How Traveling To Southeast Asia Without My Yoga Mat Led Me To An Epiphany

All of us struggle from time to time to listen to our inner voice. It’s usually not until the bottom falls out of the bucket or a personal crisis occurs that we actually listen to what our inner voice has been telling us all along.

As a yoga teacher, I often begin my classes with a guided meditation that uses the breath to connect the mind and the spirit. When we focus on our breath it opens up the path that allows our inner voice to be heard.

“What is your gut telling you?”

This question prompts us to delve inward and check in with our current state of mind. When we are quiet and take the time to focus on the breath, this is when we can hear our inner voice the most.

But what happens when even a yoga teacher can’t hear her own inner voice?

It happened to me this past year. I had set off on a year-long journey to travel the world. Life was a mess leading up to my departure. In a series of unexpected events my grandmother, my father-in-law and my beloved dog all died. To say that my life felt turned upside down is an understatement.

I deliberated for hours on whether to pursue my trip. My dream was to backpack throughout Europe and take my time meandering throughout Southeast Asia. Ultimately, I decided that traveling might alleviate the pain I was in. Sitting in the comfort of my home, I imagined that new scenery and a geographic shift would help me escape the terrible memory of the past few months.

My vision quickly dissolved early in my journey from one where I naively assumed all my troubles would fade away, to one where I was blindly navigating in a foreign land on auto-pilot. The magic of experiencing a new sight or city couldn’t deafen my grief and the unimaginable pain I had been through. Things became worse when that grief coupled with my need to control every little detail of my travels, and my insistence to try to do more in an already limited schedule. I began to feel run-down, anxious and stressed. I neglected my intuition and kept going.

When I arrived in Thailand my body finally gave out and I was hospitalized. Looking back now, I recalled moments when my body was yearning for rest but I chose to neglect my inner voice.

Before leaving home I decided to leave my yoga mat behind. Choosing to deny myself this daily soulful nourishment because I didn’t want to lug a big mat around added to the downfall of my mental and physical health. While only time could have healed the pain I was in, maintaining my daily yoga practice would have helped my spiritual healing.

Once I felt better I bought a lightweight mat and returned to my daily yoga practice. I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and practiced yoga alongside the knowledgeable teachers at Wild Rose Yoga. The Yin Yoga and Restorative classes I took began to unblock the negative emotions my body was storing. Following class, I would enjoy the most incredible organically prepared macrobiotic foods at Amrita Garden, a small cafe and guesthouse popular with yoga students.

Refreshed and refocused, I traveled to The Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali. The Yoga Nidra, Tibetan Bowl Meditation and challenging Vinyasa classes continued to unearth my spirit. After class, I enjoyed the absolutely delicious vegan food at Earth Cafe & Market. With amazing organic smoothies, non-GMO food and revitalizing fresh juices, I soon found myself feeling the best I had ever felt in my life.

Spiritually, my life is forever changed. Wherever I now go, my yoga mat is my essential travel companion. Through travel and yoga I’ve became more grounded and my soul more nourished. Looking back, I have no regrets in how my first trip around the world unfolded. Had I not chosen to leave my mat behind, I wouldn’t have been reminded of the incredible gift that practicing yoga brings – the connection between our inner voice, body and soul.

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Leah Van Der Kooy
Leah Van Der Kooy

As a writer, yoga teacher and world-traveler, I have been lucky to live in some of the most incredible places on earth. Along the way, my curiosity about new cultures and the connectedness that happens when I step outside my comfort zone, have unveiled a depth of experience in my life that remains unmatched by anything other than travel. I travel, therefore, I am.Currently based in The Hague in The Netherlands, my recent projects include hosting a travel series for and writing for a handful of travel based publications. I can usually be found contemplating my next fresh story idea or on my yoga mat. More likely than not, good food and a delicious cup of tea is involved.Follow me at and on Twitter @leahvanderkooy

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