‘Find yourself somewhere comfortable to sit…’
Yogi and humanitarian Donna Williams, founder of Pranarama Yoga, guides us through the perfect poses for unwinding after a hard day’s work. Ideal for hotel rooms (no large spaces, kit or experience required), these 5 sequences will banish those pesky business travel blues and leave you relaxed and ready for tomorrow’s challenges.
‘To awaken in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.’ The fabulously adventurous travel writer Freya Stark knew exactly what she was talking about, having been the first foreigner (and first foreign woman!) to travel the wilderness of Iran and much of the Arab world in the 1930s and 40s.
Whether we travel for business or pleasure, we all have the possibility to make travel a more mindful experience, and one which we can take great delight in rather than feeling miserable about hours on cramped planes, trains and automobiles.
I’ve spent a large part of my life travelling, for both my humanitarian work and to try and satiate my craving for wanderlust. I have had wonderful and surreal experiences, like being trapped in Gaza for a weekend after the check point into Israel was bombed (one of the best weekends of my life I might add….) as well as sitting in tears on a bed with the cockroaches in a remote village in Nepal (silk sleeping bag liner essential in these situations by the way ladies).
One thing I’ve found really important in all of my travels is to have a portable ‘kit’ to make me feel at home, wherever I go in the world. For me that kit is yoga, a practice I can utilize anywhere, anytime, that brings me back to the very essentials of life and breath and enables me to be mindful, present and grateful, no matter where I am or what I am doing.
If you’ve never practiced yoga before then trying it out whilst traveling is a great place to start. In its simplest form yoga is breathing in and out, and being aware of the fact that you are breathing. Yoga is stopping for a second, looking up and around you, becoming aware of where you are and what you are doing. Yoga can also be a more physical practice, that has the capacity to strengthen our mental and physical resilience for the chaos and extraordinary experiences that travel brings.
So, whether you’ve practiced yoga before or this article is your first foray into this ancient art, below you’ll find a few yoga poses (asanas) that can help you stay relaxed, happy and peaceful wherever you are travelling to today. No kit required; just yourself and some comfortable clothes and a space as big as yourself.
Breath is life
Find yourself somewhere comfortable to sit, which might be in a chair or on the floor, and rest your hands in your lap so that you feel comfortable and relaxed (photo 1). Close your eyes and bring your awareness to the physical sensations in your body, checking in to make sure your shoulders are relaxed and that your spine feels long. Take between 5 and 10 long deep breaths in and out through your nose.
Free the spine
From your seated position, come onto the floor and place your hands and knees into table-top pose (photo 2). Check your body is aligned to keep you safe: shoulders over wrists, hips over knees.
As you exhale, press your hands and shins into the floor and your spine and back body up towards the sky. This is cat pose (photo 3), which should give you a lovely spinal stretch.
Take a big breath in through the nose as you reverse this posture into cow pose (photo 4), allowing your belly to drop towards the earth as you lift your gaze and feel the skin across your chest soften and widen.
For a final spine and tension release, stand with your feet hip-width apart, then fold forward at the waist so that your head and arms dangle towards the floor (photo 5). Put a bend in your knees if your legs feel tight, and relax the head completely into this standing forward bend. This upside-downing is like a free happy pill and a great way to release travel induced stress and tension.
Connecting breath and movement
To stand up into mountain pose (photo 6) press your feet into the floor, engage your belly muscles and rise on up to standing, letting your hands rest beside your body. Feel yourself connect with the earth underneath you.
Keep pressing your feet down, inhale deeply and reach your hands towards the sky (photo 7).
Exhale, and fold at the waist again into a standing forward bend (photo 8).
Next take an inhale and lift your spine parallel to the floor – hands can be on the floor or your shins – (photo 9), then exhale, fold and release back into the forward bend position.
Keep the feet pressing down as you inhale your arms high to the sky again, and finally exhale and bring your hands to your heart centre (photo 10). You’ve just completed a sun salutation, so take as many of these as you like before moving on.
Staying strong and grounded
After travelling or busy days, yoga can help us feel more grounded and connected and less ‘in our head’. Standing poses bring us back to earth and generally allow us to feel calmer and more in tune to what we really want and need from the moment.
For warrior 2 pose (photo 11) step your right foot all the way back behind you, and place the outer edge of your back foot firmly on the floor, turning your toes in about 45 degrees to the front of your practice space. Your front knee is bent and directly over your knee. There should be a sensation that your inner thighs are moving out and away from each other and your belly is turned to the left. If it’s ok with your shoulders, take your arms wide so that they are parallel to the earth. Gaze out over your front middle finger, breathe deeply and relax your shoulders. Stay here for 5 – 10 cycles of breath. Step the back foot forward and take warrior 2 on the other side.
One of the main areas where we store tension and stress, especially when we are travelling, is in our hips. To release hip tension, we’ll try a reclined pigeon pose (photo 12) so come down to the floor and lie on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. Take your right ankle and place it just above your left knee. This is already a great hip opener right here, but if you want more of a stretch, you can reach your hands through the triangle of space you’ve created and clasp your fingers behind your left thigh or in front of your shin. Gently pull the left leg towards your body whilst your right knee presses away. You’ll want to make sure your ankles stay flexed and your upper body, shoulders and head are relaxed on the floor. Breathe deeply in and out through the nose for 5 – 10 breaths and then repeat the posture on the other side.
The three Rs of yoga – relax, restore, rejuvenate
Our final pose is a wonderful resting pose designed to assist the body, mind and spirit to relax further and to restore and rejuvenate. I highly recommend taking this pose for 5 full minutes if at all possible, although even 1 minute of what we call savasana pose is still really beneficial to weary travelers. All you have to do is lie down on the floor in a comfortable position, breath easily and remember one thing you are really grateful for today. I find it’s helpful here to set a timer (unless you want to fall asleep…) or put on a beautiful song to help you relax completely.