Yoga on Vacation
Simple Poses and Tips for Travelers
by Carrie Jackson
Travel can broaden our perspective of the world and take us on breathtaking adventures. These new experiences, however, often come with unexpected mental and physical challenges, stresses and anxieties. By incorporating yoga into the itinerary, we can cultivate a sense of peace, allowing us to show up as our best selves. From asanas after long hours of sitting to breathing exercises while waiting for a flight, yogic techniques can open the body and mind, letting us enjoy both the journey and destination.
According to Jenny Kaufman, a Chicago-based yoga professional who leads international retreats and manages yogaview, in Wilmette, Illinois, a mindful yoga practice is different from stretching and is available for anyone, regardless of physical flexibility. “Yoga encompasses well-being, mindfulness, breathing and spiritual awareness. It leads you to pull inward, notice what and where you feel a sensation, and mindfully progress to another asana, or pose. Increased flexibility might be the byproduct of the practice, but that is not the point,” she explains.
“Long layovers, changing time zones and different foods can confuse our internal clocks and wreak havoc on sleep and digestion,” Kaufman says. She recommends some poses to mitigate disruption and bring renewed vigor to body and mind: “To wind down before bed, incorporate cooling postures, such as Seated Forward Bend and Child’s Pose, that encourage the body to fold in and rest. For a burst of energy, try warming poses and heart openers, such as Cobra, Sphinx and Backbends. If space is limited, stand with fingers interlaced behind the back and gently press the pelvis forward. If digestion is slowed, simple twists and Wind-Relieving Pose can help move things along.”
Kim Larkin, a New Jersey-based certified yoga teacher, leads international retreats as a way to share heart-opening cultural adventures with other curious beings. “My main practice when travel stress is creeping in is to drop my attention into my breath,” she says. “Just focusing on one breath cycle at a time will help to settle my attention into my body, begin to quiet my nervous system and bring me to a more grounded place. It can also be helpful to count the breath, as in Sama Vritti Pranayama or “box breathing”. Like a square, box breathing has four even- length parts to it. Inhale to a count of four or five; hold the inhale for the same count; exhale to four or five; and hold at the bottom of the exhale. Repeating this as needed helps to calm both the mind and body.”
Margi Young, an Oakland, California-based yoga instructor and retreat leader, says, “When traveling, it’s natural to want to jump into a busy schedule of exploring new destinations, but starting the day with a few conscious breaths and Sun Salutations can set the foundation for a more grounded experience. This allows you to be your best self and move through your journeys with less anxiety and fresh eyes. Or, get off the traditional yoga script and take a few minutes to put on your favorite tunes and dance to get into your body.”
Young also recommends incorporating yoga throughout the day while traveling to reset from any physical and mental stress. “In an airport, find a secluded place you feel comfortable doing a Downward Dog. Instead of putting your hands on the ground, you could put them on the seat of a chair. This grounding pose lengthens the spine, opens the shoulders and draws your attention inward,” she explains. “On a plane or bus, reaching your arms overhead gives space to condensed organs; ankle circles help increase circulation; and seated Figure Four opens up tight hips,” she advises.
If time allows, Young also suggests finding a yoga studio and popping in for a class. “Taking a yoga class in a new country or city can provide an immediate sense of community and is often a uniting gateway to other connections when navigating new and different surroundings,” she asserts.
Yoga helps to develop patience, an aptitude that Kaufman says can serve us throughout our travels. “Mindfully moving through a practice encourages us to listen and be patient with our bodies, and it provides valuable feedback on where we are and what we need. Instead of jumping into a deep stretch, purposefully encourage the hamstring to open up and notice how that feels. Cultivating that patience for ourselves changes the chemistry in your brain and becomes a microcosm for how you put yourself into the world. You’re able to be more patient with flight attendants, travel partners and everyone else you may encounter,” she shares.
For Larkin, practicing yoga while traveling cultivates inner peace. “The stress of travel can bring out the worst in us, but we can do our best to stay kind and considerate by keeping in mind the yoga teaching of Ahimsa: non-harming,” she says. “Most things work out, even if you lose your luggage or miss your flight. And most people are good, wanting to help you find your luggage or rebook your flight or commiserate when your vacation didn’t go quite to plan.”
Carrie Jackson is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Connect at CarrieJacksonWrites.com.