A yoga practice for travel
“You know how it is. Sometimes we plan a trip to one place, but something takes us to another.” ~ Rumi
Picture this. You’re on a road-trip. Romantic visions of rural vistas with majestic, salted seascapes come to mind. You face traffic, sore eyes, neck and back pain. Or perhaps you’re travelling by air. Your flight is grounded. You’re held captive in a small cabin space with pressurised air and mounting stress all around and within you. Then you remember: you prepared for this. You packed a yoga travel kit to calm and centre you, leading you on an inner journey during your outer travels. Fancy that — the excitement, stress and upheaval of travel actually providing the perfect opportunity for a practice in yoga.
Your yoga travel kit
The yoga travel kit detailed below focuses on your body, mind and self before, during and after travel. It consists of yoga poses and practices, Ayurvedic dietary suggestions, breathing exercises, mudras and meditations.
Ayurvedic approach to travel
Travel can increase anxiety, amplifying the kleshas (afflictions of the mind). In Ayurveda, the science of self-healing, any form of travel is considered a vata activity and has the potential to throw you off-balance regardless of your specific Ayurvedic constitution. Vata has the properties of air and space, governs movement in the body and influences the other doshas. Travelling at unnaturally fast speeds can affect your nervous system responses, mental clarity, sleep, circulation and hydration.
Dr Rama Prasad of Ayurvedic Elements recognises the need to prepare for travel for a minimum of two weeks beforehand, by eating large, healthy breakfasts and lunches, reducing grains and potatoes, and skipping dinner or eating only a light soup if needed. He says preparing through diet reduces anxiety so that your adaptability improves and travel doesn’t destroy your health.
Dr Prasad suggests taking a 30-minute hot bath after a self oil massage the day before travel, and rehydrating with small sips of water while minimising solids during the trip. On long flights, he advises sleeping as much as possible, taking melatonin or St John’s wort to help if needed. If you follow his suggestions, Dr Prasad asserts you are unlikely to suffer jetlag nor get sick with travel bugs, as your gut health will be optimal.
Yoga before travel
A full yoga practice the day before travel is necessary to release tension so you can start your journey with a calm and relaxed mind. Choose a gentle, warming, grounding practice that keeps you moving slowly with short holding poses. Focus on steady breaths and devote your entire attention to your practice.
Yoga tips mid-travel
Seated alignment & spinal health
To lessen spinal compression from sitting for long periods, become aware of your posture. If you are short, take a footrest on the plane, as it’s important for circulation and alignment that your feet touch the floor. Bring your awareness to your posture. Are you consistently leaning to one side? How’s the position of your lower back — are you raising and rounding your shoulders? Ask, “How am I feeling right now while I sit this way?” Once you catch yourself sitting incorrectly, you can change your posture and hence your emotional wellbeing.
For correct seated alignment
Plant your feet firmly on the floor, weight distributed evenly, press into the balls of feet and lift the inner arches. Move abdomen back towards the spine, lift pelvic floor up, move lower ribs away from hips, lift spine, roll shoulders back and down, move front of throat to back of throat to lengthen back of neck. Imagine your head is lifting off your shoulders. Commence pelvic tilts forward and back with pelvic floor lifted and abdomen drawn in below bellybutton towards the spine. This lubricates your spine, preventing a sore back.
For joints & circulation
Follow the in-flight guidelines for leg-calf exercises to keep the blood flowing while in your seat. Seek medical advice before travelling if you are at risk or concerned about deep-vein thrombosis.
Practise joint-relieving exercises in the chair, including circling the ankles in both directions, flexing and stretching the toes and whole foot, and circling the wrists, shoulders and neck as often as you can.
For your eyes
Yoga eye cupping can make eyes feel well nurtured and less sore. Vigorously rub your palms together to generate heat, then cup your warmed hands over closed eyes for a few moments. Repeat every few hours while awake on the plane or resting at a pit-stop when driving.
For your neck
Notice whether you edge your head forward when driving. This repetitive strain affects the nerves in your neck and blood flow, and creates neck stiffness. As often as you can, move front of throat to back of throat to lengthen the back of your neck.
For your mind
Be conscious of how you relate to yourself and others. If you are impatient or angry, work with your breath and consciously practise the ethics of yoga: being mindful of treating self and others with respect and care. Contemplate and practise the yamas and niyamas, in particular ahimsa (non-harm), aparigraha (non-greed), santosa (contentment) by accepting the situation, tapas (burning desire) to commit to practising yoga while travelling and ishvara pranidhana (surrendering your efforts to a higher source, or God).
The physical yoga sequence will calm and centre you. The breathing and meditation practices help you become more tolerant and relaxed. Work with each practice for a decent duration to gain maximum benefit.
- To relax the mind, focus on the breath. Encourage your breath into your belly. Breathe in and out through the nose. Any time your mind wanders, gently acknowledge it without judgement, then bring your awareness back to your breath.
- Practise the so ham mantra meditation. Mentally breathe in “sooooo” up the spine; breathe out “hummmm” down the spine with each breath. This is a hamsa meditation, which asks, “Who am I?”, with the response, “I am That.”
- Bhramari breathing, or Humming Bee Breath. Place your hands on your head, thumbs closing off ears. With closed mouth and eyes, gently breathe out a long humming sound on exhalation. Continue this long humming breath for several minutes, sitting quietly afterwards.
- Carry with you soothing kirtan (yoga chanting) or chilled-out yoga music, such as The Future Sound of Yoga, Edo and Jo, and Deva Premal and Miten and Krishna Das. These uplifting words and sounds will rebalance and inspire you.
- Yoga nidra is a specific set of guided instructions that’s traditionally performed lying down but can be practised seated quite effectively. Listen to a downloaded recording with your earplugs in. Note: If you are driving, do not perform meditations until you reach your pit-stop.
Arriving at your destination
Regardless of how you travel, as soon as your feet touch the ground, pause. Take a moment to consciously reconnect and feel grounded with the Earth.
Restorative yoga involves resting in yoga positions over props and is immensely healing, helping your body and mind to recover from the effects of travel and jetlag. Inverted or raised-legs positions help reduce swelling in the feet and legs, pumping fresh oxygenated blood back through your entire system.
Restorative poses such as these are ideal post travel:
- Viparita karani — legs up the wall
- Setu bandha sarvangasana
- Supta baddha konasana
- Upavista konasana over a chair
Wherever the destination, let yoga help you arrive in the present. Enjoy the (inward) journey.
Yoga travel sequence
This sequence is designed to release your upper and lower back, shoulders, neck, groin and thighs from the stresses placed on the body during travel and to bring balance, grace and calm to your being. Follow up as soon as possible by lying down in viparita karani, raising your legs up a wall with buttocks touching the wall, or resting in savasana, lying-down relaxation pose with an eyebag over your eyes.
Commence your practice by closing your eyes and quietening your mind. Dedicate your yoga to joyful, peaceful living and present moment awareness.
Perform the activities outlined above under Seated Alignment & Spinal Health for your joints and seated alignment.
Stretch your neck to one side, shoulders down, bringing your ear towards your shoulder to stretch the opposite side of the neck. Repeat on other side.
Arms clasped behind & garudasana arms
In seated alignment, clasp hands behind you, rolling shoulders together and down. Pull abdomen back towards spine, work arms together and move straightened arms away from body. Breathe for three to six slow breaths. Continue for garudasana arms, crossing arms in front so right bent arm rests inside left elbow, holding onto whatever part of the hand or arm you can. Bring hands together if possible. Elbows at shoulder height, inhale and as you exhale move elbows away from you. Hold pose, breathing into it for a few breaths. Release and change position with left arm resting inside right elbow to repeat. These shoulder releases can be done as often as required throughout the journey.
Seated, inhale and lift spine. Exhale, place right hand towards back of chair, left hand on outer edge of right leg, palm facing up. Check knees are together on twist so left knee isn’t forward of right knee. Keep weight evenly spread across both feet, inhale then exhale, twisting to right, follow with your gaze to the right. Work with breath, twisting further. Exhale to centre, repeat on left side.
Virabhadrasana I in the aisle or at a pit-stop
Step right foot forward, left foot back one leg-length, turning left foot in, 45–60 degrees to the right. Inhale, arms up, hands together, square hips. Exhale, bend right knee over right ankle, keeping back leg straight. Stretch up through arms, abdomen back, looking up at thumbs. Breathe deeply in pose for three or more breaths. Exhale and release for other side.
Standing on right foot, bend left leg, reach and hold left foot with left hand. Stretch right arm up, energise right leg, lift spine up, abdomen back. Begin to move your left leg up and back directly behind you for a deeper stretch. Breathe and hold the balance for three to six slow breaths. Place right hand on wall to help with balance if needed. Repeat on other leg.
Stand. Exhaling, pivot from hips, bending forward with straight legs. Relax, head down. Bring sitting bones forward towards ceiling. Hands touch floor or hold opposite elbows. Breathe for three to six slow breaths. Exhale, bend knees to come up slowly.
Padmasana (lotus) preparation with urdhva hastasana arms
Sitting on a chair, place left ankle on right thigh, foot turned up. Ensure right leg is perpendicular, knee facing forward. Lift spine, raise arms above head, palms facing each other. Inhale. Exhale, pivot from hips to bend forward with straight spine. Slightly tuck chin. Inhale, lift spine, come a little further forward with each exhalation. Exhale to release for other side. Note: If bent knee hurts in this position, raise left knee up or come out of pose.
Nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) & pushan mudra (hand gesture)
Nadi shodhana is a pranayama (breathing) practice that balances the nadis (energy channels) in the body. Place index and third finger between eyebrows as shown, thumb on right nostril, fourth finger on left. Breathe in through both nostrils to begin, then close off left nostril with fourth finger, breathe out through right nostril. Breathe in through right nostril, close off right nostril with thumb, releasing fourth finger, breathe out through left nostril. Breathe in through left, close off left, breathe out through right. Continue breathing in this way for as long as is comfortable, ending the practice by breathing out through the right nostril.
Continue into pushan mudra position. This mudra (hand gesture) is about nourishment and taking in light. On right hand, tips of thumb, index and middle finger are on top of each other, fourth and fifth fingers extended. On left hand, tips of thumb, middle and fourth finger are on top of each other, remaining fingers extended. Place hands on knees with straight elbows, lift spine. Mentally repeat the affirmation, “I thankfully accept everything that is good for me, let it have its effect within me, and release everything that is spent.” This mudra with affirmation, from Gertrud Hirschi’s Mudras: Yoga in your Hands, is described as being useful for digestion, absorption of oxygen and release of carbon dioxide, regulation of the autonomic nervous system and detoxification, and it is excellent for nausea.
End your session by choosing a meditation practice outlined earlier in the For Your Mind section, such as the So Ham meditation, yoga nidra or listening to recorded kirtan music.
Kylie Terraluna is a writer and yoga teacher on the Vedic path of wisdom. She is currently travelling Australia teaching WellBeing’s Yoga Workshops on Love and Happiness. For more information, visit kylieterraluna.com.au