There are plenty of motivational blogs and ‘productivity’ articles that profess the benefits of ‘stepping out of your comfort zone’ as an imperative habit to cultivate in order to achieve success and find fulfilment in life. The benefits are manifold, and many of these articles focus on this habit pattern within the workplace, or in relation to careers and personal projects. All outstandingly successful people speak of bold decisions, risk taking, backing themselves and an ever-ready willingness to embrace newness.
The logic behind this is quite straightforward: If you continually do things that are already known to you, that you find non-stressful and comfortably achievable, you never grow. Transformation is necessitated by breaking new ground and being ‘out of your comfort zone’. Not only does it drive change in life, it expands your ability, and it is energising – the more you open yourself up to, the more you find you can achieve.
Being a ‘stranger’ cultivates humanity
We need not only practice this habit pattern within the workplace. Travel is a fabulous (and, some may argue, even more enjoyable) way to expand your limits of familiarity and comfort. When we travel we immerse ourselves in new sights, sounds, tastes and sensations. We move from the familiar feeling of ‘belonging’ to being an outsider. In this way we renegotiate our identity. All that we’ve come to think of ourselves back home no longer matters, and we are ‘strange’ to others, as much as they are ‘strange’ to us.
This strangeness is a refreshing challenge. Through it, we are invited to learn more about ourselves. In travelling, we take leave of our daily lives, our jobs, our roles in our society, and in creating distance from this, we can view it anew. We can gain new insights, and maybe even garner a perspective needed to enact necessary changes that we could not see or bring ourselves to enact when immersed in normality.
Moreover, the new strangeness we recognise in ourselves brings us to a greater sense of empathy. We are just as strange as those we encounter in the societies we travel through, and thus, we are invited to look beyond superficial differences, and notice deep routed and profound commonalities. When we are able to recognise commonality across divergences, we cultivate humanity.
Embracing the unfamiliar = thinking out of the box
When we are traveling to new landscapes, negotiating a new language, and feasting on new sensations, we are not only moving out of comfort zone. On a cellular level we are cultivating new neurological connections. Our brain is able to reorganise and quite physically refresh itself.
Moreover, when we are in unfamiliar spaces we have to dispense with expectations. Travel is all about the ‘unplanned’ interruptions, delays and serendipitous occurrences. This is the beauty, and at times, exhausting frustration, of adventurous travel. This calls upon us to be ok with the unexpected. We let go of our dominating, hyper-organised mind patterns, and we let ourselves be truly surprised. In the age of Google, where we can search for and check out just about everything before encounter it in reality, this experience of surprise and the unknown is both rare and valuable.
The combination of new neurological connections, and the embrace of the unexpected, is the perfect recipe for creativity. In this way, travel helps us to cultivate creative thinking. We learn the new habits of discovery, open-mindedness and receptiveness. Moreover, when we let go of our control over the flow of the day, we venture into more intuitive and instinctive mind patterns, and this is precisely from where creativity flourishes.
Yoga and travel: the perfect balance of revitalisation
As much as moving out of your comfort zone cultivates positive change and personal growth, if we consistently push ourselves to do things we find hard with harshness, this can be detrimental and harmful. It’s also worth considering that many people who have consistently high stress levels, or entrenched anxiety disorders, have cultivated the mind-habit pattern of pushing themselves too far. Over time one loses their ability to gauge what is healthy pressure and what is harmful stress.
Indeed, the wisdom on challenging yourself to try things out of your comfort zone is that you should maintain self-aware. You should embrace newness within reason and not completely extend yourself, or forcing yourself to do something that doesn’t serve you, or is harmful to others.
This is a foundational lesson in yoga practice. In yoga class you may hear your instructor encouraging you to discover your ‘edge’ in a particular posture. This is calling upon you to practice leaning into discomfort within reason, and without hurting yourself, or those around you. Your ‘edge’ on the mat is that healthy stage of effort-filled practice that allows for progress, yet does not bring about injury or fatigue.
For this reason, yoga is a superb companion on your travels to unique and unfamiliar lands. On a daily basis on the yoga mat, you cultivate the habit of working to your ‘edge’ and navigating what is uncomfortable, and yet not harmful. This is a safe space to do it ‘on the mat’, and it prepares us to apply the same habit pattern over the day when we step out into the unknown world.
Indeed, this is the full expression of what ‘yoga’ should mean for us: A safe and healthy habit of mind and body patterns that has the power to expand into, and positively benefit, our daily lives. Travel and yoga are superb companions, bringing us to deepen our practice, refresh our thought and habit patterns, and gain new perspectives on ourselves and the world around. Most importantly, it encourages us to embrace the day, to revitalise on a deep physical and mental level, and thus return back home completely refreshed.