Five Yoga and Ayurveda Tips for Happy, Healthy Travel

Setting out on a journey? Get ready for the road with yoga and Ayurveda tools that can counteract some of the common physical and emotional issues that often come with travel.

Along with providing new sights and new perspectives, travel can also disrupt our everyday routines, impacting overall health and well-being. Here are five tips from Kripalu faculty for maintaining balance, resilience, and positivity while you’re away from home.

Remember to breathe.

Luggage lost? Flight cancelled? GPS just stranded you in the middle of nowhere? Before you make a move, take a deep breath.

“When you feel nervous and excited, the breath is shallower, but when you deepen the breath, the mind mirrors that slower wave,” says Micah Mortali, Director of the Kripalu Schools.

Micah says that you can disrupt the fight-or-flight response that comes with stress, and shift to the relaxation response using yogic breathing exercises, or pranayama. Long, slow, deep breathing decreases the heart rate and lowers blood pressure and cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Here’s how:

  1. Inhale through the nose, allowing your belly to expand softly as the breath moves into your lungs. Then exhale through your nose, tightening your abdominal muscles and drawing your belly button to the spine, allowing as much air as possible to escape from your lungs.
  2. Much the same, with an added step: Inhale through the nose, allowing your belly to expand, and then allow the breath to expand your rib cage as well. When you exhale through the nose, squeeze the air out of your rib cage and belly until they’re empty.
  3. Take it a step farther. Inhale through the nose, allowing your belly to expand as the breath moves into your lungs and rib cage, and then invite the breath into your upper chest, to your pectoral muscles and clavicle. Then exhale fully.

“It should feel like a gentle wave of motion,” says Micah. “There should be a thorough emptying of the breath.”

Eat mindfully, tuning in to what your body needs.

Digestion is often impacted by travel. Unusual foods, different sleep rhythms, and stress can all throw off your body’s metabolism. Kripalu faculty and integrative nutritionist Annie B. Kay suggests a practice of mindful eating—slowing down and paying attention to what’s happening by focusing on the sensations occurring while we eat. Bringing mindfulness to your meals is also a great way to savor the different cuisines you encounter when traveling. Here’s how to practice mindful eating.

Jeremy Rock Smith, Kripalu’s Executive Chef, advises listening carefully to your body’s needs while you’re traveling (and every day). “Just as you adjust your yoga practice depending on how you’re feeling that day, or that hour, you can adjust the way you eat,” he says. “Be in the moment and go with where you’re at. One morning, I’ll have kale and miso soup for breakfast and, the next day, I’m all over the French toast. Your diet naturally balances out over time; every single meal doesn’t have to be balanced.”

Set yourself up for better sleep.

When you’re away from your own bed, and particularly if you’re in another time zone, your circadian rhythms can easily get out of whack. Lisa B. Nelson, MD, Director of Medical Education at Kripalu, recommends calming rituals before bed, such as reading, taking a bath, or drinking a warm cup of herbal tea. 

Vata, the Ayurvedic quality that governs movement, can be especially strong when traveling. Vata governs the legs, and excess lightness or movement in the legs can disturb sleep, says Larissa Hall Carlson, Kripalu Schools faculty and former Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda.

“If vata has you feeling restless or fidgety, try putting an extra blanket or pillow on your legs at night,” Larissa suggests. “In the same way that using sandbags on the legs helps people settle into Savasana, putting a little weight on the legs can be a very simple and effective way to ground vata at bedtime. This is one of my favorite tips when traveling—I toss a pillow on my legs and fall right to sleep.”

Take—or teach—some yoga classes along the way.

If you have a home practice, you can do yoga wherever you are. (Try this 10-minute practice with Micah.) Or seek out a local yoga class and experience something that’s both new and tried and true. When everything around you is unfamiliar, there’s something especially comforting about finding yourself back home in Downward Dog.

One of the most stress-inducing aspects of travel is, ironically, also one of the best parts: the fact that we’re removed from our comfort zones—including our workplace, which is often where we feel most confident and at ease. If you’re a yoga teacher, you can take your vocation with you. Consider reaching out to local studios or community centers before you travel to propose a special drop-in class. Kripalu Yoga teacher Sara Clark has traveled to 13 countries over the past several years, and she brings along a mat not just for her own practice, but also for teaching. “From India to Cambodia, from Guatemala to South Africa, I often backpack by myself, exploring the local vibes of each place I visit while leading yoga classes for expats and natives alike,” she says.

Boost your immunity.

Because travel changes your routine, disrupts your sleep, and changes your diet, it makes your immune system more vulnerable, Larissa says. Traveling also exposes you to more bacteria and germs. So it’s important to keep your immunity strong. Here are three all-natural tips for staying healthy.

Gargle: Gargling cleans out bacteria and germs that linger in the nasal passages and throat for 24 to 48 hours before getting into the bloodstream and weakening immunity. Try gargling with warm salt water twice a day. Using a neti pot is also a nice option for clearing the sinuses; use it each morning, followed by a few drops of nasya oil.

Sip hot water throughout the day: This soothes, hydrates, decongests, and helps cleanse the body. Fill your water bottle with hot water when you set out for the day and regularly take sips. In general, drink warm over cold beverages. Anything iced is difficult to digest when immune function is low.

Meditate: Daily meditation reduces stress, settles the nerves, and calms the mind—and when your nervous system is regulated, your immune system is more powerful. Sit for just 10 minutes in the morning and you’ll feel the beneficial effects throughout the day.

Happy travels!

Learn more about upcoming yoga and Ayurveda programs at Kripalu.

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