“Once you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” -Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
The title of this article is misleading. In all honesty, there are nearly never 5, 6, 7, or even 20 simple reasons to completely uproot our lives. Yet when the time comes for that inevitable life transition to occur, it’s nearly impossible to avoid its acknowledgement. You’ll feel it, like the itch of freshly-embedded mosquito bite that’s begging your fingertips to be scratched. You’ll see it, like the morning sun beaming through the blinds that refuses to retreat no matter how violently you press “snooze”. You may be dazed in its dawning, frozen like a deer in bright headlights. Like that frightened doe, you’ll be wasting breath to deny that you can continue to stand your ground with dignity when the freight truck just inches away is barreling forward with full force. You’ll know. I knew.
I knew the moment that I stumbled my travel-heavy legs into the morning light of my picturesque Austrian village that something wasn’t quite right. I had been blissfully and blindly thrilled to begin a fresh chapter in my life as a PhD student. Yet a knot immediately formed in the pit of my belly to weigh down this airy lightness in my mind. My new village home was small, but charming. I reasoned with myself to give it time, to warm up to the cold demeanor of grocery store check-out workers, and to be grateful for an incredible academic opportunity.
Nonetheless, a little voice inside my head persisted to scream that this continuously-throbbing knot in my stomach was much more serious than jetlag. In this mind-numbing realization, one silly thought circled viciously in my head that propelled me with full force to stare at the exit: There were no yoga studios.
During the first few months in my village, I waged an endless all-out war with myself fueled by my discomfort with this fact. How spoiled had I become to be accustomed to a yoga studio wherever I went in life? Yoga classes are a luxury, unaffordable to most people in the world. Why should I deserve the privilege to practice? Why can’t I appreciate my place as an academic, learning in comfort amidst bright minds?
My mind was a vicious battlefield, its fire stoked by the cancerous lesion of dread that grew larger in my belly with each passing day. I felt like a lone warrior in a village with few mid-20’s internationals in my vicinity, but I quickly became too preoccupied to mind the headspace. I drowned out the silence and the dreaded insecurity in my research endeavors with unending noise. I countered my barriers to productivity in my dissertation by consuming yoga podcasts on repeat – anything I could get my hands on as they lay deep in my vegan cookie batter that I would whip up with passion. I furiously doodled out articles, Instagram captions, book plans, and fantasy business sketches as if my life depended upon it, not knowing where it was all going, but confident that I had to act now.
And through the words that filled my notebook pages, I began to realize that merely taking yoga classes would not cure my ever-growing body ache. I could still practice with discipline far from a studio home. I would faithfully roll out my mat even on the many days when I was uninspired or when my body melted to a puddle of tears. What I desperately craved was to give. I missed the energy of a class full of students who were eager to be in their bodies. I craved the feeling of words forming on my lips to express physical sensation. I longed for the sight of my sentences hitting someone’s ears to be embodied into action. For me, teaching yoga had taken on the same linguistic art that I felt in writing. I dreamed to teach to allow my words to translate to impact and to give my silly notebook sketches a chance to one day become reality.
Eventually, the bitter cold of Austria’s early winter began to thaw. Amidst the winter’s chill, I had discovered Vienna’s many magical coffee culture charms, I had made unforgettable friends, I had learned a few key German phrases, and I had even begun teaching a truly beautiful crowd of yogis at Bali Yoga Vienna (although a 3-hour roundtrip commute to teach a 90-minute class was less than ideal). I understood that I could be semi-content in Austria for another 2.5 years as I quietly chipped away at a dissertation project that was turning out to hold less of my heart than I had originally hoped. But the thaw of my emotions was too little, too late. Being semi-content was simply not enough when I dreamed vividly of throwing myself wholeheartedly into work that was in line with my values and passions. I had decided long ago what I truly wanted, and the universe began to blow the winds of change into motion.
Rather than continue to bite down hard on my tongue as I convinced myself that everything would be bearable with time, I voiced my concerns to my supervisors, and the rest of the puzzle pieces fell haphazardly into place. I finally unabashedly spoke up, inquiring about my own intention to remain in a position where I felt both belittled and disempowered from chasing my dreams. I spoke from my heart, begging to be understood, but students are meant to be publishing, not heard. Without further discussion, in rammed the freight truck, declaring a swift termination in my contract.
There are not often poignant endings to real-life stories, and this tale of truth is no exception. In all honesty, I am scared sleepless about the possibilities that my aspiration to live on a yoga teaching and freelance food writing salary is illogical. I’m frightened of the voices of reason chuckle at the low prestige of my life path compared to pursuit of a doctoral degree. I wince at the supervisor who wrote me off with a sarcastic scoff, “Good luck as a yoga teacher,” as he dropped the termination notice under my nose and waltzed out the door. I’m terrified that these noises will muddy my self-assurance and overpower my agency to pursue the work that I love.
Yet no matter how much fear is burning inside, there is no avoiding the inevitable, fiery force of transition. When life leads us to a dramatic change, we can either fall victim to the strength of the inner- and outer-critics, or we can stand tall with the fresh opportunity that each sunrise bestows. We can either continue ramming ourselves with full force into brick walls, or we can move back to travel forward in life. Each day, we can start anew in pursuit of the ever-evolving nature of our undeniable place in the world around us.
It is impossible to predict what changes or challenges the universe will deliver tomorrow, but today I choose to be propelled toward the light of passion, purpose, and positive action. With each Sun Salutation beaming bright through my body, I choose to rise.