June 5, 2014

Yoga on the High Seas. ~ Catherine Turner


In 6th century B.C.E. India, a revolution in human thought and spirituality occurred.

Thousands of men and hundreds of women left their homes and families, renounced all material possessions, and took up the itinerant life. A combination of economic, political and cultural factors at the time had caused an epidemic of dissatisfaction.

The shift towards a market economy and the emergence of the merchant class in the new urban centers opened up freedoms that were previously unimagined.

A small but vocal percentage of the Indian population began to question a system that firmly pinned them in an immutable economic caste and spiritual position.

In fact, these intellectual and spiritual radicals began to question absolutely everything to extremes that might shock most of us today.

Hundreds of schools of thought formed in this age. The remnants of a few of these schools form the basis of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism with a concurrent development of Taoism in China.

A shared practice of many of these wandering seekers was the practice of Yoga.

Unlike modern Yoga which is practiced for a wide variety of reasons, this original form was practiced to achieve higher levels of consciousness. One effect was a supreme control of the nervous system that allowed for sustained cessation of thought. This control is the hallmark of the highest levels of meditation and leads to the experiential and ultimate realization of unity.

Beyond The History

This brief peek at the history of Yoga allows us to compare these brave pioneers who roamed as far as their bare or sandal clad feet would take them to travelers who practice Yoga today.

These ancient Indians were dissatisfied with the status-quo so they wandered. They traveled to find and share new ideas and to liberate themselves from the suffering caused by habitual clinging to places, people and things.

In our current age, the popularity of modern Yoga allows us to follow a similar but far less radical path. Most of us don’t wish to starve ourselves, renounce our families, or hold our breaths for 10 minutes in the name of enlightenment.

We do, however, wish to find vitality, connection, understanding, love and a calm confidence in the face of adversity wherever we go. We wish to look and feel great and to replace bad habits with healthful ones. I find these benefits through my practice and through the global Yoga community.

From experience, I know that I can find people to practice Yoga with anywhere on earth.

When I gave up my permanent address in 2013 and declared that I would travel full-time by sailboat, I did not leave behind my family. They are right here by my side. We live frugally. Many of our possessions and many material comforts did not make the cut.

There simply isn’t enough room for “stuff” on a boat—and I am glad for it. After a brief adjustment, the appliances, electronics, beauty products, excess clothes and toys, and the other detritus of mainstream American living are not missed.

My goal while I travel is to gather new ideas on ways to lead a happier, healthier, freer life and to share these ideas with others. In many regards, I imagine that I am motivated by similar conditions to those that caused those wandering holy people to “go forth” more than two-and-a-half-thousand years ago.

The undercurrent of dissatisfaction with modern life drives me to seek a better understanding of myself and others.

The Yoga Nomad

Traveling constantly is unsettling.

In fact, one of the definitions of unsettled is to travel. If I start each day with asana and meditation I ground myself. It’s like putting a stickpin in a map.

I connect and I’m present.

The uncertainty and strangeness of being in a completely new place disappears and I see things for what they really are. I am a human among humans. We are equal and we are the same. The majority of us are looking to find meaning in our lives.

The language, the food, the dress, and the etiquette of a new place might be different, but this is only superficial. Yoga removes all the surface differences and makes us aware of our breath, our bodies, our thoughts and the spaces in between.

This is universal and this awareness removes all barriers.

At the end of a Yoga class anywhere on earth, we emerge from savasana. We take our final bow. Smiles are beamed all around. The world and the people in it are seen with new eyes. We are reborn without fear if only for a moment. This changeless experience is shared through the ages and across distances.

Join a timeless tradition and follow your Yoga.


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Apprentice Editor: Jess Sheppard/Editor: Travis May

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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Catherine Turner