a free trial pass that you can access via their website. DiR is one of the nicest gyms we've gone to thus far; they have towel service, dryers in the locker room, and offer many group fitness classes. They also have a yoga studio that's a part of their chain, where I was able to drop in to a free class - click here to check out that review. Eurofitness is another Barcelona gym we were able to find free trial passes for. The location we went to felt more like a community center gym, but they had a squat rack and all the necessary weights so we were in business.

GymAdvisor.com
In my search for free gym access I came across a site called GymAdvisor, where you can find discounted prices for gym admission, as well as reviews about the gyms (GymAdvisor only covers the UK, Italy, Span, Bulgaria, and the Netherlands). Most gyms only offer discounted day passes, while others offer discounted memberships as well. We used this site to purchase €6 day passes for a Claror gym in Barcelona. This is another chain in Spain, which is also quite nice and offers an array of group fitness classes.

Outdoor Gyms
Italy proved to be a more difficult place to find free gym access; in the end we weren't able to get in to any! Part of this has to do with a lack of gyms - you'd think with all the pizza, pasta, and gelato there would be tons, but no such luck. We did, however, find an outdoor gym in Venice! It took a bit of searching, but we were able to locate it all the way at the southeastern end of the main island, by the water, in the Parco delle Rimembranze

Outdoor gym equipped with a pull-up bar, dips/abs bars, and a bike. Parco delle Rimembranze in Venice, Italy.

Outdoor gym equipped with a pull-up bar, dips/abs bars, and a bike.
Parco delle Rimembranze in Venice, Italy.

Hotel Amenities
We stayed at our first hotel in Rome (we crashed with friends and Airbnb'd up until then), which came with free off-site gym access as part of our stay; or at least that's what it said on the Holiday Inn Express website. When we arrived and asked about the gym, they informed us that guests of the hotel received discounted day passes (€8), not free access. As this is not what was indicated on the website, we negotiated for free access and got in a workout at Mister Gym about two blocks away from the hotel (the Holiday Inn Express webpage has since been updated).

Cheap Day Pass
Now that we're in Asia, it'll be interesting to see how our gym access changes. So far in, in Kandy, Sri Lanka, we were able to purchase cheap day passes to Sky Gym, down the street from our accommodation. For just LKR 500 (about $3.50) we gained access to three gym floors. There did not appear to be any locker rooms, and it seems they are still very much developing, but it did the job.
Since leaving Kandy we haven not been able to find any gyms to go to, as the towns we've been to have been small. Our accommodations, however, have had more space, so it's time to start implementing those bodyweight workouts!

I hope these tips/tricks can be of use to you; please share if you use any of them! And if you have any insights on the gym scene in India or Southeast Asia, or any other sneaky ways to gain cheap/free gym access, please share in the comments!

Studio Review: It's Yoga Firenze, Florence, Italy

Continuing my reviews of yoga studios around the world, today I bring you my review of It's Yoga Firenze in Florence

It's our last day in Italy (off to Sri Lanka today!), and we have officially left all countries where I speak the language. As such, I was, and am, a little nervous about how yoga classes might go down. We had a few days in Florence, so I looked for a nearby studio and dropped in to a yoga class.

It's Yoga Firenze in Florence

It's Yoga Firenze is a beautiful studio located just south of the river, and their space is soothing the moment you walk in, with dim candlelight and large, round couches to lounge on. I attended a 6pm Rocket 2 class lead by Brittany - my first ever Rocket class! Rocket is a modified version of the traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary and Intermediate series, which begins with a few founds of sun salutes A and B.
I'm always excited to try out new styles, so I was pumped for this!

Arriving:

It's Yoga Firenze is on the second floor - be mindful of the building number, as there is no sign on the outside door to indicate that the studio is in there; there is a sign on the door upstairs. I arrived ten minutes early for class, where I was greeted by my instructor, Brittany, at the desk. She had me fill out a waiver and asked about my yoga experience, then showed me to the studio (where there are mats to use free of charge) and the changing room. I put my stuff away, grabbed a mat and laid down on a couple blocks to wait for class to begin. 

Cues/Instruction: 

The first thing I noticed when Brittany walked in and introduced herself was that she did so in English! I was a little relieved, but also a little disappointed, as I was looking forward to the challenge of taking class in a language that I don't speak. Ah well, I'm sure I'll get the chance soon enough. Evidently, some classes are taught in English while others are taught in Italian, depending on the students in class. 

Brittany started us off seated, with some breath focus and one om, and then got us right into it. Instruction was straightforward, with sanskrit names for postures used throughout. Modifications and verbal adjustments were plentiful, though physical adjustments were minimal. I enjoyed the Rocket style's steady, challenging pace and the consistent focus on ujjayi breath.

Conclusion:

It's Yoga Firenze's studio

I loved my Florence yoga experience at It's Yoga Firenze. The atmosphere is very inviting and the studio itself is beautiful - I love a set up where the mats line the walls and everyone faces in. The studio has all the props you need, and rental mats are available free of charge, which is a nice touch. The one drawback would be that they don't seem to offer any styles other than Rocket and modified or full Ashtanga Primary Series. I personally enjoyed this style and would be back to explore it further.

A few points I noted:
Cost: €10 trial class (about $11; if you decide to join, this fee is taken off your membership price). €15 drop-in price (about $17). Various membership options offered.
Cleanliness: Very clean and neat
Class types: Rocket (1, 2, 3), Modified Ashtanga Primary Series, Full Ashtanga Primary Series
Changing Rooms/Shower Situation: Women's changing room with plenty of space for storing your things. Men only seem to have a curtained off area to change in; I did see a number of men in class, so this might be something they will consider changing soon. Bathroom available, but no shower.
Accessibility: Accessible by car, bus, or on foot.
Schedule/Number of Classes: Classes typically offered in the morning and evening, with an afternoon class a couple days a week.

Bad vs. Uncomfortable

Knowing the Difference

I heard someone say recently that it is important to remember the difference between something feeling bad and something feeling uncomfortable. This was said within the context of yoga asana practice - identifying when a posture or movement feels uncomfortable and you should breathe through it, and when something feels bad and you should back off. However, this got me thinking about my life outside of asana, because I've generally always thought of discomfort as a bad thing. If you read my post about Burning Man, you know that discomfort is something I've been working to make my peace with, and maybe this shift in perspective is what I need.

Within the context of asana practice or general physical fitness, however, it's easy for me to make the bad vs. uncomfortable distinction. There are various postures or exercises that feel very uncomfortable to me (triangle pose, triceps dips, I'm looking at you), but I know that it's that discomfort that will help me grow. My favorite group fitness instructor in New York would always prompt us to face the discomfort during class, reminding us that the mind will always give up before the body - to trust the body. For some reason I continue to struggle in applying this to my life outside of asana or fitness.

Breathe Through the Discomfort

The discomfort is worth it for views like this. San Marino, San Marino.

I've been traveling for almost two months now, sleeping in some crappy beds, wearing the same pair of pants day in and day out, rushing to catch trains with my 20lb backpack strapped to me, or taking a chance on a menu item when I don't speak the language, only to have a critter with eyes placed on a plate in front of me. These things are uncomfortable; they make me uneasy, make me squirm in my seat. But they're not bad - I can breathe through them. The same way that triceps dips are uncomfortable but not bad, a lumpy bed is uncomfortable but not bad. No bed at all would be bad. When these moments happen (and I have many, many more uncomfortable moments coming my way), it's important to acknowledge them as uncomfortable; to face the discomfort and breathe through them. I invite you to do the same, whether it's in asana, fitness, or in life in general. After all, it's through the discomfort that growth happens.

Studio Review: Yoga One, Barcelona, Spain

It's been a while since I posted, I apologize for the absence. I injured my back during a deadlift a little over two weeks ago; I'm not sure what went wrong, but I felt something tweak and then pain, so I was physically pretty out of commission for my entire time in London. It's unfortunate, because London, being a major global city, has a pretty good yoga scene and I wasn't able to experience any of it. Ah well, so it goes. I took the time to rest, so as to avoid further injury. We were in Barcelona last week, where I was feeling much better and able to drop in to a yoga class at a studio called Yoga One. Here is a rundown of my experience.

Yoga One is a studio that is a part of the DiR chain of fitness centers (I had the opportunity to get in a free workout at one of the DiR gyms as well, and it was fantastic!); Yoga One, however, is solely dedicated to yoga and they offer a wide range of different styles and schedules. Yoga One is located in the center of the city, easily accessible via metro, bus, or on foot. I attended an 8pm Dharma Yoga class with Jordi. This was to be my first Dharma class, so I was very excited for what was in store.

Arriving:

I arrived about 8 minutes early for class - a little later than I wanted to be. Yoga One is located on the second floor, across from a DiR gym, and I have to admit I was a bit confused upon getting out of the elevator. I exited to neon lighting in a fairly dark space. I saw the Yoga One sign so I knew I was in the right place; I approached the desk and was helped by a gentleman behind it. I was using a coupon for a free class, so they asked to see my passport and took down some of my details. At this point it was 8pm and I was feeling a bit stressed about being late. I was told which studio the class was in, and instructed to bring my belongings into the studio.

The nightclub of yoga studios: Yoga One in Barcelona

I rushed in to find a dimly lit room, with neon lighting along the edges; it was the nightclub of yoga studios, with mantras in place of beats and round blocks in place of drinks. I've taken yoga class in an actual nightclub before, and even that didn't have such nightclub-style lighting (if you're in NYC, check out Verboten's Deep House Yoga, it's awesome). I'm not complaining, I love nightclubs, it was a very cool vibe. Props lined the back wall, and mats were draped at the front of the room. Everyone was still just walking in, so I grabbed a mat and set up my spot. Ten minutes later, class was just getting started – I guess even the yoga is on “Spanish time" in Barcelona.

Cues/Instruction:

The classes at Yoga One are taught in Spanish, which wasn't an issue for me since I speak it, but as this was my first time taking a yoga class in Spanish, the cuing took a little getting used to (I'm just glad it wasn't in Catalan or I would've been in trouble!). I did a lot of peeking around me to make sure I was following along properly, which is certainly a new feeling. I'm beginning to realize that language differences among countries is about to make classes pretty tricky for me (more on that in a later post).

Jordi greeted the class, asked about any injuries or issues, and instructed us to begin in savasana. After a brief savasana, we proceeded to warm up in a way that I never have in a yoga class – with arm swings, knee circles, and shaking out the legs. It was similar to a workout warmup, which I had never experienced in a yoga class. I don't know if this is typical of Dharma classes, or if it was just this instructor's style (if there are any Dharma yogis out there, let me know!) Jordi prompted us to focus on breath throughout the practice, and he demoed postures, as well as providing verbal and physical adjustments; modifications for postures were also offered. Sanskrit names were used here and there, though not much.

Conclusion:

I thoroughly enjoyed my first Dharma Yoga class, and look forward to exploring it further. I also very much liked Yoga One's atmosphere and will return when I am back in Barcelona; I am curious to see what the studios look like during the day - with the large windows at the front of the room, I imagine it gets plenty of natural light. The studio has an assortment of props available, which I always appreciate, and mats are also readily available for use. Below are a few points I noted:

Cost: They have a free first class coupon that you can get from their website; however, they do not appear to offer drop-in classes, only memberships, starting at about €37 per month (about $41).
Cleanliness: Very clean and neat
Class types: A wide variety offered, including vinyasa, hot vinyasa, Dharma, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Jivamukti, and beginner.
Changing Rooms/Shower Situation: Both men's and women's locker rooms with multiple showers and lockers. As Yoga One is part of a gym chain, their changing rooms/showers are quite nice, though towels are not provided.
Accessibility: Accessible by car, metro, or bus.
chedule/Number of Classes: A wide variety of classes offered throughout the day; morning, afternoon, and evening.

Studio Review: Canning Street Yoga, Edinburgh, Scotland

My time in Scotland was brief, at less than a week, so I did not have the chance to explore their yoga scene too much. I can say, however, that Edinburgh has quite a variety of yoga studios and classes to choose from. I was able to take one of those classes at Canning Street Yoga, so today I bring you my thoughts on the studio and the class I took.

Canning Street Yoga is a fairly new studio, having opened about eight months ago. I attended a 6pm hot yoga class taught by Lee Derrick. My accommodation was just a 10-minute walk from the studio so I walked over, but it's easily accessible via bus.

Arriving:
I arrived about 10 minutes early for class and was greeted by Lee, who was at the desk. Lee checked me in and had me fill out a waiver; he asked about any injuries and showed me the changing room and cubbies for my belongings. I needed to borrow a mat, so Lee provided a purple sticky mat and showed me to the studio. The studio itself is mid-sized, with plenty of natural light. As I was there for a hot class it was also nice and warm. 

Cues/Instruction:
Lee has a soothing and gentle voice. His cues were straightforward and clear; he also demonstrated the postures while cuing. No sanskrit names were used for the postures; rather, the focus was on the placement and shape of the body. The sequence was simple and moved at a steady pace. Lee did not offer modifications/variations or physical adjustments, but he did offer verbal adjustments throughout the practice.

Conclusion:
I very much enjoyed the class I took at Canning Street Yoga, as well as the overall studio vibe; I would definitely be back if I lived in the area or passed through it again (I've fallen in love with Edinburgh, so I definitely plan to be back!). The studio has an assortment of props available, which is always nice, and Lee mentioned they are installing infrared heaters, which should make for even better hot classes. Below are a few points I noted:

* Cost: 12 pounds per drop-in class (about 18USD); however, they have a free first class offer.
* Cleanliness: Very clean and tidy.
* Class Types: A variety of styles offered, including vinyasa, hot vinyasa, yin, beginners, and prenatal.
* Changing Rooms/Shower Situation: One changing room, nicely sized, with chairs and cubbies; and one shower.
* Amenities: Mats and towels available for rent. CSY also offers a number of therapies, including sports therapy and a various massage types.
* Accessibility: Accessible by car, Edinburgh bus, or on foot.
* Schedule/Number of Classes: A variety of classes offered throughout the day; morning, afternoon and evening, every day except Saturday.

Yoga in Ireland

Our time in Ireland has come to an end. We find ourselves in Scotland now, from where I bring you my first installment of Yoga Around the World: Yoga in Ireland. Enjoy!

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Availability/Accessibility of Yoga Classes:

Availability and accessibility of yoga classes will vary, depending on where you are in Ireland. Smaller towns like Claremorris have a 1-2 rating, with only one or two studio options that are only accessible via car. A slightly bigger city like Galway has a 3-4 rating, with a number of yoga studios offering a wider schedule of classes and greater accessibility via bus or car.

Ireland's biggest city, Dublin, has a 5 rating, with many studios in the city and classes being offered at all times of the day. Greater public transportation in Dublin also makes those studios more accessible.

With so many beautiful landscapes and views, Ireland does have a good number of locations that offer yoga retreats, which is an option if you have a bit more money and time to spend.

Variety of Class Types:

Again, variety of class types will depend on where you are.

Claremorris has a 1 rating, as Dynamic Hot Yoga was the only studio I was able to find that offered drop-in classes.

Galway and Dublin both have 5 ratings, as both cities have Bikram studios, Ashtanga studios, and studios that offer a little bit of everything, all with the option to drop in and rent mats. You will find a wider range of schedules in Dublin.

Cost: 

The cost per drop-in class is comparable to New York, with a 3 rating, as classes cost on average about 15 euro (about 16-17 USD) per class over 60 minutes.

Yoga Around the World

Bye America

We are officially on the road! Having left the United States after Burning Man, we now find ourselves in James' homeland of Ireland. We've been roaming the Irish countryside, taking in all the beautiful sights, resetting our minds and bodies after a week in the desert and 28 hours of travel.

Ashford Castle in Ireland's County Mayo. Ireland is full of gorgeous landscapes, and castles...many castles. 

Ashford Castle in Ireland's County Mayo. Ireland is full of gorgeous landscapes, and castles...many castles. 

My Yoga Metric

Now that I'm feeling a bit back to normal, I'm exploring my yoga options here in Ireland. As such, I've created a yoga metric that I'll be using in each country we visit. 

I'll be looking at three categories: availability and accessibility of yoga classes (specifically drop-in classes), the variety of class types offered  (vinyasa, hatha, Bikram, Ashtanga, etc.), and cost. For each I will use a scale of 1-5:

Availability/Accessibility

1 = no yoga classes available, 5 = classes available at all times of day, in all parts of town.

Variety of Class Types

 1 = one type of class offered, 5 = five or more types offered.

Cost (average price of drop-in class in USD)

1 = $20+

2 = $15-$20

3 = $10-$15

4 = $5-$10

5 = $0-$5

So if I were looking at a place like New York, where there is such a large and widespread yoga culture, my ratings would be 5's in availability/accessibility and variety, and 3 in cost, as most studios charge between $15-$20 per drop-in class, but there are some studios that offer donation-based and $5 classes as well.

I'll also be sharing my experiences at individual studios/with individual instructors. 

Stay tuned for my thoughts on yoga in Ireland!

 

Finding Peace With Discomfort - Burning Man 2015

The Struggle Was Real

I started to write a lengthy post about my experience at Burning Man, and it just turned into a rambling journal entry, so instead I’ll share a few takeaways. This was my first time attending Burning Man and to be honest, I struggled. To give you some context, I’ll tell you that cleanliness is a top priority for me - I am a meticulous hand-washer and I don’t wear street clothes on my bed so as to keep it clean, to give you a couple of examples. During the week of Burning Man I showered twice, which means I washed my hands twice (there was only hand sanitizer at the porta-potties). I will say, though, that the porta-potties weren’t completely vile - they were cleaned daily, people were generally respectful,  and there was almost always plenty of hand sanitizer. Still though, soap and water are my jam and I missed them very much.

This year’s burn was also extremely dusty. We were accosted by dust storms for two full days, and this shit got everywhere. Even the insides of our tents weren’t entirely safe. No matter how hard I tried to make sure that our air mattresses and pillows were covered with a tarp, dust still managed to get on everything. This resulted in a lot of congestion and misery. By the third day my sinuses had hit peak congestion and I started to question just what the fuck I was doing there. I couldn’t breathe properly, was sleep-deprived, covered in dust and dirt, and there was nowhere to find refuge from the dust storms other than our little tent. I nearly called it quits. But I never would have been able to live that down, so I sucked it up and stuck it out, and I’m so glad that I did.

Turning It Around

Sunrise on the Playa

I met some wonderful people and shared some beautiful experiences, including a Shabbat service that trumped all of the spiritual mumbo-jumbo being thrown around the playa, which was followed by a delicious sit-down dinner that absolutely made my week. Chowing down on organic fruits and vegetables after a morning yoga class was another gorgeous moment; there are not nearly enough vegetables on the playa and learning about this camp made me smile from ear to ear. Dancing the night away and then watching the sunrise, surrounded by new friends and old, was priceless. It was in those moments that I understood why people make this trek. It was also in those moments that I realized that the misery of the dust is what made these good bits so special.

Lessons Learned

I didn’t go to Burning Man to find myself or to learn something profound - I went there for a party, and to experience the phenomenon that it is - but as it happens, I did learn a few things. I learned that a gifting economy is a beautiful thing. I was blown away time and again by the kindness of strangers, as they offered me things I was in need of: a cup when I lost mine on a bike ride, a bike seat cover when mine was starting to chafe, grilled cheese sandwiches on the road when we had forgotten to eat dinner, and cuticle oil just when my cuticles were starting to crack. I learned to find peace with discomfort. I was eventually able to embrace the dust and simply be ok with the fact that I was filthy; this is no small feat for me, and it took me nearly the whole week to get to that point. I also learned that a shower might be the single most humanizing experience one can have. There’s just nothing better than the feeling of getting clean. I may have made my peace with the dust and accepted the discomfort of being dirty, but the two showers I took were among my Burning Man highlights. Lastly, I learned that I fucking love the default world - the real world. That first meal out of Burning Man, the first shower, the first sleep in a real bed; these were beautiful, beautiful moments, and for them I was and am so grateful. I think that the biggest lesson to be learned from Burning Man is to cherish those little things on a daily basis; it’s not until you find yourself without them for a week that you realize how much they really mean to you.