Of course I practice yoga! Whether I can grab a little space in an airport, a tiny square of a hotel room floor, or a relative's basement, I'm practicing in some way each day. As we head into the busiest travel season of the year, I thought I'd share my favorite travel routine. This practice is great because it incorporates breath work, meditation, and asana to unwind the stresses of travel. It's quick and super-simple and it gets the job done! When you're traveling and out of your routine, it can be easy to lose sight of your yoga practice and other nurturing self-care measures. However, this is often the time when we need these practices the most! Here's what I like to do to start my day when I'm away from home and only have a few minutes to practice. This post is not intended to teach the poses---come to class to learn the proper alignment for you and then you'll be able to practice effectively on your own. (All the usual common-sense disclaimers apply: if it feels wrong, don't do it; not every pose is appropriate for everyone, so check in with your healthcare team if you're dealing with a medical condition or injury.)
Grounding practice for travel, in 20 minutes
- Grounding seat. (1 minute) Begin seated--on a pillow, folded blanket, if possible. Take a moment to feel your sitbones ground evenly into the earth. Find the very center of the sitbones and place all of your attention on the exhale. With each exhale, feel your bones grow a little heavier and become a little more rooted.
- Breath observation. (1 minute) Place your hands on your ribcage. For a few breaths, simply notice what it is like to breathe in your body today. What qualities of the breath do you notice? Is the breath expanding equally in three directions? Do you notice the breath catching or sticking anywhere along the way?
- Yogic breath. (2 minutes) Move your hands in front of your heart center, and begin to lengthen the exhale by a count or two. Continue to breathe smoothly, so that your breath feels like the wind, effortlessly moving in and out of your body.
- Intention. (1 minute) Connect with the part of you that feels the wisest, the observer. Set your intention for your day. How do you want the day to unfold? With what attitude do you want to approach the day?
- Chant the sound of OM or hear the sound of OM in your mind as you slowly exhale.
- Self-hug (garudasana variation; 1 minute). This pose allows a gentle opening in the shoulders. Make sure to allow your shoulders to descend toward the hips and the shoulderblades to spread toward the armpits. Do one round with the right arm on top and then the left.
- Chakra vakasana ( "continuous bending"; 2 minutes). This vinyasa (breath-synchronized movement) helps to unwind tension from the spine, open the heart, and release the neck and shoulders. Move into a comfortable child's pose as you exhale and lift the heart and the tail into tabletop/cow pose as you inhale. Keep the neck soft and gaze a couple feet in front of you. Move with the breath and place the attention in the spine. I will often incorporate a down dog here to stretch the backs of the legs.
- Side child's pose (1 minute) . This pose opens the side body, allowing the breath to be a little deeper and fuller.
- Supine pigeon (1 minute). The muscles of the hips can become tight with the stress of travel, especially with excessive sitting. This pose helps to soften the hips and free tension from the joint. Keep the feet flexed to prevent any twisting in the knees.
- Supine twist (1 minute). Take one of your choice or simply spread your feet as wide as your mat and drop your knees toward one side and then the other for "windshield wiper" legs. This is a nice release for the muscles of the lower back.
- Legs up the whatever safe, wall-like surface you have (10 minutes). Sometimes it's legs up the dresser. Just be careful. I know, half the total time for one pose. This is the queen of your travel asana, though. It's pulling triple duty: an inversion, a major relaxation for the body, and a meditation practice, too. Hey, you have to economize when you're short on time. Have a blanket or mat or pillow laid out as padding for your body, near a wall. Position yourself next to the blankets, sideways, with one hip against the wall. Slowly and carefully, set your spine on the floor and gently swing your legs up the wall. Adjust your bottom as necessary so that you don't feel too much of a stretch in the hamstrings and you feel comfortable and completely relaxed. Ensure that you are warm and supported, and allow your arms to come to goalpost position for a little stretch through the chest, if that is comfortable. Otherwise, simply bring palms to face up with arms by your sides. Settle in and allow your bones to grow heavy. Feel the earth beneath you, knowing that you need not hold on and can surrender to this nurturing support. Now, you'll incorporate the technique of mental alternate nostril breathing, using this breath technique as a focal point for your meditation. As you inhale, imagine all the air moving in through your left nostril. Now exhale entirely through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril. Continue this practice, kindly guiding your attention back to your breath if it should wander. This pose has so many benefits: Helps to flush the fluids in the legs, which can accumulate with travel. Supports all systems of the body by cultivating the relaxation response, particularly digestive and immune. Helps to focus and clear the mind. This breath helps to balance the nervous system.
Twenty minutes to start your day off mindfully, wherever you are. Have longer? Savor the pose that feels the best for a few extra minutes.
Some illustrations (click on the photo to advance):