Yoga for travellers: find calm among the chaos
Many yogis are wanderers, often looking to deepen their experiences of the world and expose themselves to different cultures and ideas. Whether exploring in your home country or overseas, packing a yogic mindset (and a compact travel mat) are valuable tools to equip you for the nomadic yoga journey ahead.
Getting out of your comfort zone, delayed flights, jet lag and communication barriers can leave you feeling a bit worse for wear. One of the joys of travelling is that it is unpredictable, with things often occurring that are out of your control. But, at the same time, this provides you with an opportunity to find calm among the chaos, tap into your inner strength and, eventually, relish in the moment. Yoga, thankfully, has lots of tools you can draw upon when you’re in situations like these abroad.
When travelling, you can learn to integrate a “yogic” perspective into your plans. Although this might be the last thing you’re thinking about while you’re on vacation, this mindset is not as it seems. Being a yogic traveller doesn’t mean you have to be regimented or restrict yourself; it’s more about an attitude of gratitude.
For instance, a yogic traveller might avoid extravagant holidays in favour of experiencing the world in a more intimate or meaningful way. It’s about building awareness and using travel to connect on a deeper level with the world, people and cultures around you. It’s about practising gratitude, being open to experiences that allow you to learn and grow and embracing a greater level of consciousness and connectedness on your journey — sounds a bit like a yoga practise, right?
So, let’s explore how you can draw on yoga when you’re travelling to help you take in the wonders of the experience (and the not-so great parts as well).
Hopefully, the stresses of travel are relegated to the airport when you’re making the mad dash to your boarding gate but, the reality is, like your everyday life, challenges will pop up wherever you go. The difference is you’re outside your own space and lack familiarity, which can make any challenges you might face while travelling more stressful. This is where yoga can become your best friend.
Rhythmic breathing — simply bringing attention to the breath — is a great technique to draw on when travel anxiety pops up. Breathe in and out to the count of four, or longer, and give yourself a few moments to cultivate a sense of calm. Instead of getting frustrated by a situation out of your control, use your breathing to firstly centre yourself and help you find solutions. Reframing the situation can also be helpful. For instance, delayed flight? No worries! Go grab a coffee and finish a few more chapters of your book, write in your travel journal or call your family and friends back home.
Taking in the moment
Are you an avid photographer and love documenting your travels through photographs? This is a wonderful way to remember those special moments, however, it’s important you’re not just seeing everything through a lens. Armed with your smartphone, you can capture every meal, sunset and waking minute. But, in the process, you may forget to simply just be in the moment. You don’t need to stop taking photos, just don’t forget to put your camera down to soak up your surroundings.
Whether you’re in a big city or out in nature, bring awareness to where you are physically at that moment. Take a few deep breaths and focus on your feet in connection with the earth. Take in the sounds, colours, smells and any other sensations.
Travelling can be a life-changing, mind-expanding, character-building experience.
It’s also important to practise gratitude and recognise how fortunate you are to travel and explore new places — this isn’t an opportunity everyone gets in their lives. Try and cultivate this awareness and appreciation before taking your camera out. Even in the busiest of places you can find silence and perhaps even see something you wouldn’t notice otherwise.
Going beyond your comfort zone
Travel gives you the opportunity to explore new places, learn about different cultures and try new experiences. Whether you’re visiting your favourite city for the umpteenth time or somewhere completely new, try and experience something slightly outside the box. See this as an opportunity to confront a fear or do something you wouldn’t normally do.
Recently, I confronted a fear and went scuba diving for the first time. Although it’s not something I’d probably do again, the feeling of accomplishment from doing something I thought I couldn’t do is a great personal feat. But don’t worry, you don’t need to do anything extreme. Simply trying new foods, testing out your language skills and allowing yourself to be open to the unknown are great perspective-building activities.
Travelling responsibly and respectfully
You can also bring a yogic perspective when it comes to making travel choices. You can do this by being aware of how your actions impact an environment and pledge to do good. For instance, look for immersive cultural experiences that allow you to gain a deeper understanding of the place you’re visiting. You can also choose to support locally run businesses, book a homestay rather than a big chain hotel, enjoy local produce as well as buy locally made, sustainable products rather than mass-produced souvenirs. Do your homework beforehand to bring yourself up to speed on the customs of the culture to ensure you conduct yourself in a way that is respectful to the people and environment.
Yoga on the road
There are lots of ways to practise yoga beyond the physical asanas (postures). However, after a long-cramped flight or bus ride where you’ve strained your neck from sleeping in a strange position, or even after a big day exploring, a restorative asana practice is the best medicine.
Whether at a hotel or a campsite, scout out a space where you can do some basic asanas at the beginning or end of each day. When travelling, your routines are upended and you’re often functioning on strange hours. You might not be able to fit a full hour-long flow in, and that’s OK. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, look for other ways to practise yoga, like some of the suggestions in this story.
For those of you who can’t get enough of your asana practice, seek out a local yoga studio. Experiencing a yoga community in a different location is a great way to spend a few hours and, generally, communication won’t be an issue thanks to the universal language of yoga.
Experiencing a yoga community in a different location is a great way to spend a few hours and, generally, communication won’t be an issue thanks to the universal language of yoga.
Yogic traveller essentials
Travel yoga mat: Whether I’m going away for a night or a few months, my travel yoga mat is always first on my packing list. There are plenty of brands which offer mats that can fold into a square so small you can keep it in your handbag! Of course, there’s no need to buy a brand-new mat. Simply bring your own and pack it flat on the bottom of your suitcase.
Meditation playlist: Download your favourite meditation playlist for long plane trips or car rides to enjoy some relaxation.
Mindfulness colouring book: Colouring books provide a great way to pass the time and soothe the soul when you’re on a not-so-soothing eight-hour bus ride.
Essential oils: If you’re one of those people who can’t go anywhere without your favourite essential oils, look into getting some travel-sized mini versions. Peppermint oil to ease headaches or lavender oil to calm and relax always come in handy.
Travel journal: Journaling is a great way to remember and reflect on each day. If journaling isn’t really your thing, each day simply note three things you’ve experienced or are grateful for on your journey, as well as what you’ve learned from them.
Yoga for travellers
Asanas are valuable for preparing your body for a long trip, winding down after a big day out or for helping you to get back into harmony when you’re jet lagged. Here are a few poses you can try in a hotel room, airport terminal or on whatever beach, mountain or street corner you find yourself during your travels.
Prasarita padottanasana (wide-legged forward bend)
Step your feet wide apart so they are parallel to each other. Start by bringing your hands onto your hips and bend forward. Hold at the halfway point, extend the spine and feel the stretch down the hamstrings. Then, bring your hands to either foot. Allow the crown of the head to point towards the floor. Bend the elbows and come deeper into the forward bend.
Pawanmuktasana (gas relief pose)
Lie on your back with your legs extended and your arms beside you. Bend the right knee and bring it over the chest. Hug the knee with both hands and bring the forehead as close to the knee as possible. Hold for 10 breath counts before releasing. Then complete on the opposite leg.
Vriksasana (tree pose)
Stand in tadasana with your feet connected to the earth. Bend and raise the right knee, bringing it to hip height. Hold and then rotate to the right and place the sole of the foot on the inside of the left thigh or the calf. Adjust the foot as needed. Inhale and raise the arms upwards. Rotate the hands and point the little fingers towards each other. Maintain awareness of the foot against the floor and reach your hands up towards the sky. Try and maintain your balance for as long as possible before completing on the opposite side.
Utkata konasana (goddess pose)
Step your feet apart. Turn the feet out 45 degrees so they’re facing the corners of the room and, as you exhale, bend the knees over the ankles as you come into a squat. Keep the knees pointed outwards and as you inhale, raise your arms towards the sky. For a variation, place your hands on each knee. Alternating between each side, rotate the opposite shoulder towards the opposite foot and hold for a few seconds on each side.
Virabhadrasana I variation (warrior I variation)
Step your right foot forward and bring the left foot towards the back of the mat on a slight angle. Centre your hips to the front of the room. Bring your hands in the namaskar or prayer position, wedged in between your shoulder blades. Alternatively, you can touch opposite hand to elbow at your back. Keep your hands in position and inhale, entering a gentle backbend.
Ardha matsyendrasana (half spinal twist)
Begin in dandasana with your legs extended in front of you. Bend the right knee and step it over the left leg. Then bend the left knee and bring the foot close to the right hip. Keep the right hand behind the right hip. Bend the left arm over the right leg. Try to grab hold of the big toe. As you inhale, extend the spine and as you exhale, twist. Turn the head to look over the right shoulder. Complete on both sides.