“Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed.” ~ Pico Iyer
It strikes me that this quote sums up why yoga and travel make such a magical combination. When you travel, you are shaken from your numbed, sometimes jaded existence, and the newness of your experience brings you into a powerfully mindful state. Yoga is all about being in this state, and being present in the moment, with your mind, body and breath coming together. So, when you combine yoga and travel, they feed off each other. Being in an unfamiliar place brings added awareness to your yoga practice, and practicing yoga heightens your appreciation of, and the sensitivity to, your surroundings.
Many people worry that when they travel, they won’t be able to keep up their yoga practice. Perhaps they’ll miss the routine of their regular yoga classes back home, or they know they won’t have as much physical space to practice. Maybe they think they won’t have time to “do yoga,” but there are so many ways that you can integrate yoga into your travels.
Yoga to Unwind Travel-Sore Bodies
There are no two ways about it - no matter how much you love to travel, it can be exhausting. Physically, mentally and emotionally, a lot of movement can leave you feeling ungrounded. This is where Restorative yoga comes in. It’s the ideal practice to soothe a tired body and mind, helping you to settle down and relax. Even just practicing a few grounding restorative asanas, such as supported child’s pose or legs-up-the-wall pose, can help you to feel instantly more at home in your new surroundings. (Read more about Restorative Yoga: Relax and Recharge.)
If you want the grounding and relaxing benefits of yoga, but feel your body is too stiff and tight to fully relax, Yin yoga could be your ideal travel yoga practice. Lots of sitting, walking and waiting around tightens up the muscles and connective tissue around the pelvis, potentially leading to lower back pain and stiffness. Some deliciously deep hip openers from Yin yoga, such as sleeping swan pose and butterfly pose, can release your lower body and leave you feeling freer, more relaxed and grounded. (Learn more in The Benefits of Yin Yoga.)
Yoga When You Have No Space
Having no space is no excuse not to do yoga. There are so many simple seated and standing asanas that take up very little room. If you have a square of space large enough to sit in, or a space tall enough to stand upright in, there’s already plenty you can do. Sit in sukhasana, or easy seated pose, and take a seated cat-cow flow with your hands on your knees and your spine undulating forward and backward as you rock from your tailbone to your sit bones, bringing mobility to your spine. Then play with some arm variations to work your upper body. Try making arm circles and move into seated twists, bring your hands to prayer position first in front and then behind your back, or take eagle pose with your arms.
If space is so limited you can’t even sit, remember tadasana, your trusty mountain pose. It’s such a simple asana, but it’s ideal for bringing you into the present moment, cultivating inner strength and grounding you. Stand up tall, root down through all four corners of your feet, lift the arches of the feet and engage your leg muscles. Draw the lower belly in to lengthen your tailbone toward the ground. Feel your spine decompress as it elongates. Draw your chin in slightly, relax your shoulders away from your ears and feel the crown of your head reaching toward the sky. Close your eyes and tune into all the micro-adjustments your body makes to keep you balanced. Cultivate appreciation for your body, for all it does, and for your own inner peace and equanimity.
Yoga On the Bus, Train or Plane
When you’re stuck sitting on a bus, train or plane, take advantage of this time by using it for pranayama or meditation. Alternate nostril breathing is also great if you’re feeling anxious and want to settle your mind. You can practice a gentle ujjayi breath to help you to feel more energized and uplifted, or even try a few rounds of kapalbhati (depending on how close and tolerant your neighbors are!). (Read more about The Practice of Pranayama.)
If you feel self-conscious doing breathing exercises in public, meditation is a great alternative. A useful trick is to use a meditation timer app on your smart phone, plug your headphones in and close your eyes. That way, you’re unlikely to be interrupted as your fellow travelers will assume you’re napping or listening to music.
Yoga to Enhance Your Travel Experience
Remember, yoga isn’t just about asana or breathing exercises. It can also be a mindfulness practice and travel might be the ideal time to undertake some of these more contemplative activities. When you travel, you have the head space to take a step back from the busy-ness of life and reflect on where you are on your path and on how you are feeling.
Journaling can be a great way to encourage some yogic reflection on your travels. You may want to free-write, record any new thoughts that occur to you, or reflect on your responses to new travel experiences. These can help you to process your experiences and make the most of your travels. As E.M. Forster famously said about writing, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Travel may also give you the time and space to further your studies of the yogic scriptures, such as the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita. When you’re away from home, you can take the time to get immersed in your studies, to read, to reflect and maybe even journal about what you have read. As you soak up new travel experiences, your mind becomes especially creative and receptive, making it the ideal time to get absorbed in your personal spiritual studies. (Read about Choosing the Best Translation of the Bhagavad Gita.)
Yoga and travel are some of the most precious experiences life has to offer. Remember to have fun with it. Bring them together and reap the rewards of both. Bon voyage!