Most of the yogis I know are travelers and many of the travelers I meet are into yoga. You don’t need to do one to do the other, but there does seem to be a cross-pollination in effect; either way, having a few sleuth stretches in your arsenal can only improve a red-eye.
A note on that word sleuth. Depending on your lack of self-consciousness, you can turn pretty much any stretch of carpet or asphalt into a yoga studio, making your opportunities to practice while on the road relatively endless. So, for the bold and bashful among us, here are a series of in-flight and on-the-road moves from the understated to the obvious.
Before You Go
Even if you’re not a nervous flier or a backseat driver, travel can be anxiety producing. Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall), is an awesome stress reliever. To find it, scoot your right hip up against the wall, bend your knees, exhale, and gently swing your legs up the wall as you lower your back to the ground. Walk your heels up and away from you, toward the ceiling, and scoot your sit bones as close to the wall as possible. Ground down through the sacrum as you walk your shoulder blades away from your hips, allowing your spine to be as long as it actually it. Relax your shoulders into the ground and find a neutral position for your chin, neither cranked back nor squished against your chest. Yogi’s choice: Do this in the privacy of your own home or at your departure gate.
In Your Seat
Concentrate on the upper body and on releasing your head and neck. Gentle head rolls from side to side will undo any wonkiness due to falling asleep on your neighbor’s shoulder, and several rounds of seated Cat / Cow with steady inhales and exhales will wake up and stretch the spine.
Use the dashboard or the back of the seat in front of you to stretch your wrists: Turn fingers down and press against the backs of your hands, then turn fingers in toward each other. Turn on to your palms and point your fingers away from each, then rotate your fingers down so the wrists point up.
Move into Eagle arms (see a nice variation from our Desk Stretch post here), and then reach up, back and behind you for Gomukasana arms.
In The Aisle
Standing balancing poses are wonderful for regaining equilibrium; standing forward folds are great for improving digestion, alleviating headaches, and calming the mind. Tree Pose, with the foot of your bent knee resting on your calf or your thigh (above or below but never on your knee), is easy to do without much space; you can even use the back of the chairs for balance. Use the opportunity to come back to your breath, finding an even count for the inhale and exhale. After balancing, come into Padangusthasana (Big Toe Pose); this will feel amazing after a couple of hours of sitting. Hinge at the hips and bring your fingertips to your shins or the floor; find a long, flat back, elongate the spine, and wrap your first two fingers and thumb around your big toe. Bend your elbows out to the sides and fold over your legs. Knees can stay bent or legs can slowly straighten. Unless the fasten seatbelt sign is on, you’re in no rush.
At The Gas Station
Staying in one place for too long creates stagnation in the body, described in Ayurveda as being tamasic. Hopping up and down and shaking out the body after a long drive are easy ways to feel rajasic, energized and awake. To get the blood flowing again, borrow from Qi Gong and bounce lightly on your heels, sending gentle shock waves up and down your spine. Use your fingers to lightly tap the top of your head and, while still bouncing, move down your body from the crown of the head, slapping and pounding your chest, arms, low back, and legs as you go. Take your time. When you reach your feet, bounce your way back up and become completely still. Stay in alert awareness of sensations in the body until the bathroom is free.
Twisting is another great way to wring out the internal organs and generate tapas, internal heat. With your feet together, bend the knees, tuck the tailbone, and sit back into Utkatasana (Chair Pose). With hands in prayer at your chest, sit a little bit deeper and twist from the navel to bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee for Parivrtta Utkatasana. Check that your knees are in line and sink into your air chair. Stay for several long, calm breathes and take it to the other side.
When You Arrive
Take a bath with Espom salt. Take Constructive Rest (lie on the floor with your feet wide and your knees together). Take deep breathes. Handstand!