I just came back from my first yoga class since returning to Chicago, and just–wow. Spending the last five weeks sustaining myself on self-practice has been very, shall we say, telling.
I’ve never been one to enjoy self-practice more than guided classes; while I do love being able to try out class sequences and work certain poses that I enjoy or are particularly challenging to me (hello, handstand) during a self-practice, I really only get that deep buzz from someone telling me what to do. Then my brain can turn off, I can focus on my breathing and poses and really get to that blissed-out clarity a good yoga sesh brings. Still, I both are integral to what yoga looks like for me.
Enter International Travel. Cultivating a regular yoga practice is hard. Figuring out how to work in self-practice is harder. Taking it on the road is the ultimate showdown, a chance to take everything you’ve learned and see if you can keep it with you as your surroundings and circumstances constantly change. Eagerly, I accepted the challenge.
Get a Travel Mat
I was aiming to live 5 weeks out of a carry-on, so my regular-sized mat wasn’t an option for me. I picked up a super thin, travel mat, Gaiam’s Sol Bhakti travel mat, to be exact; this one in particular was so thin that I could fold it twice, then roll it up from there. It was still pretty sticky also, which was nice. Just to be clear, this mat is thin, both a blessing and a curse. At 1mm thick, it’s like practicing on the floor, which isn’t necessarily so good for certain seated postures. All in all, I really like this one for travel.
I also brought along my Manduka mat towel, which doubled as a shower towel for me. I didn’t use this at all during my trip, although I’m sure I would’ve if I had taken hot/Bikram classes. Still, I dug it as a shower towel because it packs easily and dries quickly.
Now, both of these together took up a significant amount of room in my carry-on, so if you think you’ll have access to either a mat or towel while on the road, I would suggest foregoing one or the other.
Plan a Sequence
I should’ve done this before I left, just for simplicity’s sake. About a week into my trip, I realized I was doing lots and lots of walking–about six hours a day since I didn’t really need to take public transportation (Barcelona is surprisingly walkable for the most part). So I planned a sequence that involved lots of forward folds to lengthen the back of the legs, broken toe pose, and hip openers. Also, anything that stretched my quads felt so heavenly after a long day (supta virasana and half-frog, especially) and I gave my tootsies extra massage-love during baddha konasana.
Do the Sequence
The hard part. With all the stimuli and excitement of traveling, it’s so easy to get burned out at the end of the day. Like anything else, it’s easiest to keep it simple. Break your sequence up into 10-15 minute sections that you can do before you head out for the day, and things you can do when you get in, or to wind down before you sleep. Meditation in particular was helpful for jet lag and the adjustment to a Spanish schedule (they stay up so late!). I also had a fresh set of mala beads to break in, which I had never meditated with before. It was cool to try out something completely new on the road, and now that particular mala has all sorts of gypsy, manifesting energy infused in it!
Take a Class!
I’m so curious about other yoga communities, even in other U.S. cities, so I was really excited to check out the scene in the countries I visited. From what I saw in Turkey and Spain, yoga studios aren’t big on drop-in classes and usually require a membership, but most also offer an unlimited week or another sort of promotion for new students. Most studios will also have a weekly slot or two dedicated to classes in English. Just let the instructor know before class starts that you’re a native English speaker, your level of comprehension in the language that the class is being taught in, and how long you’ve been practicing. It’s pretty much just typical new-student check-in, but be proactive to get the most out of the experience.
The classes I took were in Spanish, and honestly, a little difficult to follow. I picked up a few anatomical terms, but if I was unsure, all I needed to do was glance up and check out what the other students were doing. In one class, the instructor made her hands-on adjustment cues in English to me, which was nice. One class in Madrid was particularly interesting: the sequence itself was very restorative, but the instructor was going on and on in Spanish, using these great hand gestures and being very animated; the students were hanging on his every word. I wish I could’ve understood him! The vibe he was giving off was serene but exciting, and I was picking up words like, time, space and universe–only my favorite things to hear about! Ah well–next time I’m in Madrid, I’ll hopefully be more fluent, and I’ll be sure to visit this particular instructor’s class again.
There were times I neglected my practice while I traveled, and today’s class was telling in that my body feels like it’s a little rusty. Five weeks isn’t a very long time, but there were poses where my body was all “Yep, haven’t done this one in a while…” (Coughrevolvedhalf-mooncough) Still, rediscovering these poses feels amazing, like being reunited with an old friend. Part of me did want to go straight to beating myself up over not practicing as much on the road as I did at home, but I’m grateful to take a step back and explore my practice from this viewpoint. The same goes for running; I didn’t run at all while I was traveling, but now I get to rediscover that practice as well, and build up my stamina once more.
The body is an amazing, pliant and adaptable thing–it quickly adjusts to what is required of it at any given time. This goes for building strength and endurance when it’s incorporated on a regular basis, and also losing that strength and endurance when in disuse–how brilliant and efficient! While it can be discouraging to feel as though your fitness level has “slipped” while traveling, keep in mind that your previous level of activity is attainable and within reach; it’s just a matter of getting back into the swing of things. Also, think of the trade-off: tighter hamstrings for wandering the world; a longer mile-time for traversing foreign cities; a few pounds for exotic meals. And the setbacks are just temporary!
So what about you? How do you keep up your practice while traveling?