This past May, yoga students of the Czech Republic warmly and graciously welcomed me to teach them Pangu Yoga. Crossing boundaries of ethnicity, culture, language and customs, we found a common ground in love and kindness, all seeking true health and happiness. I entered the country as a stranger and left with many friends.
Adjusting to a foreign culture is one of the many challenges that comes with being abroad, but especially while teaching abroad. Despite my best efforts, the occasional gaffe is bound to happen -- especially when your host country’s customs differ from the U.S. customs you know and love.
As an Australian with Indian heritage living and teaching in America, I am open to and used to cross cultural faux pas, but they still make me giggle and reflect. In America, it's common to smile at strangers in an "I acknowledge you" or "I see you and welcome you" kind of way. But in the Czech Republic, this isn't the case. Most of you who have been in my classes know that I'm quite expressive and use my face, voice and emotions as an invitation - and I'm a hugger.
I believe that historically, Czech people do not readily show emotions, and typically only smile at others when they want to initiate a conversation. For many tourists, I'm sure this results in many unintended conversations -- especially at bars!
At first contact, the Czech students seemed cautious, impersonal and indifferent, but I noticed with a tactful approach they became effectively engaged. I was called and inspired to use my other senses and skills as a teacher to feel and reach them, to demonstrate my willingness to meet them in a way that was more comfortable for them. It felt important for me to adapt my behavior and teaching style to them, rather than expecting them to adapt to me.
What we believe separates us can always be shifted through self responsibility.
"What can I do in this moment to achieve a better result, to make connection?" I had to let go of what generally works for me in making connection to be present with how I needed to shift so they could more fully receive and learn.
Through this, we stretch beyond what's comfortable, we move beyond the artificial human constructs and enter into the feeling and understanding that the essence of our existence rests on common ground, common desire; though our method and way might be different, we all seek love, happiness, and good health. Beyond our differences, beyond the highs and lows of emotion-- or no emotion, beyond what's familiar and not -- is the place that is independent of separation. When I found that in my teaching and in the group, the magic unfolded.
The irony...in the end, I was met with more smiles and many hugs!
Love for the journey,