Travel Yoga Practice
Travel yoga has been on my mind lately. Late last year, my family and I temporarily relocated from Montana to London, UK. After getting ourselves settled, my yoga practice also settled into a spectacular daily routine as I took advantage of what the London yoga scene has to offer. But the month-long school holiday for my young daughter (yes, a whole month) arrived in early April, and with it some exciting family travel plans: Morocco, Scotland, day trips all over England. Drat. There went my luxurious 1.5 hours of yoga bliss five days a week. OK, I know I can’t complain much about my “predicament”… but it has made me tune into how to address my yoga cravings while on the road, and keep body and mind in top travel shape.
If you’re feeling stiff and cranky from planes, trains, and automobiles, you won’t be as likely to embrace the experiences travel has to offer. And let’s be honest: even the most exotic, inspiring travel can leave us feeling exhausted and disoriented (delayed flights, lost luggage, jet-lag, not-so-good in-transit eating options, and so on). Good travel pushes us out of our comfort zones in many ways. The balancing element of yoga can help you leave behind all the effort it took to get there, and help you open to the inspiration of your new surroundings.
All that said, unless you’re on a yoga retreat, travel plans typically don’t include lengthy yoga classes. But fitting in a few key asanas, all chosen to counter the challenges of travel, can help you detox and energize while you’re away from home. Try these yoga moves on your next trip, to help tame travel tension without taking a big chunk out of your sightseeing time. I’ve been doing this practice throughout my recent travels; it’s been interesting to note how your body responds differently to the poses, depending on where in the world you are. Enjoy the journey, yoga and otherwise!
Note: this sequence assumes some basic knowledge of the vinyasa flow yoga style. I definitely recommend taking classes with a qualified teacher before attempting practice on your own.
Breathe Easy Travel Tips:
Pack a neti pot. I never travel without one, and furthermore, I do it every morning at home too. It flushes out germs and moisturizes nasal passages that have been breathing dry airplane air. It also helps with transitioning between different climates (temperature changes, pollution, etc.). If you’d like to read more about why I recommend the neti pot, plus a link to the how-to, click here.
Powerful pranayama: Kapalabhati is one of my favorite breathing exercises, and I’ve found it great for travel because it’s an easy way to detox and energize quickly. Do it first thing in the morning, and in the afternoon when you need a second wind. Yoga Journal gives a good how-to; if you’ve never seen (or heard) it practiced, it sounds a lot like blowing your nose but with short, sharp repeated exhales. Have Kleenex handy, and remember it’s a good thing if stuff starts flying out of your nose!
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Travel yoga practice
Moments in Meditation. Sit still and soak up your new surroundings. Even if you’re traveling for business instead of pleasure and you do this in your hotel room, there are benefits to be had. Taking the time to transition yourself in a quiet way will be grounding.
- Take a comfortable seated position. Ground your seat by reaching underneath you and moving your bum flesh out and back, so your sit bones can root down. This will help you sit up tall.
- Draw your navel into your spine – my favorite, simple trick for lengthening my spine and improving my posture. It also opens up your chest to allow deeper breaths.
- Feel your sit bones ground underneath you, and the crown of your head reaching up above you.
- Close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breath. Slow it down, and deepen it to a count of four: count up to 4 as you inhale, and count back from 4 as you exhale. Repeat for at least 10 breaths.
- Notice the sounds, the smells and the feel of the air around you. Notice how they are different from those at home. Don’t judge, just observe. Be still and let it surround you.
- Savor stillness for a few minutes.
Sun Salutation Warm-Up. Depending on how much time you have, 3-5 sun salutations will warm you up nicely. Click here for a how-to. This should take between 5-15 minutes, less if you are already familiar with this sequence or are able to familiarize yourself before your departure.
Chair Vinyasa. You’ve probably already been sitting for a long time in a plane or car, so you won’t be sitting down again with this one… this is chair in the yoga sense. Which as you might already know, is hard! But this vinyasa will rev up your circulation, reactivate your leg muscles, and release your shoulders too.
- Stand with your feet and knees together. Bend your knees (keeping them together), and interlace your fingers behind your back. Look up and lift your hands away from your body.
- On an exhale, straighten your legs and keeping the fingers interlaced, fold forward with the arms coming up and over. Stay here for a deep breath.
- On your next inhale, return to the first position.
- Repeat this vinyasa 10-15 times.
Lunge series with bhastrika (bellows breath). This series will boost your energy, and help get rid of stuck energy and stagnancy through twisting and hip opening.
- Stand with your feet together in mountain pose. From here, step your right foot back, staying on the ball of your foot (heel is lifted). Make sure you have some diagonal space between your front and back foot (vs. standing on a tightrope).
- Bend your front knee and lift your arms up overhead, as if you were reaching for something above you. Extend up through your fingertips. Take a huge inhale through your nose, and…
- …pull down hard with your arms as you exhale strongly through your mouth. Don’t be afraid to make some noise – this is called bellows breath for a reason! Repeat this movement with the arms/bellows breath 10 times, staying in the lunge position.
- Straighten your front leg for a breath or two. Then bend it again, and take your hands into prayer at your heart center. Slowly turn to the left, and hook your bottom elbow on the outside of your left knee. Try to keep the hands in front of your sternum as you twist. (To modify, feel free to gently lower your back knee to the ground). Hold here for 5 deep breaths.
- Hip opening option: drop your back knee, bring your hands to the floor, and move into one-legged king pigeon pose from here. Click here for the how-to.
- Repeat entire sequence on the other side, stepping the left foot back to start.
Eagle. Rev up the circulation in your arms and legs, while getting your balance back in gear after a long journey. Eagle pose also helps release shoulder tension.
- Stand with your feet together in mountain pose. Extend your arms out to the sides, opening across the chest. Bring your right arm under your left, crossing at the elbows. Bring your hands together (anywhere between palms together and just touching thumb to pinky). Your thumbs should be just about in front of your nose.
- Keeping your arms intertwined, lift your elbows up and push your forearms forward, creating space between your shoulder blades.
- Take your right leg over your left, crossing above the knees; squeeze your thighs together. There shouldn’t be any space between your thighs (think of a little kid that has to go to the bathroom!). If you can, hook your right foot behind your left calf, without twisting your hips. If you need help balancing, you can touch your right big toe to the floor to stabilize.
- With arms and legs intertwined, straighten your spine and line your shoulders up over your hips. Squeeze your arms and legs together for 5 deep breaths. On your last few exhales, sink your hips a little lower. Remember your standing leg stays bent in this pose.
- Repeat on the other side.
Cobra push-ups. This is a great way to get rid of travel tension in the low back, by gently undulating the spine. You have the option to take it further into locust pose, for a back strengthener. Backbends are my antidote for any of the negative effects of travel, which often show up in my back.
- Lay on your stomach, placing your hands palms down just under your shoulders. Don’t let your elbows drop away from your body, have them point straight back behind you.
- Push gently on your hands to slowly lift your upper body and head; don’t move quickly, and don’t come up too high. Keep your elbows soft – if you end up with straight, bracing arms, you’ve come up too high. Use this lifting up movement to take an inhale.
- On your exhale, slowly and gently lower your upper body down, letting your forehead touch the floor.
- Repeat this push-up ten times. Think about undulating your spine slowly and gently.
- Back-strengthening option: come into locust pose, shalabasana: interlace your hands behind your back and lift everything up (arms, legs, head) to balance on your hips. Keep lifting on your inhales, and hold the lift on your exhale. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
- When you finish, take child’s pose for a few breaths.
Hero pose into ustrasana, Camel. Sitting in hero pose gives you a chance to revisit your earlier moments in meditation, while stretching out your quads, knees, and ankles. Then you have the option for a deeper backbend, moving from hero into half camel or full camel.
- Sit on your heels in hero pose, with your knees together, hands resting lightly on your thighs. Try not to collapse your seat into your heels, but rather keep your core engaged to help you sit lightly. Close your eyes and take a few breaths here.
- You can leave the tops of the feet flat, or tuck the toes under to move into half camel. Take the hands behind you, palms flat and fingers reaching towards your feet. Push off the hands to lift the hips (knees stay on the floor). Hold for 5-10 breaths. Come back to hero pose and repeat 2-3 times.
- Advanced backbending option: come into camel pose, ustrasana: take your hands to your ankles and push down to lift your chest. Keep your chin towards your chest and looking down the front of your body, or if it’s ok for your neck, allow your head to drop back slowly. Hold for 5 breaths. Lift your head up first and take one hand at a time to your low back to support yourself as you come out of the pose.
Inversion: handstand or headstand (advanced). Handstand is my favorite travel pose – I take it everywhere. Because pretty much everywhere you go, it’s going to be easy to find a wall to kick up against. Going upside down clears my head and simultaneously energizes and grounds.
Note that handstand is an advanced posture, and I recommend that you work with a qualified yoga teacher to learn the basics before practicing on your own. And be very careful of kicking up against walls that aren’t yours (holes happen!) If you don’t practice handstand and prefer headstand, click here for Sirsasana instruction.
- Place your hands as you would for downward facing dog, a little less than a foot away from the wall. Important: do NOT place your hands right up against the wall.
- Come into a narrow downward dog. As you walk your feet towards your hands, feel the lifting of your hips. Come onto tiptoes to lift them even more. Ground your palms.
- Lift one leg as high as you can and reach your toes towards the ceiling. Engage your core to help lift your leg higher.
- Bend your “launch leg” (the one still touching the floor), and push off that leg to take both feet up towards the wall. You must use a lot of core strength and a little momentum; kicking too hard will not only throw your balance, but may also result in denting the wall! So practice kicking up a few times, without going up all the way, to carefully negotiate the space between your feet and the wall. You’ll be surprised how little kicking-up is required to turn yourself upside-down; when done properly, it will feel like floating.
- Once you’re up, firm your outer arms in to prevent the shoulders from collapsing around your ears. You may gaze at the floor between your hands, or drop your head and look out into the center of the room.
- Stay here for 5-10 slow breaths. When you finish, come into down dog to transition back to right-side up (don’t stand straight up after inverting).
Namaste, and safe travels!