As the co-founder of Yoga For Bad People, Heather Lilleston has a dream job: She leads yoga retreats and workshops around the globe. In 2017, she picked up passport stamps in Ireland, Portugal, Cuba, Sicily, Mexico, and Uruguay (among other countries!) and is jetting off to Costa Rica and Indonesia yet. Here, she shares what she’s learned about traveling for a living—and why the reality is so much richer (and realer, for better or worse) than what social media alone might suggest.
Needless to say, it’s been a big year for travel for me. And most everyone I know who follows me on Instagram thinks I’m living the most amazing life and just get to fly around the world telling people to inhale/exhale and lift their arms and feel better. Much of that is true.
Travel is thoroughly rewarding. Teaching yoga is thoroughly rewarding. Having time on a retreat to focus on a group of interesting people who have devoted an entire week/weekend of their lives to learn more about yoga, to get out of their comfort zone and explore the world—and trust you to lead this adventure—is the most incredible gift and opportunity.
Just like everything else, it takes a massive amount of effort, risk, focus, and a willingness to go through the difficulties of being “on the road” in foreign countries, away from your home, your community of friends, and the simplicity of being in one place to do it.
I save the beautiful moments for Instagram because, when I look back, that’s how I want to remember these adventures. It’s obviously used also as a marketing tool, but mainly, I use Instagram to share the beauty of the world at large and how anything can relate back to yogic philosophy and study. Even when traveling is challenging (breakdowns in airports, lost luggage, fraud on bank cards with access to no money, students having meltdowns, me as a teacher having my own personal meltdowns and nowhere to safely have them because I’m “supposed to be all Zen”) all of that realness is important to share, too. Thank God for Instagram stories!
No matter where you are, how luxurious and beautiful something looks, life is just an evolution of the heart.
So, in this story telling, I want to make clear that no matter where you are, how luxurious and beautiful something looks, life is just an evolution of the heart. Our hearts are learning and developing with each step in life. Everything involves sacrifice. Everything involves risk. Everything involves a loneliness, and everyone experiences some kind of comparison or thought that somewhere else, someone is having a better time.
I have been to some of the most beautiful places on the planet: breathtaking and hidden and dripping with culture and flavor and scented air and beauty. And in those places, more than many others, I have witnessed people’s hearts breaking. But the funny thing is that they break open because of the beauty. They break open because they’re doing a lot of yoga and meditation and actually have time to let it sink in. Their hearts break because there are the biggest flowers, and brightest stars and most magical little buildings and doorways everywhere. They break open because they hear the waves crashing all night and the cicadas and the birds. They break open because for the first time they slow down and feel the wisdom of the trees and the stability of the old churches and cathedrals and monuments. They break open because we are yearning to have our hearts broken. To feel something real. And when our hearts break, we can see each other in this totally real way. Our perception shifts. We are available to the world. And the world becomes this real thing to experience.
This is where we discover our greatest treasures and our deepest connection with each other and the planet.
Travel will give you this. You have to be ready. It’ll toss you into groundlessness, just like a good spiritual practice will. It’ll throw you overboard—into new languages, food options, relationships to time, animals, temperatures, insects, and people. Some of the biggest breakdowns are the biggest breakthroughs, and I’ve noticed they tend to happen in the most luxurious, fabulous places where we think we should be on top of the world! But on top of the world means to see and feel it all—the muck and the beauty—and to have that total connection with truth. Let beauty and truth in. Be the traveler and let it take you on a journey.
Travel to me is the same as sitting down to meditate. You take a journey into your own heart/mind space. And on that journey you have no idea what will arise. You’ll be filled with joy on some occasions, and you’ll be challenged and want to run and hide. You honestly don’t even have to go anywhere to have this happen, but of course, if you’re antsy, traveling (and specifically wellness retreats) can enhance that.
What comes out of spiritual practice and travel is the most rewarding because fears, discomforts, and attachments have been faced. And the very act of facing them diminishes them. The beauty of the world, the kindness of strangers, the sunrise of a new day are always there to catch you.
I hope this visual story shares some of that wide range of experiences I have had having the opportunity to travel and teach as much as I’ve had. I don’t want to make anyone think that my life is better or easier than anyone else’s. I want to settle your hearts in knowing that we are all in it together, wherever we are in the world. We feel each other. May whatever beauty I get to capture with my iPhone while working around the world inspire something beautiful, heart-opening, and real in you. May you remember that beauty and truth is out there to catch you. Usually closer than you think. Enjoy. And join us. You’re always invited.