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How yoga can cure reverse culture shock

1 Comment 21 November 2013

How yoga can cure reverse culture shock

“You’ve been on a journey around the world, now it’s time to go on a journey within yourself,” the instructor at the front desk says to me as I’m signing up.

It’s my first day back to my local yoga studio since a short visit home in January, my second day back in the USA and I had been telling him how much I needed to get back into yoga immediately to find some sort of peace.

After three and a half years of traveling the world, I finally came home. Not for a visit, not for a short trip, but a one-way ticket home. It’s hard to explain the emotions and feelings that come with that sort of return. I saw the world, changed in ways I didn’t think possible and now I’m back in my old bed, living not far from where I grew up.

Reverse culture shock.

I had dealt with it once before after coming home from studying abroad for six months in London and backpacking Europe three months after. It’s a very real problem and an extremely sad and lonely time in life if you don’t deal with it properly.

After that trip, I moved into an apartment close to the university I was attending – on my own. I fell into a deep state of depression, hardly left my house, started smoking and packed on about 20 lbs. That was after only a nine month trip, so I wanted to be extra cautious and proactive about dealing with coming home in a healthy manner on this much longer and much more life-changing adventure.

I spent quite a bit of my recent trip learning more about yoga and meditation. I lived on yoga retreat in Dungog, Australia, volunteered at a yoga center in Brisbane and even meditated with two monks in Siem Reap Cambodia, so I knew about the inner peace and outer strength yoga could help me with. That’s why, on this scary return back to life in the USA, the next place I visited after home was my local yoga center, where I paid for an unlimited month and signed up for a 30-day challenge (30 classes in 30 days).

This decision has helped me deal with reverse culture shock by reminding me to stay present, teaching me how to overcome any bad feelings or challenges that come with returning home and keeping me in good health, physically and mentally.


Photo: Jason Affleck

Be Present

You might have returned home, but your head and heart are still a million miles away. Whether you find yourself chatting endlessly about travel stories to every person you see or comparing every thing about your home culture to the cultures you experienced abroad, you’re living in a different time and place.

I found myself closing my eyes and picturing the places I had lived, where the bed was, the color of the floors and walls and style of the sheets. It’s nice to remember moments from our trip and share them with others, but it’s also important to take advantage of the present moment and keep looking forward to the next adventure.

Yoga is all about being in the present. During balancing postures, you have to focus solely on what your doing, positioning your body properly or even just one point on the floor to hold your balance. In meditation, you’ll hear your teacher constantly instructing you to let all those random thoughts that fill your head just pass through until your mind reaches complete silence, so you can just relax in your focus.


Photo: Darko Sikman

Challenge Any Bad Feelings

Yoga is so much more than exercise. The positions you get into and ways in which you push the body all add up to some sort of mental lesson. On my return to yoga, I kept feeling nauseous in one pose in particular, camel. It’s a fairly simple pose compared to the rest but I found it harder and harder to push myself in it for fear of being sick. As soon as the thought hit me, my instructor was saying that this is normal to the entire class, that these are bad feelings from the body creeping up and we need to take them on and that your body is going into a sort of simulated “fight or flight” in positions like this. By testing the body in this safe environment – you’re strengthening your defense to things that may pop up in the real world to scare us. Push yourself deeper and challenge those feelings.

During a class, you’ll deal with it physically, but that physical training teaches you how to challenge mental bad feelings in the same way. Face all that negative and sadness head on and move past it. Don’t fall into a self-deprecating cycle, but instead go through the negativity and challenge it.

Lily yoga

Photo: !STORAX

General Health

There are a million and one reasons people feel sad and there are plenty of ways to deal with those feelings.

Coming home can be very hard. Don’t push it off as a problem that’s not real. You’re at a moment of weakness, which can lead to bad habits. A few drinks with friends to forget about your problems, leads to more and you’re spending the next day on the couch with a massive hangover. If you’re anything like me – that hangover will lead you into an even sadder state and you might find yourself having another few drinks to avoid it. It’s okay to have a few and enjoy being home, but when you’re already in an emotionally unsure state, the most important thing is keeping your mind and body healthy.

Exercise releases endorphins which naturally flow positive feelings through the body. On top of that, you’ll feel more self-confident when you look great and with a goal in mind, you’ll have something to work towards. It’s really incredible what a difference a little exercise can make in your life. So if you just got home and your feeling kind of lost, spend a few days doing any sort of exercise, it doesn’t have to be yoga, and see if you notice any sort of shift in your mood.

Reverse culture shock isn’t the end of the world, but it can be a real time of low feelings for a lot of people. Treat it like you would any other changing time in your life. For me, yoga gave me a place where I could reflect on those feelings and move past them. My favorite thing about travel is learning and experiencing new things, getting involved in yoga made it so I could keep on doing that, even in my hometown.


- who has written 310 posts on Heels and Wheels.

Creator of Heels and Wheels. Writer, traveler and more.

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  • Milda Ratkelyte

    Hey Bobbi! Love your post and can relate a lot. I do the 30 day yoga challenge every year for the past 3 years! It’s incredible how much it helps you to overcome difficult moments in your life!

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