Q: I travel frequently and want to learn some yoga so I can do it in my hotel room when I have time or need to relax. I have never done yoga before, so would like suggestions on how to get started.
The travel brochure didn’t mention stress
When you say travel, I assume you are not using it the way my grandparents do. When they were young, the entire family walked a mile into the mosquito-infested woods to live for the summer in an electricity-free cabin. If they were really lucky, the outhouse hole was filled with…well, you know what…and they would get to dig another hole to kick off the summer vacation.
What you probably meant by travel is spending hours inside a cramped car or overloaded plane with no leg or elbow room and a nearby passenger with various issues, ranging from Toxic Gas Syndrome caused by gourmet airport food to Irritable Fidgeting Disorder resulting in your seat being tapped and kicked like a drum set for Metallica. On a good trip, that passenger is not your spouse.
If you are a business traveler, you put up with that just so you can sit for several days locked inside a windowless conference room eerily similar to one at your home office. If you are on vacation, you spend your week dealing with sun stroke; large, carnivorous insects resembling family members or coworkers; and exotic food that primes your system to dole out a little revenge on the plane ride home.
Check the mini-fridge to see if there’s a bottle of yoga
It is so effective that it should be on the list of essential travel items, along with laxative/anti-laxative pills, a wine corkscrew, and a note written somewhere on your body reminding you whether you are married.
Travel is stressful because it throws your body out of balance. Practicing yoga on your trip can bring you back toward center, helping you relax, wake up, and pay attention to what is going on in your body and around you.
This will leave you better able to deal with the next long, sweaty ride at breakneck speed up the side of a cliff in a bus left over from the first World War. It will also enable you to let go of what’s bothering you so you can enjoy the sun setting over the ocean.
Just like a laxative, try yoga before you fly
The key to using yoga successfully while traveling is to start a yoga practice before you leave home. If you are new to yoga, take a few yoga classes at a studio, gym or community center.
In larger cities, there is probably an overwhelming number of choices; if you live in a rural area or small town, you might have to take what you can find. Many yoga studios offer introductory specials; try out several studios until you find a style and teachers that you like.
Look for classes that are labeled “beginner” or “all levels.” If you have injuries or are not currently physically active, a restorative or yin class would be a good place to start. Vinyasa or ashtanga “all levels” classes tend to be more vigorous than other forms of yoga, such as “Hatha.”
Class difficulty also varies with teachers, so feel free to contact the gym/studio and ask them which level is appropriate for you. If you are self-conscious about going to a yoga class with no experience, many yoga teachers offer private (or semi-private) sessions. These provide more hands-on adjustments and time for breaking down the poses.
To supplement the yoga classes, try using a video of a yoga sequence at home. These walk you through the poses step-by-step. There are also podcasts available online, but the videos actually show you what the poses look like. Yoga Journal and Gaiam both sell yoga DVD’s; Yoga Journal also has many online videos available for free. You can rent yoga DVD’s from Netflix or local stores, or check them out from your public library. (In Portland, the Multnomah County Library and the New Renaissance Bookshop both have excellent selections.) Try out several videos before you buy; it may take a while to find some that fit your style.
Once you start using the videos, don’t give up on the group classes. Videos are a great way to do yoga on your own, but continued feedback and adjustments from teachers will help you advance in your yoga practice. Group classes also have a high energy level that can revitalize your practice when it starts to become stale.
Yoga should fit in a 3-ounce container
Yoga is very portable. All you really need is your body, which is easy to pack and is an acceptable carry-on item. If you prefer practicing on a yoga mat, look for a travel mat that packs well, but still provides some grip. These tend to offer very little cushion, so practice on a carpet or soft ground.
Other options are yoga gloves and socks with grips on them, allowing you to practice on any surface without a mat (I think these are what Spiderman uses). In India, people often use just a woven cotton blanket, so don’t get fixated on needing the proper gear in order to practice.
Ideally, you would do an entire yoga sequence each day, maybe in the morning before you start your day, or at the end to unwind. Most yoga practices range from 20 to 60 minutes. If you have limited time, however, do the warm-up poses.
You will still feel the benefits and are more likely to stay with your yoga practice over time. Again, yoga is about letting go, so don’t fixate on props or squeezing in 90 minutes a day. Keep coming back to your practice, whatever that means, until it becomes part of your routine.
Another option while traveling is to look for yoga classes offered by your hotel or studios at your destination. Most yoga studios are excited to have visiting students trying out their classes. You can even turn your yoga adventures into a blog (see Yo-Yo-Yogi).
Above all, have fun and relax. Find a spot outside to practice yoga, maybe a quiet beach or a grassy hill overlooking a quiet village. You will be recharged enough to survive the return flight, even if there’s a full outhouse hole waiting for you at home.