I’m thousands of feet in the air as I write this week’s column, traveling by plane for a quick-ish getaway. There is a measure of irony to a relaxing getaway. You are traveling with the express purpose of calming down, getting away from it all, if you will; however, when you travel it is often in stress mode, whether you’re stressed from navigating unfamiliar terrain or trying to cram appointments and sightseeing and visits with loved ones.
Not to mention the toll on your body from sitting in a plane, train or car for long periods of time or carting heavy luggage around. Indeed, a “relaxing” getaway can be so stressful for these reasons that when you return home, you might feel more tired than when you left, i.e. you need a vacation from your vacation.
How About Yoga On The Go?
A remedy for all this stress could be yoga (and/or lots of wine!), but it’s not always easy. Most likely you’re on a variable and easily changeable schedule or you’re in a place that might not have yoga studios nearby or the classes don’t work with your schedule, and since you can’t magically teleport to your home studio, there is no guarantee you can get your yoga on while you’re traveling.
Thankfully, technology does make it easy to take some classes with you, via podcasts or classes streamed online. That is often one of my favorite ways to get on my mat when I can’t find a class that works for my schedule. But what’s a travel weary yogi to do if s/he can’t make it to a class, or is nowhere near a wireless connection? You just might have to take matters in your own hands with a short practice of your own.
I’ve enjoyed this short sequence below when I needed an asana-break. You can do it before, during or right after you travel, (perhaps all three!); each pose can be modified depending on your space constraints. Plus, you don’t even need a mat (or yoga clothes!), so there’s no excuse to skip these simple stretches.
1. Urdhva Hastasana, variation – Upward Salute with Side Stretch
This lengthens and opens the side waist. Nice solution for those cramped traveling quarters.
DO: Stand with your feet hip width apart in Tadasana, or Mountain pose. With arms overhead, turn your left palm up to the sky and grab the left wrist. Drop your shoulders; inhale to lengthen the spine and exhale to gently arch over to right side. Anchor the left heel to feel as though you’re being stretched in two directions.
Spend a few breaths there, keeping the shoulders moving down the back, and the heart gently spiraling up towards the sky. For an added variation, you can step the left leg behind the right leg and bend the right knee slightly, as though you’re about to curtsy. This will get a nice stretch along the outer back leg, your IT-band. Enjoy it on your second side.
2. Anahatasana, Variation – Standing Heart Opener
This lengthens the spine, opens up the front body as well as releases tension in the shoulders after lugging those heavy suitcases around.
DO: Stand with feet hip width apart in Tadasana. Your palms are at your sacrum. Fingers can point up or down, depending on your comfort. Inhale to lengthen your sternum upwards, exhale to allow your upper back to gently fall back.
Keep the tailbone long as you gently press the hips forward and lift up behind your heart. Keep your shoulders down, away from your ears. Enjoy several breaths here.
3. Virabhadrasana 1, variation –Warrior 1 with Eagle Arms
After sitting for a long time, this can be a nice hip opener as well as stretches and engages stiff legs. The arm variation opens and stretches the shoulders after being hunched forward in narrow seats for hours.
This pose might be harder to make look natural in an airport or train station, but it will sure make you feel fierce, so why not rock it?
DO: Stand with feet hip width apart and take a big step back with your left foot in a lunge. The back foot can turn out about 45 degrees from your midline and plant. Wrap your left arm underneath your right for eagle arms.
Inhale to lift your heart up and keep elbows in line with the shoulders. Exhale to arch back behind the heart and keep your tail bone long. You can stay here for a few breaths and switch to the other side with the right arm wrapped underneath the left.
Or, if you’re in a fairly private place and feeling adventurous and in need of movement, you can bring your torso inside of your front thigh, while keeping your spine long. Then curl your tailbone underneath you and engage the inner thighs to lift your torso back up. You can do this same fold and lift movement several times to release tension, stretch and strengthen.
4. Adho Mukha Svanasana,variation – Traveling Downward Facing Dog
Lengthen your back and release your shoulders after “hanging out” in the airport security line for what feels like an endless time.
You can use a wall if you’re in the airport/train waiting area, or a table or back of a chair anywhere else.
DO: For the wall, press your forearms against the wall and walk your feet back to let your chest melt toward the floor. Move your shoulders away from your ears and widen your collar bones.
The placement of your forearms can be hip level or a little higher depending on your flexibility. If you’re using a table or chair, rest your elbows on the edge nearest to hip level and walk the feet back until you enjoy a nice stretch through your back and shoulders.
5. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, variation – One-Legged King Pigeon, Seated Ankle to Knee
This helps open the hips which might be tight and cranky after being seated for long periods of time.
You can do this while sitting in the waiting area or even in the plane/train/car seat if you’ve got room.
DO: Sit tall, with legs hip-width apart. Bring your right ankle to your left knee, and let your right foot hang off the left thigh so you don’t strain your ankle. Your right hip and knee should be heavy to lengthen the side waist and create space in the hip.
Spend several conscious breaths there, before switching to the other side.
6. Marichyasana 3, variation – Seated Twist
This helps lengthen the spine and release tension in the back and shoulders after trying to sleep in one position for 1+ hours.
DO: In a chair, sit tall with feet hip-width apart. Inhale to extend the top of your head upwards and exhale to turn your chest to the right.
If there is an arm to the chair, lightly grip the arm with your left hand and the back of the chair with your right hand to gently deepen the twist. If there’s no arm, bring the left hand to the outside of the right knee.
Remember to inhale to sit taller, exhale to rotate more. Keep the hips squared to the front as you turn and drop the shoulders. Enjoy a few breaths before moving to the other side.
7. Uttanasana, variation – Seated Forward Fold
This lengthens the back, plus forward bends are restorative and calming, particularly helpful if you experienced traveling troubles such as lost luggage.
DO: Sit on a chair with legs hip width apart. Inhale to lengthen your spine, exhale to fold over the legs. Let your head drop and relax the shoulders. You can let your arms relax by your sides. Take as many breaths as you need to feel sane. This one is so self-explanatory, that you'll figure it out without an image!
8. Viparita Karani – Legs Up the Wall
This is a great restorative inversion that is calming and has helped me whenever I experience a bit of nausea from turbulent weather or wild car ride.
Also probably not something you can nonchalantly do in public, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people will want to join you!
DO: Slide up to a wall until your tush is pressed up against the wall. Swing your legs up the wall, and lay back on the floor. Let your arms relax by your side.
Hope these yoga on the go poses soothe your travel sore body & mind!