I am often asked by my students and friends if I take a break from yoga when I go on holiday….absolutely not! I love having the freedom and lack of schedule to allow me to devote as much time as I can to my practices and, if I’m travelling to warmer climes, then I enjoy nothing more than practicing outside – on a balcony, veranda or in nature. There’s something beautiful about feeling the air on your skin in downward dog or meditating to the sounds of nature.
As exciting as it is to get away from the norm, take a break and visit new places, the preparation of tying up loose ends at work and home before you leave can be stressful, then the travel itself is often tiring: standing in queues, being seated for hours in a confined space, breathing recycled air, grabbing unhealthy snacks, carrying luggage and perhaps children. Long haul travel can further upset our systems as we adjust to a new time zone. Once we’ve arrived at our end point, any tension usually melts away from the mind but our bodies and internal systems could do with a little t.l.c.
My personal experiences of the effects of travelling, even if it’s just for a few hours, are that my energy is depleted, my circulation and digestive systems feel sluggish or I feel bloated (especially after air travel), my spine needs a good wringing out whilst my hip joints and leg muscles are longing for some movement and a good stretch. I also want to breathe fresh air deeply into my lungs and invert my body i.e. get my legs above my heart. You guessed it, my yoga mat is usually the first thing I unpack!
I’ve put together this practice based on what I most commonly need after travelling. I hope it works for you too. Happy holidays!
Lie down, placing one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Breathe slowly and deeply, feeling your abdomen and chest rise and fall. Maintain a steady, smooth breath throughout your practice.
Draw one knee into your chest and rotate your ankle a few times clockwise then anti clockwise. Repeat on the other leg. This will help to kick the lymphatic system into action especially after a long period of sitting.
Let’s stretch out those hamstrings. Unless you’re really flexible and can easily reach to hold the back of your thigh, keep it easy and loop a belt of any kind (or a towel from your hotel room) in place of a yoga strap. Lengthen the back of your leg and press your heel up towards the ceiling. Hold for several breaths on each leg.
Downward facing dog feels delicious when the whole of the back of the body is aching and stiff. I enjoy slowly pedalling out my feet to get a deep stretch into my calves. Keep the arms strong and the neck completely relaxed. Rest in child’s pose afterwards if needed.
From downward facing dog, walk it forward and dangle in an easy forward bend with your feet hip distance apart. I like to keep a soft bend in my knees and hold opposite elbows with my hands for extra traction. Breathe deeply, allowing every exhalation to unravel the muscles in your back and lengthen your spine.
Step one leg back into a lunge. You can rest your hands on your thigh or or the floor, or if you have a little more energy then reach your arms up, maybe circling them around a few times to loosen up your shoulders & stretch your chest. Let your pelvis drop forwards and down to lengthen out the hip flexors. From here you can step back into downward dog or childs pose before repeating on the other side.
Now let’s get into the external hip rotator muscles. You may like to come into pigeon pose, or if this is too much then take ‘figure 4’ pose: lie on your back, place one ankle (keep the foot flexed) over the opposite knee then draw your free leg in towards you. Stay for a while before repeating on the other leg.
Wring out your spine and give your digestive organs a helping hand with a spinal twist. Lie down and take your favourite twist (simple spinal twist pictured) for a minute or so each side.
Happy baby is a nice way to neutralise the spine and release the lower back. Hang out here for a while. Push your feet into your hands and pull back down with your hands to ground your sacrum.
Let’s hit the wall! If you only do one thing after travelling this should be it, in my humble opinion! Spend anywhere between five and twenty minutes here to experience that wonderful draining feeling from your feet and legs – this is your go-to posture for swollen feet and ankles. Energetically it is grounding, relaxing and rejuvenating. You can vary the leg position – legs together or straddled into a ‘V’ – whilst your arms can rest along your side or overhead.
Enjoy some time in Savasana afterwards to relax and appreciate that you have arrived at your destination!