Yoga came to me at a time in my life where I felt trapped. I was drowning in my coursework for a data science degree that I had no passion for and had just finished an internship in the field—the glimpse into what my professional life would look like left me feeling completely disillusioned. 

It was at this moment that a yogi friend of mine noticed my change in behavior and invited me to my first ever yoga class. Not long after, my world completely changed as I learned to become more receptive to the good in life and adopt a slower, more meaningful way of living.

It took me years to authentically follow my heart, but through my yoga practice I have developed a deep sense of gratitude and mental flexibility which has helped me step confidently into the unknown and toward my dream of traveling the world.

I have found that when you intentionally take the time to pause and appreciate the little blessings in your life—like taking a deep breath of fresh air or feeling the sun on your face—you will notice them more often. The world tends to open itself up and reward those who are grateful with a deeper sensitivity to the hidden beauty around us. The little things, you’ll then find, are really the big things. 

Yoga helped me appreciate and ground myself in the here and the now. I gradually became more flexible not just physically, but mentally. And through my practice, I realized that I’m not perfect, nothing is perfect, but that imperfection in and of itself is perfection. We shouldn’t constantly chase this “picture perfect” version of our lives but rather we should follow what our hearts are yearning for. The most difficult questions can be answered by looking inside and trusting our intuition. Our hearts really do know the way, and yoga taught me that. 

When I’m on my mat, I feel wholeheartedly myself. It’s a place for me to ask questions, to center myself and to feel refreshed and inspired. It was after a yoga flow that I felt the confidence to follow my heart and dive into my passion of travel photography and filmmaking. Now instead of trudging along through a life of routine and a career that left me drained and uninspired, I can live one that is more impactful and authentically me. 

As a first-generation Iranian-American, the rest of my family outside my immediate family lives in Iran. I’ve traveled back to Iran many times throughout my life and seen the opportunities my female cousins have, versus the opportunities I have had being born in the United States. It’s one of the reasons I feel so motivated to show up in the travel photography space as a Persian woman. I strive to be a source of light and inspiration for other women and travelers around the globe. I aim to show that you can change the world when you trust your heart.

What follows is my personal gratitude practice, take what works for you and make it your own. As I mentioned before, search for beauty in the little things. Maybe the stars are out, maybe there’s hot tea in your mug, maybe there’s a song you remembered that reminded you of a special moment. 

Make a list of what you are grateful for every morning, before you eat dinner, and every night before you sleep. This can be a list you write down, recite in your head, or speak to others around you. Another practice linked to gratitude and mindfulness that has changed my life is journaling. 

I’ve kept a journal since I was a child and it has helped me connect with my inner thoughts and feelings on a deeper level. A common journal entry I like to write are the things I am grateful for in that moment of my life. I strongly recommend journaling as it is a great tool to get thoughts out of your head and onto paper, to see and appreciate them, thus enriching your life. 

I’m still learning more each day but now I’m able to experience the world with a newfound grace. This approach has led to me developing one of the most necessary skills of a traveler: Flexibility. When you travel, many things can and often will go wrong. You may be placed way outside your comfort zone. Gratitude and flexibility are the two foundational skills one needs to develop in order to be a good traveler, and both can be achieved through a yoga practice. 

An example of this lesson coming to life is when my fiancé and I were traveling in Europe during July of 2018. We had train tickets booked from Paris, France to San Sebastián, Spain on a new speed train that we were very excited about. We packed our bags, arrived at the Montparnasse train station bright and early only to learn there was a fire in the train station and our train wouldn’t be able to depart. Rather than panicking, we realized there was nothing that could be done. Accidents like that happen, and all we could do is come up with the best possible solution. 

During that debacle, I found myself coming back to the skills of gratitude and flexibility I had learned through my yoga practice. Gratitude for the opportunity to be traveling through Europe with my fiancé, and giving myself the flexibility to accept that life will not always go according to plan. Our train was delayed and now we had the chance to embrace another travel adventure. All in all, we were able to talk to some representatives, adjust our travel plans, take 4 trains and a few taxis instead of 1 speed train, and because of this we were able to see more of the French countryside. It all worked out and we appreciated the beautiful beach town of San Sebastián even more.

We don’t need a lot to be a positive world traveler, just gratitude and flexibility. Gratitude for the little things in life and the flexibility to adjust to life’s surprises. So roll up your mat, pack your suitcases, and let’s explore this beautiful world of ours!

Be sure to keep up with Mahna on instagram – and on the note of canceled routes and mishaps while traveling, be sure to read Why I Prefer to Take the Road Less Traveled.