Florence, Italy: My first solo travel experience

What am I possibly going to do with myself for the next six days? – My first thought after checking into the hostel in Florence.

I had never traveled solo before and until that moment, hadn’t thought what it would be like to be alone for days at a time. Despite my initial question, it didn’t take long before I fell into a routine of drinking espresso after morning yoga, journaling in the park, eating bruschetta outside in a piazza, and making friends at the hostel. Below are a few thoughts about my experience:

I realized it was best to blend in

Italy was a last minute decision. I had no idea I was going to be stopping in Florence when I packed for my trip. The contents of my suitcase clearly reflected this. I had lightweight yoga pants, tank tops, and sandals. All of my clothes were meant for too-hot-to-breathe weather, not breezy springtime in Tuscany. So when I first arrived in my yoga flip-flops and thin, cotton pants, I got a few stares from the locals who were still sporting jackets and scarves. Normally I wouldn’t have cared about being looked at funny, but in the interest of my safety as a solo female traveler, I figured it was better to blend in. I traded my flip flops for running shoes and bought a cheap jacket. I felt much more at ease after looking as if I belonged.

There were a lot of selfies

Since I didn’t experience my trip with another person, there is no one else who could help me remember it. No one else I could reminisce with. When I wanted to document the moment, I took a selfie. At first, I felt a little awkward and slightly vain pulling out my phone to take a picture of myself. But I quickly got over it when I realized no one was looking at me. No one cared if I took a selfie at the café. No one cared if I took a selfie in front of the Duomo. Only I cared. And once I stopped caring I started to compile a whole camera roll of selfies to remember my trip by.

I could do everything at my leisure

When I was hungry, I went to a trattoria. When I was tired, I went back to the hostel for a siesta. When I wanted to write in my journal, I found a quiet place to write in my journal. I only had to answer to my own desires. Everything was on my own terms. I was blissfully selfish for the week and, man, did it feel good!

Strangers quickly became friends

Engaging in conversation with other travelers was all it took to make friends. While relaxing in the courtyard of the hostel, I met a guy from Australia and invited him to come to dinner with me. We bonded over our love for adventure and swapped stories from countries we’ve visited. I told him all about my current trip, barely stopping to breathe. “You probably won’t believe me,” I told him. “But I actually am such an introvert.” I also met a lovely Moroccan woman at breakfast one morning. Like me, she was alone, but had plans to meet up with her sister to do more traveling around Tuscany. She told me she planned to be in Siena in a few days and invited me to meet them out there. We connected on WhatsApp and sure enough, a few days later, we were eating raviolis in a restaurant outside the Piazza Del Campo in Siena.

Would I do it again?

Yes. I thoroughly enjoyed traveling by myself. I learned that I enjoy my own company and that being alone doesn’t mean being lonely.

Namaste,

Mary

XX

Why you should do your YTT in India


If you’ve ever contemplated doing a yoga teacher training, consider this your call to action. And definitely consider heading to India. Here’s why:

You will learn the true essence of yoga

Yoga in the West is typically watered down, focusing almost exclusively on the physical aspect of yoga. The physical practice, better known as asana, is only one of the eight limbs of yoga and is not yoga in its own right. In training in India, you will be exposed to and expected to practice the other seven limbs. These include: discipline, moral observances, breath control, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation and union of the self and the Divine. Obviously a month is not long enough to become a master on subjects that have been thousands of years in the making, but at the very least, you will leave with an introduction of what they are.

It will cost less than getting certified at home

Yoga Teacher Trainings in the U.S. cost upwards of $3,000. My program in India cost $1,500. In addition to the course, that cost covered my month’s accommodation, three meals a day, and one weekly excursion. Add in $1,000 for a roundtrip flight and it’s still less than getting certified at home.

There won’t be any outside distractions

You’re going to be pretty disconnected from the rest of the world. Unless you have an international data plan (which costs short of a million dollars a month), your cellphone is going to be nothing more than camera to take photos of the cows in the road and a calculator to convert rupees to dollars. And while my school and a few cafes accommodated us Westerners with free wifi, connectivity was usually poor. At the school, I would be lucky to get two minutes of FaceTime in before the wifi would stop working for the day. Refreshing social media and news apps also got pretty frustrating, so it didn’t take long before I would give up and put my phone away. However, I considered the bad wifi to be a blessing. My interest in scrolling through Instagram abated and I didn’t feel so bombarded by the bad news circulating the media. Because of this, I found it easier to concentrate on the course, myself, and the present moment.

You’ll make friends from around the globe

Like every other abroad program I’ve participated in, I thought I was going to be surrounded by Americans. But to my surprise, there were only four of us out of 40 students. There were a few Germans, some Argentinians, a Brazilian from Australia, an Australian from Brazil, one from India and so on. On the first day, we all swapped our reasons for coming to India and I was struck by how similar all of our stories were. Though our cultures, religions and backgrounds differ, we all felt captivated by yoga and pulled to India. I promise you that after making friends with such likeminded and incredible people from all around, the world will seem a lot smaller and infinitely more comfortable.

It will change you from the moment you step off the plane

India is vibrant and full of life. And all of this life is out in the open for you to experience— the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is India:

You walk into a shop and almost immediately fall into a deep conversation with the shopkeeper about the value of honesty. Outside that same shop, you find a beggar with a single arm and no shirt, sitting upright against the wall, clutching his prayer beads and waiting for someone to throw money in his cup. And around the corner, someone is burning a pile of garbage despite the extreme heat. Behind you, a cow stands in the middle of the road, blocking traffic and provoking drivers to slam those damn high pitched horns. But it’s okay because the bells of the ashram ring, signaling a call to prayer.

In my opinion, there is nowhere better to apply your yogic knowledge than a place that stimulates your mind and colors your thoughts. A place that both drains and revives you of your energy. A place that is going to flip your perspective on society, humanity, and life itself.

Namaste,

Mary

XX

 

Rishikesh, India

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In the months before I got to Rishikesh, I would daydream of what the city was like. I don’t remember exactly what I imagined, but I do know, reality exceeded my expectations.

Rishikesh, also known as “The Yoga Capital of the World,” is situated in the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India. The sacred River Ganga flows through the center, separating Rishikesh in two. But, the entire city preaches oneness since yoga literally translates to the word “union.” Rishikesh is filled with yoga schools, ashrams, spiritual centers and visitors from all over the globe paying pilgrimage to the holy city. “OM,” the sound of the Universe and the most well-known Sanskrit chant echoes throughout, literally and figuratively.

Here, life is simple. Everyone lives, eats and breaths yoga. I mean it. Asana is practiced throughout the day, aryuvedic food is served at every meal, and inhales and exhales are very much a part of everyone’s awareness.

So far, I love Rishikesh. Even though, I’ve only been here a week, I’ve already learned a lot about my self and my body, established beautiful friendships, climbed a mountain to visit a meditation cave and celebrated Holi like a local. Below are a few pictures that have captured a glimpse of these amazing events.

Namaste.

London Times: Sights and stories

I booked my three day layover in London on a whim. I had no idea what I was going to do or who I was going to explore the city with (at the time I figured it would just be me, myself and I). I just figured the short stop would be a good way to break up the 14 hour flight to Delhi.

Shortly after purchasing my ticket, plans started to emerge. My sister, Britt, agreed to come along. Then, I booked us a hotel in Covent Garden and we notified our Swiss friends, Marissa and her adorable son James, about our journey across the pond. Marissa and James ended up making the trek to see us along with the fashionable Hannah, a Londoner, who had been on holiday in Switzerland at the time. Hannah, lucky for us, became our unofficial guide around the city.

Below are some of the more notable sights and stories from my time in London!

1. Big Ben

Britt and I arrived in London on Thursday morning. We dropped our bags, grabbed coffee for fuel, and headed to the meeting point of our SANDEMANs walking tour. I absolutely love this company! They offer “free” walking tours in 18 cities across Europe. The reason that there is no overhead cost is because the tours operate on a tip only basis, which also means the tour guides are always friendly and extremely knowledgeable. Our SANDEMANs tour guide brought us around Central London, stopping at Covent Garden, Trafalgar Sqaure, St. James’s Palace, Buckingham Palace and ending with the iconic Big Ben. Usually, I prefer to stay away from big touristy areas while traveling, but I find Big Ben to be so alluring!

(For more information on the SANDEMANs tours click here.)

2.  Neal’s Yard


Neal’s Yard! Colorful, vibrant, Neal’s Yard! When I first saw Pinterest posts of the small hidden courtyard within Covent Garden, I know I had to go. Neal’s Yard is quaint, picturesque and home to a few artsy and organic shops. I took about a million photos here and treated myself to a big green smoothie.

3. Dishoom

On Friday, Britt and I met up with Marissa, Hannah and James for lunch at Dishoom, a trendy Indian restaurant serving up the most delicious curries. To be honest, (and this may sound silly considering I am going to be living there for a month) I have never eaten Indian food before. Therefore, I couldn’t quite figure out the menu, so Hannah took the liberty of ordering a diverse collection of small plates to share. Everything was so flavorful and the naan was to die for!

4. Borough Market




After 17 months, I broke my vegetarianism. But here’s the thing. I didn’t just taste meat. I ate it. A lot of it. Chicken. Duck. Lamb. Bacon. Ham. Yeah, I broke it and I broke it GOOD. But, whatever. It made my experience at Borough Market a very satisfying one. Hannah directed us around the market, where we stopped and sampled anything and everything we could. I had bites of duck confit, paella, brie, fresh fruit, and the list goes on. Once we got a taste of what each vendor was selling, we agreed the duck confit we tried at the very beginning was the best. So, we went back and each ordered our own sandwich. And since that didn’t seem to be enough, we finished off our lunch with some very sinful, cream-filled donuts by Bread Ahead Bakery.

5. Tate Museum 

The Tate Museum offers free modern and contemporary art exhibits, but what drew  us there was the 10th story terrace with an incredible view of London. We didn’t stay long, but I thought it was a great way to see the city from above without having to spend a lot of money on something like the London Eye. 

6. Seven Dials Hotel

Seven Dials is a small monument erected in the center of a seven way intersection. Down the street is the Seven Dials Hotel, where we took residence during our stay in London. If any of you are planning a visit to London soon and want a cheap place to stay, I highly recommend this hotel! It was clean, simple, and centrally located— everything a budget hotel should be.

Cheers!

Xx

TEF: I just got better

A few months ago, I was really working to master the art of handstand holding, but I was having some trouble. The same thing would happen every time. I would be upside down for .5 seconds and then I would just topple over like a stack of Jenga blocks. I needed to do some serious strength training but, I was reluctant to get to the gym. I wanted it to be all yoga all the time. And, besides the idea of strength training seemed a little intimidating to me. I didn’t know how to go about it and I really didn’t feel like pumping iron with a bunch of guys grunting at themselves in the mirror.

So I kept doing what I was doing, but I was getting quite frustrated and I even ended up straining my lower back. Then, my mom swooped in like the miracle-working-problem-solver she is and suggested I go to Tyler English Fitness, a performance and training facility that offers daily strength and conditioning classes.

It’s been a perfect fit. I am way more steady—no more wobbly warriors. And I can hold handstands like I’ve never held them before. You could say I’ve made some “serious gains.” But, it has certainly not been easy. The coaching sessions are intense. I often find myself muttering “WTF” under my breath (very yogic of me, I know). But guess what? The trainers don’t care that I’m a little uncomfortable. They only care that I finish my burpees and squat all the way down and no one better stop before the timer goes off because we’ll just start over, okay?

You see, TEF has a no BS policy. You will be pushed (though sometimes it may feel like shove) out your comfort zone. Your legs will shake and you will be sore in places you didn’t even know existed in your body. And if you don’t like that, well then you can take it up with the complaint department, which is conveniently located in the big gray barrel. You know, the one that resembles a garbage can.

But, a place with so much passion couldn’t run without heart. Really, the whole gym just operates on tough love because at the end of the day, everyone just wants you to do well, or to “get better,” as Tyler would say. The trainers want that for you. The members want that for you. Even the ones who have been there for years and can gracefully jump squat 1000x without breaking a sweat. TEF is the first and only gym that I’ve belonged to that really encompasses a sense of community.

Oddly enough, I’m going to miss getting my ass kicked at the 8:30 morning class. My body has truly experienced a transformation for the better, and I am leaving for India feeling well prepared (well, physically, at least).

So, to Tyler + all of the other bad ass trainers at TEF, thank you for helping me to #getbetter!

Namaste,

Mary

XX

To London, India & Beyond!

BIG NEWS! I’ve decided to pack up my love for yoga and take it with me all the way to India to become a certified yoga instructor.

My journey to India and ultimately to my Self begins on March 1st (though you could argue it began 22 years ago, but no need to get all esoteric and spiritual on you quite yet).

My sister, Brittany, and I are set to fly to London, where we will no doubt enjoy a few days’ worth of tea and crumpets with some art and museums sprinkled in between (and by art and museums, I mostly mean bakeries and pubs). From there, Britt will fly back to the States and I will journey on to “The Yoga Capital of the World,” otherwise known as Rishikesh, India.

While in Rishikesh, I will be attending a 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training Course. For a month, I will be living by the regimented schedule of ashram life, which begins at 5:30 AM with morning tea followed by yoga, pranayama (the study of breath), anatomy, more tea, philosophy, more yoga, and you guessed it, meditation.

This will be an entirely new experience for me as I have never been to India, nor have I ever willingly committed myself to anything that would require me to wake up at the ungodly hour of 5 AM. But, I couldn’t be more excited. I am so unbelievably grateful for my path and I encourage each and every one of you to follow your passions because they will certainly take you to some amazing places!

Namaste.

Meditations for the snow

With snow comes peace and stillness. Serenity and comfort. Wonder and magic. When the clouds clear and the sun makes its debut for the first time after the snow falls, the sky seems brighter by contrast, the trees no longer look so dull, and the reflection of sunlight on the snow creates a glimmering effect. It’s just so… enchanting!

The transformation of the outside world from a dreary gray to a luminous wonderland is nature providing us with a new beginning, a blank slate, a fresh start. And the best thing to do when this happens is to set intentions with some mindfulness meditation.

Manifest your dreams

When the earth is covered in a blanket of white, everything appears to be clean and simple, making it easy to concentrate. Get quiet, think about what it is you want and use the snow as a canvas to project your ideas and desires on to. Spend some quality time with your old friend, imagination. Give life to your dreams and your dreams will become your life.

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” –Albert Einstein

Connect with the stillness of your surroundings

Life slows down when it snows. Stores close, highways and roads are abandoned and people shut themselves up inside. There are virtually no distractions; the outside world is calm and still. Get out there and be one with the silence. Even if your life is cluttered with chaos, it’s impossible not to feel more at peace in such a serene space. This is because silence brings upon a sense of clarity. It helps purify your mind of head trash and allows you to focus on what really matters—the truth.

“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” -Rumi

Let It All Out

Dance around your backyard. Laugh and scream and allow all of the things you’ve been silencing to be heard. Release any negative energy you’ve been holding onto. In doing so, you create space for new opportunities and ways of thinking. Don’t be afraid to get loud—it’s not like anyone else is around.

“Some things need to be let go before other things can be let in.” –Marianne Williamson

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Then, go inside and have a hot cup of tea because it’s cold and you deserve it!

Namaste,

Mary

XX

Have a bad ass 2017

You can continue to have the same boring list of resolutions you’ve had for the past 5 + years (eat heathier, exercise more, blah blah blah) or you can get real. Below is a list of attainable and slightly unconventional resolutions to have a bad ass 2017:

Make more mistakes 

Yes, for real. A lot of resolutions have a base in striving for perfection. People want to lose weight to attain the “perfect body,” be a better partner to cultivate the “perfect relationship,” and ultimately create the “perfect life.” But, the truth is, there is nothing human about perfection. Let yourself make mistakes, little ones and big ones. Take action in spite of fear because some of the most valuable life lessons come from screwing up. Put yourself out there. Mistakes are essential to personal growth.

Drop expectations

Expectations tend to cloud our perception of reality. Expectations say “this is how things should be” and when you view your life through the lens of expectation you will never be satisfied in the present moment. Let things be as they are. You may not be able to control the situation, but you can always control your attitude.

Climb that mountain

If there is something you really want to do, then do it. Because really the only other alternative is not doing it. Just remember to be bold, stay focused, and take the next best step. You’ll reach the top whenever you’re meant to get there.

Reinvent yourself often

You reserve the right to be whoever you want, whenever you want. If at some point this year, you wake up with some burning desire to learn Portuguese or move to Australia to become a professional bungee jumper, don’t ignore it. Make it happen. Everything is first born as an idea.

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude

By expressing gratitude, you open yourself up to the powers of positivity. Gratitude brings upon an awareness of all the good in life and eventually, you will begin to see more good without actually looking for it. Choose to practice gratitude however you want. Recite the things you are thankful for while you’re sitting in traffic, or make a mental list before you fall asleep. It doesn’t matter, it’s your practice.

Just be YOU

You’re already a bad ass. You’ve survived 2016 and all of the years before that. Stay true to yourself and your passions and you’re destined to have a kick ass 2017!


Namaste,

Mary

XX

My Journey to the mat

I kind of, sort of fell into yoga by accident.

My yoga journey began last fall when one of my friends was telling me about her gig as the tabata instructor at the campus fitness center. She was explaining to me what the job entailed when I said something that surprised me.

“Yeah, someday I want to be a yoga instructor.”

The words had just flowed right out of my mouth.

You do??? I thought. Since when?

My response had merely been a reflex. I wasn’t even thinking when it happened. Something had just compelled me to say it. Aside from a few beginner classes in high school, I didn’t have much experience with yoga. Yet, there I was confessing some innate desire to teach it. But I felt like I had put my foot in my mouth. I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks because I really didn’t know what to say next. I couldn’t offer anything else to the conversation, so I quickly changed the subject and silently challenged myself to go to a class soon.

A few weeks passed and I hadn’t forgotten entirely about the whole ordeal, but I hadn’t quite pursued it either. Until, my friend, Emily, asked if my roommates and I were interested in going to Yoga In The Park, a free weekly series offered by one of the local studios. With finals looming, we needed a distraction from studying so we agreed to go. I didn’t even have a mat, just a beach towel, but in the soft grass, it was enough. It was a slow practice that matched the pace of the setting sun. I left feeling light and rejuvenated.

When I returned home for winter break, I vowed to dedicate my time off to doing yoga. My best friend, Jena, and I found a local studio that offered student discounts. Both of us were unfamiliar with the different styles of yoga so we blindly wandered into a hot power flow class. It was a disaster from the start. We exchanged confused glances when we realized the instructor was not there to demonstrate the moves for us. And we grew even more confused when she started using the Sanskrit terms in her monologue. I spent the entire 75 minutes wishing for it to be over. I felt woozy from the heat and weak from holding myself up.  After that first class, Jena and I rolled up our mats and walked to the car in silence. Once both of the vehicle doors were closed, she looked at me and in full seriousness said, “I will NEVER do that again.” I immediately burst into laughter.

Despite her claim, we decided to give it another go. It still sucked. But around my fourth or fifth class, something happened. My body was stronger — I could move through chaturanga without collapsing! And, I didn’t feel the need to succumb to childs pose so often. I was finally able to focus on the act of doing yoga, rather than the pain or the passing time. I was really starting to enjoy it.

When I arrived back to Tampa for my second semester, I was determined to keep up with my practice. As fate would have it, there was a lovely studio in walking distance from my dorm. I committed myself to a three-month unlimited package and went as often as I could. Sometimes twice a day.  Eventually, it became a part of my routine. Now, yoga is so deeply integrated into my daily life that it is a part of who I am. It’s like yoga is embedded into my DNA. Corny, but true.

I can’t go a day without stretching my body or mind in some capacity. I can’t eat certain foods without noticing the effects they have on my body. And, I can’t even go to sleep without first expressing gratitude.

Yoga has brought upon a sense of awareness that I didn’t have prior to starting my practice. From being more mindful, I started to see patterns in my life. I noticed there was a direct correlation between my attitude and how I perceived certain experiences. I learned there is beauty in letting go and there is power in positivity. Simply put, yoga changed the way that I live and I am beyond grateful for that.

Namaste,

Mary

XX.