While in Chiang Mai, I found a great yoga spot that served as an energy spring for me. There is something about the north lands of old Lana Kingdom in Chiang Mai that calls out the yogi in me. It must be the rolling tropical mountains topped with wafts of fog and the many golden adorned temples! I am not alone in this feeling. Many people flock to this area of the world to find or strengthen a connection, either to themselves or to a spiritual entity, or both. Yoga is one of those practices where you get what you put in. It can be about awareness, strength, balance, posture or intention. It can be an emphasis of  physical or spiritual growth, and it is more often a combination of all these things. Using yoga to connect to the mental, social, and spiritual aspect of exercise is in perfect alignment with the principles of Integrated Healthcare. It is a practice where you can take an inintory of your behaviors, intentions, mental stresses, and create a physical outlet to cultivate balance.

Yoga for me is a platform to practice physical activity with an activated and present mindset. So often when we exercise we turn our minds off, we stop listening to what the body is telling the mind. It is easy to exercise with rigid rules to guide us to what we want to look like or perform like, but in that rigidity we may forget our ultimate intention is to be healthy. When we exercise with the intention of health, we are less likely to be overwhelmed with achieving the results we think we need like weight, performance, or validation. staying connected to the intention of health is a great way to mitigate discouragement and stay motivated to continue with consistency.

Here are two thoughts from yoga that have helped me stay intentional and balanced in my exercise and my life while living abroad:

1. Cultivate Constant Balance

Balance is constant struggle. It is not a thing that you can quire once and then always have. Rather,it is a thing that you always work at. When speaking about physical balance, my yoga instructor in Chiang Mai talked about the importance of falling over and testing your limits in balancing poses. He made the point that balance is a new struggle every second. It is something that you have to continuously accomplish in ever second, not something that you get and then you have. You start to lose balance when you lose present mindfulness. When your mind wanders, you are more likely to fall out of balance. I think that is a valuable lesson for mental and behavioral health as well. Mental and behavioral balance is not something that is not guaranteed to you tomorrow just because you achieved it today or yesterday. Achieving balance happens in the decisions we make every day, and often in the decisions we make every second. Achieving mental and behavioral balance requires self-reflection and self-assessment, but also an understanding of what balance means for you in this moment. Imbalance in health occurs in the decisions, like when we eat that extra piece of food that we don’t need, but also when we deny ourselves the food that we do need. These are both out of balance. Imbalance is when we run the extra mile our bodies are not ready for, and also when we do not exercise at all. When we never challenge ourselves, and also when we challenge ourselves too much, that is imbalance. Recognizing your center, your balancing point, is a difficult and ever-changing commitment. 

2. Develop New Connections

Connection happens when you allow yourself to see a new perspective and derive personal meaning from it. It is a two way street of sharing yourself with others and sharing in on another persons experiences. One way that we can ensure a new connection is made every day is to spend more time outdoors where life happens. This is especially important to me so that I do not feel isolated while working abroad in a new country. When you get outdoors, or out of your comfort zone, you are more likely to see new things, new people, new places. You will experience something in a new way. If you stick to your routine and never deviate from your plans, you may miss out on opportunities to grow.

Start cultivating balance and developing new connections now! Take a walk and look at what is around you. Start a conversation with a stranger. Go to a new yoga class, a new time, a different studio. Invite someone from your class to have tea and share stories. Listen to what the people around you have to say, and most importantly, surround yourself with people that challenge your perceptions!