August 6, 2010

Travel Blues? Try Yoga Moves. ~ Caroline MorningStar

Tips for Adjusting in New Lands.

Summer is travel season. Lots of folks are on the road, and I’m no exception! There’s so much world to see, so many people to meet… I’ll go pretty much anywhere and try pretty much anything, at least once. I’ve traveled by plane, train, car, foot, boat, thumb, Beemo, bus, I’ve even been on a camel. Most recently I struck out to London and Amsterdam, and then on to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro! However, traveling definitely aggravates vata, so while it can inspire us, it can also leave us with too much upward-moving energy. Ever had digestive problems while traveling? That’s excess vata.

Vata is light, cold and dry—the energy of air and ether, the energy that lifts. We need it, it keeps us moving, but when it’s out of balance, we can feel scattered and anxious. Signs of excess vata also include rapid weight loss, dry skin, a weakened immune system, sensitivity to cold and constipation.

Yoga and ayurveda offer us many tools that will help us stay balanced. The key is to use them! It can be hard to find time in a busy schedule to practice, but I promise that this is one of those instances where every little bit helps.

One of the most helpful things that I’ve used is the Ayurvedic herb ashwaganda. Known as “Indian ginseng,” it’s an adaptogen (meaning that it helps the body adapt), and a general revitalizer with a grounding energetic. Another fantastic travel herb is astragalus, which supports the body’s energy and prevents fatigue. It’s also a stimulant for the immune system, so it will help keep you healthy when you’re packed into a plane with strangers. Ginger is another good grounding choice, especially for for stomach troubles. An upside of ginger is that it’s fairly easy to find in many places. The other two should be stocked before you head out, especially if you’re going out of the country. They can be found at health food stores in capsules, or online.

Abhyanga is a must. This practice of self-massage with oil helps keep your energy moving in full circuits and will ground you very effectively. The process uses long, slow strokes along the limbs and circular motions at the chakra centers. Sesame oil is a good, grounding choice. You can also add essential oils that will help draw your energy towards the earth, like vetiver or lavender. A full body oil massage can be a lot to ask of yourself while traveling, but even just doing your feet will be extraordinarily helpful.

Ayurveda recommends a regular routine to soothe aggravated vata. When you’re on the road, routine is hard to come by, so keep as much of your regular routine as you can. Eat at regular intervals and do your best to sleep as regularly as possible. Sticking to small pieces of your home routine can be helpful and comforting, so take some of that with you. A bedtime ritual of sorts will help you feel a sense of routine as well as making it easier to fall asleep in an unfamiliar place. Massage your feet, do some pranayama, read, meditate, do a few yoga poses.

Now I want to offer you a yoga sequence that you can use while traveling to help keep you grounded and aligned when planes, trains and automobiles are conspiring to twist you up in knots.

We have two goals here—first, working out those knots, and second, connecting you with the new place in which you’ve arrived and reconnecting you with your most permanent home (that’s your body, of course). I do some variation of this sequence every time I travel, sometimes in the middle of the airport, at rest stops, or in the aisle on the train. Let me tell you, they look at you funny in Nairobi when you do sirsasana while waiting at the gate.

This practice is simple and gentle (all levels!) and can be taken in bits and pieces if necessary. One of the keys here is keeping the stress level low, so if any of these asanas are hard on your body and you find your breath getting choppy, back off or skip it altogether. Throughout the sequence, keep the pace slow and relaxed.

The first thing to do is hit the floor and breathe. From sukhasana, start with some basic pranayama—simple deep breathing is plenty. Nadi shodhana is also a good balancing option.

Then do a body scan. Check in with yourself and find the places that need the most attention. Notice where your energy is. Continuing with deep belly breaths, allow yourself to go into some spontaneous, organic movement. Use your hands on your knees for support and let your spine go fluid. This in and of itself could be a complete practice. Consciously letting the body follow its own lead is powerful and in my experience is the best way for you to get exactly what you need.

Rock forward onto all fours for some catcow and after enjoying several rounds make your way back into downward dog, making sure to keep it fluid. Walk out your hamstrings, let the spine be alive. Come back to all fours and then return to downward dog again, a few times.

Come back to all fours for anahatasana, then slide through to sphinx. Let the neck release from side to side here.

Ahhhh—full prostration. Remember we’re connecting to the earth energy, the downward motion, so really let yourself feel it here.

Gently, coming through all fours, return to downward dog. Here you have the option of extending each leg, one at a time, and letting the hips open to the side. Then step the feet forward to uttanasana.

Now, if your knees allow, low malasana. (If not, just skip it.)

Step the right foot back to low lunge, walking your front foot out to the side so both hands are inside the front leg. Really let your hips sink forward, eventually coming down onto your elbows. Repeat on the other side, going through a vinyasa (sequence of plank, chaturanga, updward facing dog) or from downward dog.

Child’s pose! Relish this one and let your spine keep some movement as your forehead connects with the ground. You can keep your knees wide to add a hip opening component to this restorative asana.

Come back to all fours and slide one knee forward for pigeon. Skip the backbending variations and come on down to your elbows, forearms, or forehead. Baddha konasana, and then pigeon on the other side. Stay in these for a looooooong time, with no stress!

From your second pigeon, enjoy another full prostration.

Here you can enjoy an inversion that’s appropriate for your energy level—headstand, shoulderstand, legs up the wall… anything that will help redistribute your energy after sitting for hours on end. Handstand is almost certainly too strong here. Remember, a key part of this sequence is restoration.

Rolling onto your back, take any combination of apanasana, reclining pigeon, or supine half lotus… all three if you like!

After you finish with your hip openers, go for a supine twist. Gentle, relaxed—let your back realign itself here.


Parivritta anahatanasa. This is the perfect pose for grounding and opening the upper back after slumping over while trying to sleep on an airplane!

If you’re arriving home or in a hotel that’s well-stocked with pillows, a supported reclining baddha konasana is perfect here. Relish this one, stay in it for five minutes or more if you can!

Another forward bend, paschimottanasana or upavista konasana.

And now, savasana!

Wherever you happen to be landing, welcome home.

Caroline MorningStar is a travelling yogini and teacher based at Twin Oaks Community in Virginia. She studies yoga with Shiva Rea, Western herbalism, bellydance, and art. She blogs regularly at radiantyogi.wordpress.com/yoga-life.

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