Chicago, the Yoga of Relationship + Wanderlust Lust

Our whole lives are relationships. So reach out and keep going in. If you have to choose between flying overseas to see your friends and painting the house this summer — choose your friends. Remember the day. Go to the wedding. Read them the poem. Check in. Forget the deadline and working over time to please people who will never make you feel as good as your real friends. Remember — and do something about it. – Danielle LaPorte

The simple but powerful gesture of placing our two hands together in front of our hearts when we greet or acknowledge others (namaste mudra) speaks without words of the magic of union. Two hands coming together: the left and the right, the sun and the moon, the ha and the tha, the self and the other. This is the gesture that describes yoga: union, the ultimate truth. Sharon Gannon 

Yoga = Union

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One of the first facts I learned that fell outside the physical practice of yoga was the meaning of the word. A former English major and Spanish language-learner, words – and learning their origins – entrance me. My favorite professors in college were the ones who treated the Oxford English Dictionary as their bible. “Yoga,” I learned, comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” which means to yoke together, to unite. And that was how I felt throughout most of college: united via the relationships I formed over the years. In so many ways, I felt one – inseparable – from my friends. While I learned that solitude nourishes me, being with my friends made my experiences feel more whole. That is why, after graduation last week (exactly one week ago today), I felt like something (someones) was (were) missing. I missed my friends. That was when I decided to make my last crazy decision of the year: fly to Chicago for only two days last-minute before flying out to Rome.  I rarely do things like that – spend that much on a flight for so little time – but there are some things that are non-negotiably just worth it. I felt off before booking that flight and the moment I checked the last box on my Expedia payment, I felt more like myself…more charged, energized, excited, stimulated. You can’t put a price on those feelings. I, as Danielle LaPorte so eloquently wrote in the above quote, “chose my friends.” I “did something about it.”  And then, once I got there, I did stuff. On that note, I will borrow a thing or two from the New York Times and present to you (drumroll, please) CHICAGO IN 36 HOURS! FLY IN I flew into O’Hare International Airport and ran to wait for my friends outside the terminal. While waiting, I stretch, twisted, and did a few dancer’s poses using a stop sign for support. Flying can take a lot out of people…especially if they are yogis and used to consistent movement and nourishment. My first step was to fill up my water bottle and move a little!

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BEACH WALK This trip marked my second time in Chicago and the first time I fell in love with that city. With plans to meet up with our friend’s dad at a phenomenal tapas restaurant across the street from Millennium Park, we decided to walk over 5 miles to get there from Lakeview, where we were staying. We took our 5-mile walk along the beach, along Lake Michigan, and appreciated the urban ocean of this Great Lake. Chicago, it turns out – especially in this part – is quite a fit city. Various people were running, biking, and even practicing yoga by the dock. It is rare to find a beach smack dab in the middle of a city, which expands its perimeter. It reminded me of the Malecón in Havana, except here no one was still; everyone was moving. The bf decided to inform me that Chicago is the original skyscraper city and this walk made that fact abundantly evident.

TAPAS Mercat was a remarkably delicious tapas restaurant. J’s dad made a reservation and they were ready to seat us for a sangria-laden feast the moment we arrived, hungry from our 5-mile walk. We talked about travel and wanting to hold onto graduation and how delicious the squid ink paella tasted. We left full and content, ready to sleep after a long day of travel.

WAKE UP Since returning from school, I have also returned to a regular sleeping schedule of waking up at 7:45 (right before Kapha time begins, as I learned in my Ayurveda training). On my second day in Chicago, I woke up at 7:45, took out my yoga mat immediately, and went to an empty space in the lovely apartment my friends and I stayed in. My dear friend J had already returned from a run and was working on her architecture portfolio in the living room. I tried to feed off her energy as I pursued my own practice, much like I am nourished by the energy in a yoga studio when we are all following our bliss simultaneously together. I began my home practice by meditating for 5 minutes, setting an intention, and then setting my iPhone timer for 45 minutes. My practice – as it tends to be nowadays – was a lovely mixture of the Ashtanga primary series and Lotus Flow. Because I was on a plane the previous day, I was sure to do a lot of squats  to get and feel grounded. It worked.

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INTELLIGENTSIA My yoga practice is rarely complete without a cup of joe to accompany it. Intelligentsia was, honestly, my Number One priority for specific places to go in Chicago…and I, coffee nerd that I am, am not ashamed of it in the least. This Intelligentsia in Lakeview (and the one we went to later near Millennium Park) was fantastic – spacious and filled, on a Saturday morning at 9am, with who I assumed were freelancing hipsters. But there is something different about Chicago hipsters, I noted – they seem more friendly; the Midwest charm has gotten to them. The coffee did not disappoint either; it was delicious, bitter, and iced. The area was crisp and clean. And it was then that I realized why my first places to go when I travel are cafes; cafes give me a glimpse into what daily life could be like if I lived there; they are like answering a question on a city compatibility test. With Intelligentsia, Chicago answered correctly.

COMFORT PEOPLE We took a drive to Oak Park to meet up with a bunch of people from school at George’s Diner. Again, the Midwest charm won me over as they granted my wish for extra home fries to replace my toast (a victory) and I basked in the delicious combination of comfort food with my comfort people. The bf later asked me what exactly I meant by comfort people. Sitting around a big table in the middle of a diner, never running out of things to say to one another, being supportive yet lovingly challenging…that is what I mean. People I return to again and again, people I can pick up with where we left off.

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FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT After our charming brunch, we drove over to the Frank Lloyd Wright houses. My friends are primarily architecture and urban planning students so visiting cities with them is an education in and of itself. These houses were breathtakingly beautiful and, through walking with J, N, and R, I got to see the progression Wright made throughout his career: from only slightly diverting from the Victorian model to creating an aesthetic all his own. The doors and entryways were always askew, never right in front of us, and once inside some of the houses, the fireplace was the center of every room. His studio and study were mesmerizing. The guided tour was also helpful in giving a context to how these houses were used and how Wright used “common materials in uncommon ways.” This past week, I’ve missed school, but this walking tour made me realize a very important fact: the world is my school and there is so much I have yet to learn (I know – I’m a cheese ball).

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MILLENNIUM PARK Also on my list of places to visit was Millennium Park. After stopping at yet another Intelligentsia on our way, we went to Millennium Park – huge and so different from any park in NYC. It was, honestly, more of an outdoor concert hall than a park. We checked out the sculptures and most of all “The Bean,” created clearly for a selfie generation. We walked along a beautiful bridge that reminded me a little of the Highline and that is when I developed…

WANDERLUST LUST. Yep. I totally forgot, given how impromptu this trip was, that May 31st was Wanderlust Chicago. I went to Chicago in large part to fix my FOMO (fear of missing out) and then, even in going to Chicago, I missed my favorite yoga event of all time! Wanderlust in the City was happening that day and from where I stood on the bridge in Millennium Park, I saw that too-familiar logo and a plethora of yoga mats. I lusted after Wanderlust the rest of the day and vowed to always check the date.

UNABRIDGED BOOKS With 26 hours on planes and in airports ahead of me, I decided to check out this fantastic bookstore in Lakeview. Unabridged Books has a huge selection and an entire basement devoted to travel writing. I bought a new journal, Beautiful Ruins, and the latest issue of BUST after relaxedly perusing their selection.

THE DINNER PARTY In the past two years, my life has become more and more about people. New people. Old friends. Acquaintances. My last night in Chicago, we went to a dinner party thrown by my bf’s childhood friend who went to U Chicago. We met a Ph.D. student from Venezuela and some recent college grads about to embark on travel adventures of their own. The eclectic mix of people reiterated the lesson that the world is my classroom; I learned so much from these people I had never met before and the conversation energized endlessly. The food was also fantastic and I was reminded of what a service it is to entertain. As I approach my independent adult life, I want entertainment to be at the forefront. Beginning with revisiting old friends and ending the trip with making new ones felt like tying a bow around this mini packed trip to Chicago. I flew out with gratitude and excitement for the future.

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