From being packed in like sardines on buses and planes to lifting suitcases that feel like they’re carrying rocks or sleeping on lumpy mattresses (or no mattress at all) — travel can take its toll on the physical and mental body.
Traveling with rose-tinted glasses on may keep you smiling, but it’s also okay to recognize that travel can have its stressful side. And it’s how you deal with that stress that might be the difference between a day that goes down in the books and one that ends in an outlash.
In order to keep on moving and traveling freely, try bringing a little yoga along for the ride.
The beauty of yoga practice is that you can do it anywhere. There’s no fancy gym equipment or special attire required. If you have a mat, consider it a luxury. If not, just roll out a towel or a blanket, and you’re good to go.
Incorporating yoga into travel can help you enhance your mood on days where those rosy glasses are nowhere to be found. It can also ward off illness and boost your immune system to battle all of those germy-germs you encounter in airports, bathrooms, and busses. Even five minutes of practicing yoga can have a huge impact to make you a savvier, healthier, and less-stressed traveler.
A Five-Minute Practice; Yoga for Travelers
So, here you go. Why not give it a shot?
In a safe space, sit in a comfortable position, either with your legs crossed or your knees on the ground, sitting on your feet. Focus your gaze on a spot a few feet in front of you. Drop your shoulders down and back, and relax your jaw and eyebrows.
Notice your breath.
On the inhale, count to three and pause at the top of the breath. Then, exhale and count to four, pausing at the bottom of the breath. Continue this for ten breaths.
Just as the soul likes to wander to distant places and see what is just around the corner, so does the mind. That’s okay. Try to bring your thoughts back to your breath, allowing your mind to begin to clear. Continuing to count can help with this.
As you breathe, notice any areas of your body that may feel tight or tense. Inhale, imagine the breath washing over these areas like water, allowing the tension to melt away. Exhale, bring your thoughts back to your breath. Inhale, slowly drop your neck to your right shoulder as you exhale. Hold it for one breath and repeat on the other side.
Then, drop your chin to your chest. Inhale, bring your neck to center, and then exhale. Inhale, slowly roll your wrists in circles. Allow your hands to rest on your knees with palms up, open to what may come next.
Harness your intuition to allow the practice to guide your next action. It’s as simple as asking yourself, “What does my body feel it needs?” And then doing it. Maybe it’s to continue sitting, maybe you feel like curling up in a ball and sleeping, or maybe you found the energy to get up and keep moving and exploring. Even if you feel like eating ice cream, that’s okay. No judgement here.
Stretch Your Limits
Once you are comfortable with the five-minute breathing practice, begin to expand your reach. Literally, reach your arms over head toward the sky and see how your feel.
Here are a few more great poses that can be done from anywhere and can help you get back on track.
Modified Sun Salutation
Stand with your feet facing forward, legs hip-distance apart. Inhale, reach your arms overhead. Exhale, slowly bend forward at the hip, reaching for the ground with legs slightly bent. Inhale, lift halfway up, hands to shins, and back flat. Exhale, release to the ground, and inhale back to standing, arms overhead. Exhale, arms to center, in prayer position at the heart.
Stand with your feet facing forward, legs hip-distance apart. Gently lift your right foot and touch it to your left foot, knee, or inner thigh. Find a point on the floor about three feet in front of you to direct your gaze. Bring your arms to prayer center, or above your head. Take three deep breaths, and repeat on the other side.
Yoga takes many cues from nature, so imagine you are the starfish here. Lie down and stretch your arms and legs away from you. Isolate the stretch in each arm and leg and notice any differences. You can do this pose from a bed (yes, even a lousy hostel bed). Or a beach. Or a grassy knoll.
Just as you physically stretch your muscles in a yoga practice, when you travel, you also stretch yourself in new ways. So, the metaphor is not lost here either.
Traveling requires pushing boundaries. Stretching beyond your edge through yoga and traveling can inspire tremendous positive change, but don’t forget that ahimsa. It takes time to increase flexibility, so pushing yourself too far can result in injury. The key is to find your edge and go just a little further.
Bonus Yoga Teachings to Carry with You
Although the assets of yoga are many, there are a couple that are especially helpful when traveling. In order fully appreciate all that you can gain from a few simple daily actions, start with these basic ideas to jumpstart or enhance your practice.
Although the asana (physical postures) of yoga are the most visible aspect, they’re only a small portion of the overall practice.
In the eight limbs of yoga, asana is only one limb. Pranayama (or breath control) takes equal weight to asana and opens and readies the body to a physical practice. The breath is made of three parts, the inhale, exhale, and the brief suspension of breath at the top and bottom of the breath. If you’re new to focused breathing, as you inhale, imagine filling your lungs with air and allowing the air to flow down your ribcage to your stomach and diaphragm, pausing there, and then reversing the flow of breath.
Focusing on the breath is beneficial anytime throughout your day, but taking even five minutes a day to wholly focus on breathing will simultaneously energize and calm you — perfect for when you’re feeling stressed or drained. Yoga teaches us that the regular practice of breathing allows us to see more clearly and reduce obstacles in our way, something we can all use a little more of.
Be Kind to Yourself
Ahimsa teaches non-violence toward oneself as a starting point to non-violence towards others.
That’s pretty deep, but it makes sense. If you aren’t taking the time you need to recharge, it’s much more difficult to give of yourself, or even be nice to your traveling buddy.
If you’re volunteering or teaching, for example, the work can be draining. In order to be your best self and not lose it on the person next to you, rejuvenate by nourishing yourself.
Yoga Means Union
Although a studio isn’t required, practicing yoga with others can be a wonderful way to join the community you are in.
At its intention, yoga is meant to be practiced together. To find a studio in your community, start by asking locals for recommendations, or checking out local community notice boards. You can also search for yoga classes online through YogaTrail.
If there’s no studio nearby, invite a friend or neighbor to join you in the five-minute practice. Spread your newfound inner joy to others, and see where it takes you.
A journey into the world can be vast, but a journey within is infinite.