There’s No Place Like Home

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Traveling can be such a liberating and magical experience. One of the reasons I love to do it so much is because it pushes me to go out of me comfort zone while learning from others who may vary drastically from myself. I’m very grateful to have been able to travel throughout Thailand and explore this beautiful country. It’s helped me grow as a person and view the world through a different lens.

Even though I’ve only been back to the States for a little over two weeks, there is so much that I miss about Thailand. All of the wonderful people. Pook. Ulf. Our taxi drivers. Lina. Just to name a few. I also really love the pace of life there. People seem to be more tuned into their surroundings and those around them. There is a sense of community that lacks back home. Let’s not forget about all the delicious food and drink. Massaman curry. Bubble tea. Papaya salad. Thai tea. Red curry. Cashew chicken. Did I say curry? There is such a wild energy throughout Bangkok. People zipping in and out of the streets in motorbikes and tuk tuks. The energy of the city pulsates everywhere you go. And then there’s all the history and beauty that comes with each region of Thailand. Whether that be driving through the mountains in the North or taking in the endless sunsets and crystal clear waters of the beaches of Koh Samui in the South.

Traveling also has given me a deeper appreciation of living in the United States. I no longer need to put my toilet paper in the garbage when going to the bathroom due to challenges with plumbing. Or worry about expressing my opinions openly without censorship or punishment. Communicating without having a language barrier has also been something that I have missed. There’s also the ability to be closer to family and friends without be separated from an ocean. And of course being able to brush ones teeth from the sink or drink tap water without worrying about getting sick.

Thailand will always have a special place in my heart. It gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in yoga and stressed how important self-care is in life. I will look back on my travels with fondness. Now it’s time to look for a permanent job and make my home more stable. Despite this, no matter where one ends up in life, a slice of home can always be found within ourselves.

Sarah Masse

Save the Elephants

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Last week, I went to visit elephants at the Wildlife Friends Foundation in Thailand. This was my second time seeing these amazing animals during my trip. From the start, my friend Alyssa and I were impressed with our visit. Staff were incredibly informative, giving us in-depth information about the elephants and other animals at the Foundation. The majority of elephants that we saw had been rescued from tourist organizations that promote elephant shows and riding. After hearing the unique stories about each elephant, it helped make me aware of how cruel many trainers and businesses can be to these animals while making a profit from tourists who may be unaware of what is occurring behind closed doors.

Before a friend informed me that it was considered inhumane to ride elephants, I had planned to do just that. During our day trip to the Wildlife Friends Foundation, staff educated us on why riding elephants is so harmful. When elephants are captured from the wild, many times trainers will break them down and “crush their spirits” so that they become passive and obedient. They will use a bullhook to pull on an elephant’s ears when riding them as part of the training process. If the elephants do anything that the trainer does not deem appropriate, the bullhook will be presented to them as a consequence. Other training methods involve pulling out the hair on an elephant’s tail. Some of the elephants that we saw that had been rescued did indeed have their hair pulled out from their tails and flaps in their ears from the use of a bullhook. During our tour we were also informed that when elephants are captured in the wild or if they give birth, many sites will separate the mother from their child.

The Foundation also educated visitors on why it is so harmful to ride elephants. The main reason for this is due to their soft spines. When saddles are placed on their backs and individuals ride them throughout the day, this shifts the distribution of weight on their backs. Many times elephants will develop sores from saddle riding and the curve of their spine will become distorted. When my friend and I visited the city of Ayutthaya, we both became angered when we saw tourists riding these elephants. I’d like to think they didn’t know that this was bad for the elephant but part of me wonders how they couldn’t. There were about 5 elephants in total. All of them had shackles on their legs. With a closer look, Alyssa and I could see that much of their hair was ripped out of their tails and they had tears in their ears from use of a bullhook. Riding elephants in the city can also be dangerous due to the potential of cars hitting them, which can result in deaths. While at the Wildlife Friends Foundation, we met one elephant that had been hit by a car. Due to this, she had a permanent limp on her left rear leg and was not able to bear weight on it when standing. Our group was informed that riding elephants has been illegal in Bangkok for about 10 years. However, this does not appear to be the case for other parts of Thailand. When tourists were riding these elephants in Ayutthaya, other individuals on the street would stop to take pictures with them smiling from ear to ear. Knowing what we learned I couldn’t help but feel incredibly sad for these elephants.

Visiting the Wildlife Friends Foundation also made me realize that similar to humans, trauma can have lasting effects on elephants. Symptoms comparable to PTSD occur in elephants that have been tortured. One that was rescued and brought to the Wildlife Friends Foundation was reported to have stereographic, repetitive movements. As an OT, I have taken a few courses on trauma and abuse in children. What triggered my interest at the site was some of the similarities between patterns in humans and elephants exposed to abuse. One course I have taken discussed how individuals who have been exposed to trauma hold this in their bodies. Research is beginning to illustrate the importance of releasing this trauma through physical movement, which is what it sounds like what these elephants are also doing at the Foundation.

Prior to visiting an elephant foundation or site, it’s important to try to do as much research about the company beforehand. I’d like to think that the first elephant site, The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, was as ethical as the Wildlife Friends Foundation that I visited. However, now I have some doubts and concerns. When my friend and I planned to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary we thought it was ok because of their mission statement claiming it was ethical to elephants in addition to the no riding policy. We weren’t able to find any negative reviews about this site but now I am very skeptical. Initially, I thought the elephants were treated ethically because they were free to roam around and eat throughout the day in the jungle. Now I think that we were duped. After further investigation, I found an article from a former visitor who stayed overnight in Chiang Mai. She took video footage of these elephants being shackled overnight (refer to link below). After thinking more about our visit, other red flags that come to mind is the limited information we were given about each elephant at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and the fact that there did not appear to be any rules or limits to tourists visiting with these elephants. What I loved most about the Wildlife Friends Foundation was that they educated everyone on how prevalent elephant cruelty is and discussed each elephant in depth. It was quite clear that elephants needs came first over visitors. The staff were very invested in their wellbeing. They protected the elephants from visitors and had clear rules and guidelines for us to follow.

Elephants are magical animals that have a right to live in the wild. Unfortunately, in Thailand many of them are captured and taken into the tourist industry for shows or trekking. Visiting the Wildlife Friends Foundation has opened my eyes to much of the cruelty that elephants endure. It has also made me aware that even if an organization claims to treat elephants ethically and calls itself a “Sanctuary” this may not be the case. The Wildlife Friends Foundation stressed the importance of spreading the word to end cruelty of elephants. After realizing the first site I visited was likely not as “ethical” as it claimed to be, I am trying to share my experience about this so that someone else may not make the same mistake that I did. If you are planning to go to Thailand or any other country that has elephants, please keep this information in mind. Please help spread the word about elephants.

Link mentioned above:                                                                                                    https://www.facebook.com/100004900755630/videos/869335706573113/UzpfSTIyMTgyMTg2ODE3MzkwODE6MjIyNTk4MTgwNzYyOTQzNQ/?hc_ref=ARQfkTCRWwFqU9Cx1d5fNHeT4UhW2NoJi8iu7U_4qbX5-Bn4ZXMQ1j2zxeYyy3DtEMc

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Sarah Masse

Beyond the Cave

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Life is very fragile and can change within an instant. Shortly after arriving in Chiang Rai, Thailand I was informed that 12 boys and their coach were stranded inside a cave when it became flooded by rain. Throughout my time in Thailand, like the rest of the country and world, I have been following their story. Periodically, during our yoga classes, Pook would remind us of how lucky we were to be safe. The remarkable story of the 12 boys and their coach reinforces how resilient the human spirit can be in times of fear and uncertainty.

One cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to be trapped in a cave for 18 days, where water levels and oxygen are unknown variables in a life or death situation. Many times, I have tried to put myself in the position of the coach, wondering how he felt while in the cave. Did guilt consume him for deciding to venture into the cave with his team? Was his mind constantly racing and analyzing what his options were to ensure that the 12 boys would be safe? Did he hold onto hope that they would be discovered? Based on all of the news reports that I have read, he sounds like an incredibly brave and kind individual as he withheld food for himself to give to his players even if this resulted in his death. When in this situation, I am unsure of how many people would be this selfless.

So many people from around the world were invested in the Wild Boars soccer team’s safe return from the cave. Parents held onto hope waiting outside of the caves. I’ll admit that when I first heard that 12 players and their coach went missing, I was unsure if they would be alive. The parents and rescue team believed they were still alive and celebrated when they were discovered. When you think about it, without hope there is nothing. All the members of the rescue team believed that these children and their coach would be saved. Saman Kunan made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure saving these 13 individuals when he lost oxygen and consciousness and passed away after delivering oxygen to the 12 boys and their coach. What greater gift is there than that?

The events that unfolded in Chiang Rai within the last two and a half weeks have been an incredible depiction of resilience in times of adversity. They have also helped heighten my awareness of how delicate, precious, and unpredictable life can be. When I watched video of the boys being discovered by a UK diver initially, even just seeing how sensitive their eyes were to the light was shocking. We are given gifts everyday, from the air we breathe to the sunlight on our skin and faces that are very easy to overlook. I know I do this frequently.

The moving story of human strength and survival of the 12 boys and coach rescued in Chiang Rai has many valuable lessons. It helps remind me how powerful hope can be to help strengthen us in times of fear and hardship. This story has also made me more aware of how important it is to really appreciate the gifts that surround us everyday if we just take the time to see them. We never know when we will see them again. Cheers to all the brave individuals who assisted in the triumphant rescue of the 12 boys and coach from the Thai cave.

Sarah Masse

Buckle Up: The Many Forms of Transportation in Thailand

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I’ve reached a point where I don’t know what day or time it is anymore. It’s a little disorientating to say the least. Pook told Miranda and me that it’s a good sign when this happens as you are truly on vacation. Well, count me in as I realized today was already July 8th. I can’t believe that one more week remains before returning to the States. My friend Miranda flew out of Thailand on Saturday morning while Alyssa joined me from Chicago. Yesterday Alyssa and I flew from Bangkok to the island of Koh Samui. Since arriving in Thailand and exploring the Northern and Southern regions by various forms of public transportation, I have been able to experience first hand how different it is to travel using a car, minivan, and airplane compared to back home.

Driving in Thailand is like nothing I have ever experienced before. It is chaotic and congested but also exhilarating. Scooters and tuk tuks weave in and out of cars at a standstill. I didn’t know this before arriving in Thailand but cars drive on the left hand side of the road. This has changed my perception of right-handed turns and still messes with me at times. It also makes crossing the road more difficult as I get confused which direction cars are coming from. There doesn’t appear to be many laws enforced with driving as cars pass each other whenever they want and do not seem to abide by a speed limit. Nonetheless, one of our taxi drivers did inform us that three years ago Thailand started to enforce wearing seat belts while in vehicles. For cars that do not follow this and are caught, they can face a fee of up to 5,000 Baht. This only seems to apply to cars and minibuses, as tuk tuks do not have seat belts at this time.

When Miranda and I drove to the town of Pai via minibus, there were 762 curves on a mountain that lead up to it. Depending on the driver, if you are prone to motion sickness, it is advised to take medication in advance as many individuals are known to get sick. Our driver joked that there were only two curves to get to Pai, right and left, and he meant it. Despite, the craziness of the traffic and curves, many of the locals have their way of communicating with other drivers which can consist of flashing of lights before passing other cars as a signal. If one is unaware of these driving signals, it can be a stressful experience for a passenger. Overall, I’ve felt very safe driving with the locals since they know what signals the other drivers are communicating with them. Sometimes I think the foreigners who are unaware of these signals can get themselves into trouble while driving.

Flying has also been very different than in the States. It is much more glamorized here. All of the flight attendants are perfectly manicured and much more cheerful than any of the stewardesses that I have ever met back home. Meals are served on every flight, some of which are only about 50 minutes. I have really enjoyed flying in Thailand.

Before arriving in Thailand, I was very nervous about traveling via plane or car based on what I read regarding transportation. I have really enjoyed my time exploring Thailand by bus, tuk tuk, boat, car, and airplane. The streets are filled with so much energy. Driving is part of the culture of what makes Thailand, Thailand. Coming back to the States it will be very confusing to see cars on the right side of the road. I never thought that I’d say this but it will also make driving in Chicago seem relatively mild compared to in Bangkok.

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Sarah Masse

 

 

It’s a Small World After All

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When I was studying abroad in Spain in college my parents visited me in Toledo after the semester ended. We decided to explore Madrid for a weekend. While there, I ran into a former classmate of mine from a photography course on a street corner. She informed me she was studying abroad in the southern Spain as we caught up. Had I been at the street corner two minutes later than her or had she decided to visit Madrid the following weekend, we never would have met again. Even though I didn’t see her after Spain, this interaction really made me realize how small of a world we live in.

There are so many factors and variables that go into meeting people and the impact that they will have on us. Had I not met Miranda in California while working as a traveling OT, I don’t know if I would be in Thailand at this time. It’s just so crazy to think about how people meet and what brings them together. Miranda and I met through an owner of a house in Monterey when I was trying to find accommodations for an upcoming travel assignment. The owner gave us each other’s contact information as Miranda was her tenant and we were both traveling therapists. What was even more random was that we worked for the same traveling company. Since meeting, Miranda and I have had many great adventures in Monterey, Iceland, and now Thailand.

My friend Alyssa and I also met in a very interesting way. We were in Cusco, Peru as volunteers 3 years ago. With a program of about 20 volunteers from all over the world, Alyssa and I were both from Wisconsin. What are the chances of that? And now we will be reuniting in a few days to go on another journey through southern Thailand together.

Even on this trip in Thailand, it’s crazy how you can meet people and be connected to them briefly or for longer periods of time. Miranda and I were able to meet up with Lina, my airport buddy from France, to explore Chiang Mai on Monday night. We also met a girl who is traveling to the islands of Thailand to become a certified yoga instructor from Ohio named Lexy while on our elephant tour. Lexy showed us an amazing view of Chiang Mai poolside from her Airbnb after the tour. I will likely meet up with her when I am in Southern Thailand again in the next week as we will be nearby to one another.

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I love how traveling makes the world a smaller place by connecting people. Sometimes this can be for an hour or two and other times for years. Each person we meet has an impact on us whether it is big or small. The small ones also have a way of accumulating into something quite large over time. Even though the planet can be a big and overwhelming place, sometimes it’s smaller than we think as we form relationships with others. The world has an extraordinary way of bringing people into our lives when we least expect it.

Sarah Masse

 

 

Laughter is Everywhere

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When we first arrived in Chiang Rai, Miranda and I agreed that we’ve never felt more like foreigners. We had the main phrases written down in Thai but that was about all. The brain has a funny way of working. For some odd reason, whenever I wanted to communicate to someone in Thai, I would revert back to Spanish if they didn’t understand me. Miranda found herself doing sign language on one occasion. Many times, locals would stare at us blankly when we were trying to communicate with them. Our host Ulf happily told us that he likes to roll down his window and yell “foreign” when he sees someone who is visiting the city. Ironically, Ulf is from Germany and has blonde hair and blue eyes so I’m guessing whoever hears him doing this is be a bit confused as to why. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure if Miranda and I weren’t staying with Ulf he would have been yelling foreign at us because we definitely stuck out. Despite the fact that we didn’t always know what was going on or how to communicate our needs verbally, Miranda and I have been able to connect with others in Thailand.

After traveling through Europe, South America, and now Thailand, when it comes down to it I think the majority of people have more similarities than differences. Yes, there will always be people out in the world who don’t care about others. That’s everywhere. However, from my personal experience that’s few and far between. Overall, I think that most people really just want to be connected to others while figuring out their lives. After all, humans are social beings by nature.

Throughout this trip, there have been so many instances where laughter has really been a binding force. When Miranda and I visited Wat Rong Suea Ten (e.g. The Blue Temple), we were greeted by what appeared to be a local on the staircase leading up to the Blue Temple. He couldn’t stop laughing when he asked us using gestures if we could take a picture of him standing in front of the temple. This man then asked Miranda and me if he could take one with each of us. We both thought it was so funny that we got one with him as well. Whenever I look at the picture of us together it cracks me up and I can’t stop laughing at how happy both of us were. Even though I’ll never see him again, we’ll always share that snapshot together laughing.

I forgot how important it is to laugh through your struggles. It can also become infectious. A few days ago, Miranda and I were getting a Thai massage. I don’t remember what happened but one of us started to laugh and it was contagious. After a few seconds, Miranda, our massage therapists, and I were all snickering uncontrollably for about 1-2 minutes. This is probably one of my favorite memories from Thailand because all four of us from all different walks of life were on the same wavelength connecting through laughter.

Another instance where laughter was vital was with our taxi driver Cha-veng in Chiang Rai. Even though he spoke Thai and we spoke mostly English, we were able to communicate with each other. Did we play gestures with Cha-yeng with certain phrases? You bet. We were able to laugh and keep communicating through the language barrier? Of course. Cha-yeng taught us many basic phrases in Thai. Most of which, we are continuing to use on our travels throughout Thailand. He taught us the pronunciation of these phrases as the tones vary and can change the meaning of what you are expressing. Again, laughter helped us bond with each other. During our 3-hour car ride from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai, we would try to pronounce the cities and he would correct us. Although we weren’t able to have long conversations with him, we shared a meal with Cha-yeng and laughed most of the day away. This is also a memory that will stick out for me during my trip to Thailand.

Traveling to another country where the primary language is not your own can be incredibly intimidating. I have so much respect for people who come to the United States where English is not their primary language. It can be challenging and frustrating when you aren’t able to express your desires and may not fully understand the customs of another country. What I have also learned on this trip is that a smile and laughter can go a LONG way. You can find laughter wherever you may be heading. It really is everywhere.

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Sarah Masse

 

Sad to Leave Chiang Rai but Excited for What Lies Ahead

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As I sit hear listening to the music of the insects and birds outside, I’m sad that my time at Omsara Yoga has come to an end. A week has already passed. It’s bizarre how fast the time has flown by and all that has been accomplished in a week.

When I first arrived to Omsara Yoga, I was on my own as my friend Miranda would not be joining me for another 3 days. This was the first long flight that I have done solo. I was feeling incredibly anxious and uncomfortable about it. Part of me dislikes airplanes because of the fact that you are out of control. You need to trust someone else. I’m so glad I was able to get out of my comfort zone and fly to Thailand on my own. Along the way, I met fellow travelers as I made my journey from Chicago to Chiang Rai. One such person was a girl named Lina from France who was relocating from Korea to Chiang Mai for work. We exchanged stories and phone numbers as we were both trying to keep each other awake at 5 am in the airport of Bangkok.

Before Miranda arrived, I didn’t think 2 yoga classes a day would suffice. Boy was I wrong. 2 ½ hours a day have been quite sufficient. My first yoga class on my own was a bit rough as I hadn’t been practicing it lately and was incredibly stiff from my flights. I could hardly get into downward dog because my hamstrings were so tight. My balance was not the best either. As the days went by Pook, my yoga instructor, kept reminding me that there’s no need to rush into poses as they will come with time. She was right. Pook knew when to challenge Miranda and me. This petite Thai woman who weighs less than 100 pounds and is not even 5 feet tall, would tell us periodically during our classes that she would kick our asses. That’s for sure. I’m glad that she continued to increase the difficulty of the classes. Slowly, I’m gaining confidence in my abilities. I can feel my arms and stomach getting stronger. My downward dog is getting higher. I’m starting to touch my feet to the floor ever so slightly when doing Halasana. Holding plank pose for longer periods of time is getting easier and I am balancing during half lotus pose while standing. Little by little.

Miranda and I were talking about when we leave Omsara Yoga that it will be important to continue to practice our poses every day to keep making gains and growing. Pook told us it’s better to do a little each day then 1 or 2 classes for an hour each week as this is how you build endurance and strength. According to her partner Ulf, it takes 21 days for the body to get into a routine. Bring on the next 14.

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One of the highlights of being in Chiang Rai is living with Pook and Ulf. They have given an inside look into what life in Thailand is like. While here, Miranda and I have gottento watch Pook cook. I never thought I would eat vegan food for an extended period of time. As Pook is an exceptional cook, I’m not afraid to admit I was wrong. The meals are so colorful and bright. Having only 2 meals a day has been quite enough as well. Miranda and I can’t finish most of our meals on our own. I can’t get over how genuine, welcoming, and kind Pook and Ulf have been to us.

Yesterday Miranda and I finished our meditation course with Ulf. He taught us more about Tibetan Buddhism. We were introduced to mediating using a mantra while counting the beads on a mala. Something that Ulf told us that stuck out to me was that life changes all around us constantly. What he has learned from meditation is the one thing that doesn’t change is our inner joy. As difficult as life gets, no one can take our joy away or our ability to view the world as beautiful. I have heard the phrase the only constant in life is change but I like his outlook better. That there is a constant aside from change and that is our joy. We need to celebrate more of what we are grateful for and have because there are so many treasures that exist in our day-to-day lives if we just open our eyes.

For our last day in Chiang Rai, Miranda and I rented bikes at Singha Park. It is so beautiful there with tea plantations surrounding us. Riding our bikes through these narrow secret paths made me feel more alive and free than I have felt in years. I’m really sad to be leaving Chiang Rai but excited for what adventures come our way as we continue to explore the many regions that Thailand has to offer. Pook and Ulf have taught Miranda and I many invaluable lessons. I will make sure to carry those with me as I continue my journey through Thailand and beyond.

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Sarah Masse

Lessons Learned from my Yoga Instructor

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I’m still pretty new to the yoga world. During my time at Omsara Yoga, my instructor Pook has helped teach me some valuable lessons that I hope to carry with me after this retreat comes to an end. They are as follows:

  1. Honor your body. It’s ok not to be able to do every pose introduced. Listen to what your body is telling you and respect it. If you need modifications, use the modifications.
  2. Enjoy the journey. It can be so easy to compare ourselves to others. Sometimes unconsciously other times not so much. Everyone has a different journey. Enjoy the one that you are on and celebrate your accomplishments along the way. What’s most important is focusing on where you started and where you would like to go.
  3. Stay grounded. Our feet and hands form the foundation for every pose that is presented to us. Make sure that you are well supported and have a good base of support before moving into a more daring pose. Without a strong foundation, there’s no way to find balance.
  4. Don’t forget to breathe and stay calm. When challenging poses arise it is easy to want to hold our breath. Breathe into the discomfort as this will ease the tension and help center us.
  5. Remain in the present. Listen to what your body is telling you. Focus on elongating every inch of your body. Take in the noises that surround you during yoga weather it be traffic or insects. There is only one place to be and that is the present.
  6. Discomfort is ok. Discomfort is normal. Don’t let it stop you from growing in your practice. Slowly, with time, it will decrease. Discomfort allows you to keep progressing.
  7. Trust yourself. Fear can be paralyzing. Don’t let it stop you from trying new poses. Have trust in your body that it is strong and will support you and confidence in yourself.
  8. Be Patient. Don’t rush into your poses. Take your time when transitioning. Respect that you may not be able to do a pose now but will likely in the future. Not everything is immediate.
  9. Don’t take yourself too seriously. There is no need to be so serious during yoga. A smile can go a long way.
  10. It’s ok to fall. Everyone loses their footing at one time or another. It’s ok to fall. What’s important is that you try again. With practice and time, it gets easier and easier.
  11. Monkey Mind is normal. Our minds wander. That’s just part of being human. Let your thoughts come in and out like waves. Just continue to bring yourself back to the present.
  12. Challenge yourself. If a pose feels too easy, try flexing your foot more and extending your leg higher. Keep challenging yourself so you continue to get stronger and more flexible. Don’t coast.
  13. Take breaks and rest when needed. After completing a challenging series, allow your body to rest before attempting the next series. At the end of yoga make sure to take Savasana, as this is the most important yoga pose. Give your body the rest it needs after working so hard and time to replenish.
  14. Don’t stop emotions from coming up. Sometimes when you are doing yoga, you may get flooded with emotions like happiness or waves of sadness. Acknowledge the feelings that arise. Let them pass.
  15. There is no such thing as perfect. Nothing is perfect. Each person’s pose will vary from the others to some extent. Don’t strive for perfection because it doesn’t exist. Instead celebrate your poses just as they are.

Sarah Masse

The Importance of Finding a Balance Between Mind, Body, and Spirit

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We live in a fast paced society that focuses on the importance of output and productivity. When there is silence or a lull during the day, we don’t know what to do with it. Working in healthcare, I’m very guilty of putting all of my time and energy into my clients care. Lately, I have forgotten to take time to take care of myself. On flights we are taught to put our oxygen masks on first before helping others. Why aren’t many of us able to do this in our day-to-day routines?

Balance is something that is very difficult to obtain. Despite this, it’s important to strive for it. Traveling to Thailand has made me aware of how unbalanced my life has become. When I arrived at my yoga retreat last week, I had so much free time on my hands that it felt unnatural to sit in silence. Now I crave it and try to take advantage of it as much as I can. This is what most people really need the most. Time to sit and reflect on our thoughts so that we are able to really question what we are striving for in life. It’s easy to get caught up in the motions of things, that before we know it, we wonder what purpose it is serving.

Doing yoga twice a day has made me realize the value of taking care of my body. Slowly, I am starting to feel more elongated. My muscles are getting stronger and I’m releasing tension that has been building up for years. I have also found myself more cognizant of what I am putting into my body. A good friend of mine once told me you are what you eat. And it’s so true. Giving your body the nutrients it needs to grow and replenish itself is key. We only have one body, so cherish it. Initially, I was very hesitant to go vegan for this retreat. Since eating vegan, I have had more energy. It’s made me aware that I need to stop skipping meals or eating what is convenient in order to meet others needs. This is not doing a service to anyone. While at work If I took my lunch regularly and had 30 minutes to refresh, maybe I would come back more in tuned and connected to what others are experiencing.

Being mindful of the body is just one component of self-care. It’s also important to factor in the mind. Prior to my trip, I took a Transcendental Meditation Course as I tend to get anxious on flights. Since Thailand was my longest flight, I knew I needed to do something to help calm my nerves. Otherwise the 20 hour flight would seem NEVER ENDING. Since traveling, I have made the allotted time to do meditation 2 times a day for 20 minutes. I’m not going to lie, sometimes those twenty minutes can seem like an hour but overall it has been getting easier and easier to quiet my mind. It put me back on a schedule. I realize how important it is to have quiet time for one’s thoughts. When I meditate regularly, I feel more connected to those around me, energized, and present.

Last but not least we need to take care of our spirit. Sometimes life can throw us some pretty horrible blows when we least expect it. Trying to knock us off our feet and crush our spirit. Whether it’s through meditation, yoga, nature, or religion it’s important to find some sort of spiritual outlet to feel more connected with the world around us. This is one area that I still struggle with. However, yoga has made me feel more in tuned to my surroundings and myself. I’m able to see something bigger than just myself to live for.

Balance of the mind, body, and spirit is something I will continue to strive for after returning to the States. It may never be fully obtainable but it’s worth spending more time on these areas regularly. Once work starts, it will be more challenging to make time for my mind, body, and spirit but even if it’s for a short period during the day, that’s something. If we don’t care about taking care of ourselves, who will?

Sarah Masse