How Yoga has helped with Living in a Foreign Country

by Emma Cunningham (

I started practicing yoga a little over three years ago and ever since it has been the one thing that connects me to this earth, allows me to feel alive and makes sense to me. Everything becomes so clear and real when I practice. 

Since I strive to make my life as adventurous, fulfilling & meaningful as possible, I decided to I wanted to move to South Korea to teach English for a year, and what a ride it’s been so far!

What I didn't realize was how much I’ve used yoga (off of the mat) to adapt to the crazy cultural changes and how my practice has given me courage, strength and ambition throughout the whole process. 

Here’s what I found…

1. Focus is everything. 

In yoga, the drishti is your visual point of focus while you hold a pose, and I’ve learned it’s vital. Some of the simplest yoga poses can completely fall apart without a drishti. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been contently chilling in tree pose, only to let my eyes stray and ungracefully lose my balance. It works the same way with being in an unfamiliar setting. 

My head is constantly on a swivel, curious and trying to take in my new surroundings. When this happens, I walk into oncoming traffic or miss my subway stop from staring out the train window. Without that focus and concentration, I look like an oblivious foreigner. 

2. The places you’re happiest can start off as the ones you’re completely uncomfortable in. When I started doing yoga, I hated pigeon pose. Loathed it. Wished it would burn up in fiery hellfires. I was rarely more miserable than when I was in that pose, one of the most beneficial poses of ashtanga yoga. I started off hating it but as I pushed through I found it as a place of content. Sometimes when moving to another place, you’re not too sure about it. But once you start getting into the swing of things and begin feeling it out, you realize it’s actually pretty incredible. 



3. Sometimes you need to stop, step back, and start again. Once you lose the integrity of a pose in yoga, it’s difficult to recover your balance and slide back into proper form. The only thing to do to get the pose is back is give up and start again. Otherwise you just keep struggling to half-ass it, rather than accepting failure and trying to do better next time. Stopping and restarting doesn’t mean you’ve failed; it just means you recognize that you can do better when starting from scratch. There have been SO many things that I thought I should just give up on while living in a foreign country. Trying to navigate is a big one! With strangely written signs all over and no sense of north or south, I sometimes call it quits and hop into a cab and go home. But when I do that, I realize I missed out on a great sight to see or something new to experience.It would have made much more sense to just start from the beginning

4. Turning up the heat brings out your best. Bikram yoga is brutal. Sliding around in your own sweat while trying to maintain dolphin pose in temperatures of around 105 degrees is no picnic. As the temperature rises, though, so does your flexibility. Your muscles loosen up and you’re able to maintain poses that are otherwise extremely difficult or painful. Living in such a strange country, I often get very frustrated when no one understands me or because I miss my family or because things are so different than what I’m used to. When the circumstances are toughest, your best finally shows through. You build SERIOUS character.

5. Your surroundings shouldn’t change your habits. The joys of living in another country is traveling a fair bit, and hauling around a yoga mat isn’t exactly practical, so I invested in a pair of those goofy-looking yoga “paws.” They’re basically wearable yoga mat gloves and shoes, and while I may look a tad eccentric (If I had a quarter for every weird look I’ve gotten, they’d have paid for themselves five times over), they allow me to keep up with my yoga, regardless if I’m in an airport or hotel room. In fact, I often need yoga most when I’m not at home, because it calms and centers me. Just because your location changes doesn’t mean that your core habits should as well.

6. Tiny changes add up. The first time I tried camel pose, I thought my back was going to snap in half. But every day, the pain receded just a tiny bit, though I barely noticed at the time. Now it doesn’t even causes a twinge. The smallest of changes, even if you aren’t fully aware of them, can eventually produce the most satisfying results. Since I have ZERO access to a car while living abroad, I either walk or take the subway everywhere. Talk about a HUGE money saver! 

7. Being forced to do something makes you automatically hate it. My first yoga class was taken for my gym credit in college. I was convinced that it would be an awesome refreshing way to start my morning, that I’d get toned and lithe quickly, and that it would be a piece of cake. Wrong. I dreaded going to every class. It was probably one of my most demanding classes, despite the fact that it was “only” yoga. But once I graduated, I took up yoga for myself. I didn’t enroll in any classes, but instead just decided to start practicing on my living room floor. And surprise, I loved it! That was over 3 years ago, and I’m still in love with it. Doing something for yourself, rather than because it’s required or expected of you, can make all the difference for your happiness. No one wanted me to move abroad for over a year. My parents were extremely concerned about me and my safety, my friends didn’t want to say goodbye and my boss was livid when I quit my job. But I’ve never been happier in my entire life since making the big transition and I can’t see myself ever being the same because of it. 

Follow me during my journey on IG: foremmayoung_  OR on my blog