A traveler seeks exploration and rich life experiences much like an athlete pursues physical strength and personal growth. Both seek emotional and psychological benefits from traveling and exercising, and both face unexpected challenges along the way. The athlete and the traveler choose to throw themselves into uncomfortable situations (high intensity cardio vascular interval training workouts, or 22 hour flights around the world, for example), and both have a deep and specific understanding of why they choose to do so.
Before our trip to Thailand, my goal was to go on an adventure in a new part of the world that I've always wanted to visit, but I was also hoping for personal enlightenment along the way. "I'm giving myself until the end of Thailand to figure out my next move," I told myself and my friends. I wanted to go to Thailand to explore, to get out of my comfort zone, and to learn. I needed to learn what it is about the world and my existence within it that I want to absorb, share, and give back.
Being a SoulCycle instructor fulfills me in ways that I could never have imagined; I am grateful for where I am and what I have the privilege to do for a living, but I also know there is always more to give. The reason why I travel, why I teach, and why I choose to be an athlete through and through, all comes down to my desire to grow and give more.
Looking out on our balcony in Koh Phangan on our last full day, I searched for that idea... that answer to my desire for more.
One of my mentors, a senior master instructor at SoulCycle in NYC, gave me some teaching advice recently. She said that we often ask our riders to set an intention at the beginning of class, then ask them to focus on that intention throughout class as a means of staying connected throughout the journey. But the truth is, sometimes we need those 45 minutes (or 10 days in Thailand) to gather our thoughts, shift our perspective, and get inspired. So, perhaps the intention doesn't happen for us until we are done—until our experience brings that intention to light and we carry it with us from then on.
My trip to Thailand feels more like a test than an answer.
After spending a day taking care of elephants at Patara Elephant Farm, I came down with what can only be described as the worst case of food poisoning I could ever imagine. When you've traveled over 22 hours to arrive at a destination where everyone has glowing reviews about the local cuisine, you can imagine how disheartened and empty I was feeling.
We woke up at 6am the next day to catch the Super Bowl at a local pub in Chiang Mai. Still unable to eat, I did my best to make the most out of an uncomfortable situation. I cheered on Lady Gaga, rooted for the Falcons (just because they were the underdog I suppose), and unsuccessfully attempted to hold down some Gatorade while all the people around me slammed mimosas.
After that, we took a Bangkok Airways flight to Koh Samui where a private boat took us to Koh Tao. When I say "private boat" I know how that sounds—and it was exactly that! We spent a stupid amount of money to treat ourselves to an upscale transportation experience and I was so anxious about being able to enjoy this special treat I had planned for us. I hadn't eaten in about 2 days but I was able to hold down a scoop of ramen noodles at the airport, so I was hopeful.
There was champagne offered on our boat and wonderful looking food. I had all these expectations set for how I hoped that boat ride would go. Champagne, snacks, fun... but what if I puked again? What if it was all a big waste of money and my own physical body was going to keep me from enjoying it—or even worse, ruin the experience for Nick as well.
Funnily enough, this reminded me of my first spin class.
I puked after my first spin class about 5 years ago. I was the newest rider in the room; I didn't own spin shoes so I had to use those old school baskets and I'm sure my bike settings were a mess as well. I pushed myself, but I couldn't keep up. I was miserable and all I kept thinking was "how do all these people actually enjoy this shit?" As soon as class was over, I bee-lined for the bathroom and evacuated my stomach.
Yet, somehow, I went back. I puked again after my second class, but I still went back... again and again and again, I went back... now 5 years later, I teach full time in San Francisco and it's truly my dream job.
As we board our cushiony speed boat, I see it: the champagne. "Dear Goddess, please just let me enjoy a glass of champagne on this overpriced boat with my love." He poured, I sipped... the boat was going so fast that Nick and I could barely drink anything without half of it splashing all over us. We sipped and we laughed. We started taking pictures and Snapchats and I started to breathe.
"Breathe like an athlete," I told myself.
I looked out at the ocean—in through the nose, out through the mouth. I breathed like an athlete and I drank like a traveler—messy, slightly uncomfortable, but joyful.
Koh Tao is beautiful. It took another day for my stomach to finally settle but I could feel myself finally healing. We enjoyed the beach, read our books (I highly recommend Born a Crime by Trevor Noah), and as empty as my stomach felt I could feel my spirit come back to life.
We spent a day scuba diving at "Shark sland" which was an incredibly invigorating and slightly terrifying adventure. Then we took a water taxi across the Gulf of Thailand to Koh Phangan where we would spend our final four nights. My mother would not be happy about that boat ride. It was basically an oversized canoe with a single engine and no life jackets in sight. Luckily, after about three hours, we arrived at Koh Phangan and our hotel, Buri Rasa, was truly a dream come true.
The beach, food, and gorgeous hotel room made me feel like we had finally made it; we were exactly where we needed to be.
Now that I was feeling much better, I was back to my goal: Why am I here? What can I do next? I felt the self-inflicted pressure, similar to the pressure I feel as an athlete. "You haven't come this far to only come this far." So what is my next move? How do I use this experience, take it home, and use it to do more? My mind told me that I needed to sign up and complete my NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) certification, and my heart told me to relax and stop being so damn hard on myself...
Then Nick got sick, so I spent our final day playing nurse and taking care of him. Our original plan was to go to the full moon party, but I was surprisingly relieved to have a day of rest and reflection. Maybe traveling isn't necessarily about having the picture perfect moments, but going through the challenges and unexpectedness of it all.
I found my answer in the waves I saw from our balcony that morning.
Water, waves, oceans and human beings—we are always moving, growing, expanding, swelling, and crashing. Yet the ocean doesn't play mind games with itself to make certain waves, grow to a certain size, or choose whom it invites. Traveling without meeting high expectations is like working out in order to feel well instead of just burn calories and lose weight.
My goal now is to stand grounded where I am and continue to further my education as a fitness professional while working toward offering more of love, acceptance, and guidance to others and myself.
This idea does not come with one straight answer; I will have to pursue more open-mindedness, try new ways of connecting with people, and learn how to become the most compassionate and empathetic human being I can possibly be... one day at a time, every day.
Like the waves rolling from the deepest parts of the ocean to the shore, it's all a process.
First things first, time to complete my NASM certification and continue pursuing my goals as a SoulCycle instructor and fitness professional.
So I ask you, how do you strike a balance between being where you are and getting where you want to be? How do you develop and pursue your intentions? Can you describe any similarities between being a traveler and an athlete? Let's keep the conversation going! Subscribe to my blog, comment below, and sign up for some of my SoulCycle classes in San Francisco and Marin this week!