What it Really Feels Like to Move Abroad: A Metaphor With Yogic Chanting and Milkshakes

I’ve found a yoga studio in my new home in England that teaches my favorite kind of yoga: Ashtanga. What you need to know about Ashtanga for this post is it is a set sequence of poses. The class is EXACTLY the same. Every time. Right down to when you exhale and where you look at what time. For some people this would be incredibly boring. For me, Ashtanga feels like home.

So I’ve been going to Ashtanga classes! Actually, I’ve been going to Ashtanga classes and then getting a chocolate milkshake afterwards and feeling justified because it’s “self care” and occupational science said I could (thanks grad school). Things have felt a little rocky in my transition across the pond and this yoga-milkshake-itsgoingtobeokay ritual keeps me going. Because it feels like home, and not everything else does yet.

So I had an ~epiphany~ leaving the studio the other day that I’m going to share with you. Ultimately, my most concise explanation for how I really feel about my massive move abroad is summed up by this:

At the start of every Ashtanga class the “opening invocation” is chanted. From the outside this looks like a bunch of insane cultish people in leggings wailing in a dead language…but from the inside it is familiar and soothing to hear your voice along with the rest of the class’. (Side note: I’m doing my Masters dissertation on health/wellbeing benefits of singing in a choir so I can guarantee the chanting is a good thing!!)

Anyway, I plopped myself down for the first class at this new studio, did my pretzel legs, was so ready to belt out the opening chant I know by heart…but as soon as we started singing I felt my voice alone in the crowd, wavering on a different key from everyone else. It was the same chant – the same lyrics – that I have sung at my studio in Michigan a million times, with my beautiful and faithful teacher Hilaire’s signature rough voice leading us all. But the tune was completely changed. The tempo was changed. Even the simple rhythm was changed.

I couldn’t believe it at first, they were so wrong! I tried to keep up but kept hitting wrong notes, until I eventually stopped trying to sing along at all. Instead, I listened.

I’ve been back to a few classes since then. You’ve probably guessed because I feel like I’m reciting a fable, but my voice got a little stronger each time. A little more confident as I tried to remember the tune. And subsequently louder when I hit the wrong notes, but I’ve almost stopped caring. I almost have it down now, but the chant doesn’t feel second nature at all. Not like it used to. And while there are parts that are new and fun, there are also parts of the chant that I prefer the old way. The Michigan way. That I’m reluctant to sing along with because that’s not how it’s done!

I don’t have any better metaphor up my sleeve of literary tricks for how my move across the pond has been. Everything here feels familiar, like I know the lyrics, but I can’t quite sing along. And it’s really frustrating and I prefer the way things are at home or the way things were two years ago when I was here, but at the same time so much is changed that it’s incomparable. So I just need to learn the new tune. And I’m going to be by myself messing up for a while until I do.

So that’s it, you don’t need to know the details of me burning soup in the microwave or making enemies on the bus or eating 2 jars of clotted cream or crying because I opened a bank account and it actually worked the first time or whatever. Just think of me singing very off key Sanskrit in a room of peaceful legging clad British people. And you will understand.

Sarah xx

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