I ended up in Thailand because it’s my philosophy that as long as you’re flying through a country, you might as well spend some time there. (Although this did once get me stuck in Brunei for too long.) I chose Chiang Mai because it’s known as a center for yoga, reiki, meditation, and Thai massage courses. Because I am very interested in and extremely afraid of (my two prerequisites for all my travel activities) touching people, a massage course seemed like a good way to end my trip.
I researched courses, asked friends for recommendations, and visited specific schools, but after a few days in Chiang Mai, I lacked the motivation to commit to 5 or 10 days with a hard-fast schedule, or pack up and leave my guesthouse, a tree-shaded complex in which I’d splurged on a $15/night garden-style room with a king-size bed and spacious living area. Resistant to signing up, I berated myself for my laziness. “When will you have another opportunity to learn Thai massage?” a voice asked. “When will you have another opportunity to live freely without your cellphone attacking you?” my own voice countered.
My first few days were marked by the decision-making fretting that has accompanied every new destination on this journey. I picked my fingernails, tossed and turned in my sleep, and ate my anxiety in mass quantities of mango, coconut, banana, and the occasional salted insect. The hardest decisions I’ve made on this trip have involved not doing something — not going to India, not posting the blog I wrote about trekking, and finally, not enrolling in a massage course.
Which left me faced with the backpacker conundrum — how to fill the next 10 days — move on to the river-town of Pai, volunteer at an elephant park, day trip to Burma? Everywhere you go on the road, if you take a look around, there’s always another destination, another must-see “monkey show,” another opportunity to miss. But here the activity touts were so passive, sleeping in their tuk-tuks or sangtheows, my only exchange seemed to be some version of:
“Hey, Mr. Long-Haired Guy, Where you from?”
“U.S.A., then why you so short?”
This “city,” especially the old city where I stayed, was so quiet and peaceful with its Wat (Buddhist temple) lined streets that I slipped easily into a near aimlessness, a daily yoga class as my only foundation.
Even though I’d launched my trip with a yoga retreat in Bali, I had not anticipated that yoga would become the through-line, the constant that I’d return to again and again at other retreat centers and studios, as well as guest house rooms and balconies. Here in Chiang Mai the class offerings and teachers were particularly strong, and I branched out beyond my usual vinyasa flow to take some special classes like “yin yoga for the digestive system,” “modified ashtanga series,” and “mandala flow.” Each night I’d peruse the schedule and turn whatever class I chose for the following day into the main event, often surrounding it with a wander to a used bookstore or a vegetarian restaurant.
I kept to myself quite a bit for these two weeks, but by the end, I was regularly talking to people. It may be a universal rule of yoga that if you show up at the same studio every day, and the studio has a heart, you’ll eventually have friends. I started to feel at home at Wild Rose when I noticed that Rose would greet me before I’d even entered the place, catching me or my ponytail through the window.
On my last day, I booked the latest flight out so that I could attend a “visions and vinyasa” workshop led by Jenny Blake, a teacher and life coach from NY. I really wanted to take the opportunity for a body-centered inquiry into what I envision for myself when I return to San Francisco. Home had definitely been on my mind. My intention for this part of the trip was, as I’d written in my journal, to prepare for coming home.
This was the last leg (not counting a quick visit to a friend in Taiwan), my final chance to practice all that I’d learned without distractions. I ate most of my meals in silence (no reading while food was on the table), tried to walk everywhere with awareness, and sat for meditation in the mornings with a renewed focus. I also took the opportunity to dabble in my growing interests. I tried a one-day Reiki course and a half-day back/shoulder/neck massage course to see if next time a longer course might be for me. Mostly, I did a whole lot of nothing except rest and absorb, treating it like a savasana before I curled into the fetal position, sat up, and opened my eyes to face the Western world.
In yoga, savasana has always been my most challenging pose. To just lie there and do nothing is incredibly hard. To arrive in a new city and do nothing or close to nothing, emptying the space of activities instead of filling it with them is incredibly hard. “Some people say that savasana is the most important pose of all,” Jenny said during that final workshop, “That it is the only pose that matters.” How true, I thought, how very true.