Alona HenigAlona Henig is an Ann Arbor native, Vinyasa yoga teacher, recent University of Michigan environmental science & Spanish alum, and outdoors enthusiast. She is sharing reflections from the trail as she explores the world in 2020. Follow her here on the Bird’s Word Blog, or on Journeys International’s Facebook or Instagram pages.

How Did I Get Here?

I’ve always liked having a plan. When I started college, I wanted to be a doctor. After realizing that wouldn’t and shouldn’t happen, I made a plan for a career in public health. When I realized that wasn’t for me either, I planned to be a lawyer. I later decided against that, too. I graduated in a similar position to many others–entirely unsure of what I wanted to do with my life.

During college, I had studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At an orientation for the program, the director started by saying, “You Americans don’t know how to do nothing. That is something we Argentines are very good at. We love to do nothing. For an American, sitting in a café for 4 hours and looking at the ceiling is a waste of time. For an Argentine, it’s a day well-spent.” Studying abroad in Argentina introduced me to a new way of living and gave me an opportunity to do less. To let go of any expectations I had for myself of how productive I needed to be, and to experience my life at a new pace.

That semester, I had a lot more free time than I was used to, and I spent a good chunk of it traveling. Once I finished my semester in Buenos Aires, I had 5 weeks before my flight home. I explored more of Argentina, including Patagonia, as well as Chile, and Peru. Along the way I met many different travelers, men and women from all over the world, who introduced me to the idea of solo travel. I remember thinking, “I could see myself doing more of this one day.” I wanted to see more of the world, continue speaking Spanish, meet new people, and share new stories with them.

But back on campus, I lost track of that desire to travel in the rush to look for post-graduation jobs. I became very anxious about whether or not I would choose the “right” path or career. After graduating, I lived at home and worked many part-time jobs, saving up for whatever my next step might be.

Sitting with Discomfort

One night over the Summer, I went over to my friend Naomi’s house. She was two weeks away from a big transition–moving to Koh Samui, Thailand to teach at an international school. I talked to her about how I was feeling anxious because I didn’t know what my next step was. I told her I was nervous about getting a job I didn’t like just to “use my degree.” She said, “You know you don’t have to do that, right? You could travel or work somewhere else or something.” And in that moment, something clicked. I realized I didn’t need to have answers for what I would do with my career and life. As uncomfortable as it might be, it was okay not to have all of the answers yet.

In a yoga class I took months earlier, after flowing to the point of exhaustion, we were asked to hold a Warrior 2 stance for what felt like forever. My quadriceps were on fire, my arms felt like they were going to fall off, and the teacher said, “I know this is uncomfortable. Can you experience your discomfort and not run away from it?” The class ended and with all of my limbs still intact, I returned home. I’ve carried this memory with me ever since.

In June of 2019 I started teaching yoga. The idea of sitting through discomfort became a central theme in my classes. When holding an intense posture, perhaps Pigeon or Boat pose, I’d say, “Take a moment to notice what you’re feeling. Acknowledging that this posture can be intense or overwhelming, what’s your reaction? If it’s pain, back off. If it’s discomfort, can you find a way to breathe deeper and stay in it? Each and every one of us has and will feel discomfort at some point in our lives, whether a deep physical sensation, sadness, frustration, anxiety, stress, grief, or something else. And when we feel this discomfort, we can respond in a couple of ways: we can resist the sensation, telling ourselves stories of how it’s more than we can bear, how it’s unfair, etc. Or we can accept it, surrendering to the sensation and observing our reaction. Remembering that as intense or overwhelming as it might be, it is temporary. Like everything else, this too shall pass.”

Looking Forward

As I start my year-long adventure, I am carrying all of these experiences and lessons with me. I will continue my yoga practice and apply all that I’ve learned on my mat to my everyday experiences. I am privileged to have the freedom that comes without a mortgage, kids, or dependents, so I’m giving myself a year to live and learn and grow.

My first stop is in Koh Samui visiting my friend, Naomi. From there I will fly on to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. In May, my friend, Rose, is meeting me for a 10-day trek in Nepal, and then I will stay for a 10-day course on Buddhism and Meditation at Kopan Monastery. After that, who knows? I am intentionally leaving myself a lot of flexibility and reminding myself to allow my plans, or lack thereof, to change and evolve with time.

I feel so grateful for this opportunity to travel, and I’m looking forward to documenting and sharing my experiences through my writing. Until next time!