In the summer of 2006, my husband Bryan and I went on a nearly 3-week trip to China and Tibet with a group led by a geography professor from our alma mater. As I mentioned in this post, the trip was certainly life changing, and coming home introduced a whole new set of feelings about my lifestyle, along with a very deep appreciation for my yoga practice. Below is a journal entry I wrote shortly after returning to the States.

Achingly hollow. That’s how I feel right now.

For the past three weeks, I’ve woken up to a day full of new experiences: visual, emotional, and spiritual. Even though some mornings we had to be up at 4:30 or some nights we slept on a 1.5-inch mattress over plywood over eight stools, the days never failed to stimulate, amaze, and captivate my mind, body, and spirit.

For 19 days, we stuck together in our group of 15, becoming closer each day, despite our differences. By the final day, we felt like family. But last night at 8:30 as our families arrived, picked us up, and drove us away in separate vehicles, it felt like everything had dissolved. My family treated Bryan and me to a late-night meal at the diner and we ate like beasts; at home, Bryan and I melted into our uber-soft mattress and slept for 14 hours; this morning, I was able to shower without flip-flops for the first time since June 20th, but none of these coming-home experiences compare to the dirty, grueling, tiring, sweaty, wonderful, enlightening moments I had in China.

I think back to the day we landed in Beijing and, on our measly 3 hours of sleep, were suddenly thrown into a cramped bus decorated with hanging plastic fruit, flew around the crowded roads, and were greeted with steaming pots of beef, lamb, chicken, tofu, and cabbage in a tiny, smoky restaurant where no one spoke English. I struggled with my chopsticks, could hardly get anything into my mouth, and wanted to cry.

Why did I come here? I thought. Why did I leave behind my perfect daily routine of healthy food, the gym, smoke-free buildings, and a normal sleep schedule for this? Why did I have to come all the way to China for a wordly experience? Why not England? Or even Canada, for crying out loud? I’ve never been to Canada, a mere day’s drive from New Jersey, and yet I leave all the comforts of home behind for a weird country all the way around the world?!?!?!

But yesterday, as our plane landed on the Newark runway, Bryan jokingly said, “And now it’s going to turn around and take off again for China.” And I said, “That’s fine with me.” I’m back in my so-called “comfort zone” — a soft bed, clean shower, organic foods, my gym bag, the internet, the daily newspaper on our doorstep — but none of it feels right. My house feels like a movie set, a perfect little playworld where nothing is real and it’s all just for show.

What I do know is this: Yoga helped me greatly through this trip. I didn’t touch a yoga mat for 3 weeks and never once had the floor space to even get into Down dog, but the emotional aspect of yoga, pranayama, and lovingkindness meditation completely enriched the adventure. There were so many times I could’ve gone ape shit, cried hysterically, or lost it completely, but I’m certain that the mental clarity and focus I have cultivated from my last 2 years of asana yoga practice got me through it all and let me go with the flow. Even our 3 days on the pirate ship.

Yes, a pirate ship. OK, it was actually a garbage barge with stowaways sleeping in the hallways, a cockroach infestation, dirty communal squat toilets with no toilet paper, inedible food, minimal air conditioning, half-naked Chinese men who spat on the cigarette-butt littered carpets, and meat locker showers, but we lived like filthy pirates for 3 days, so, therefore, we call it a pirate ship. Yar.

What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. I had to repeat that several times throughout this trip, but yeah, it’s true. And Starbucks always helps.