Wandering, travelling and exploring often go hand-in-hand with yoga; many yogis travel across seas to India and Asia to experience the lands where yoga originated, to get a taste for the culture, and to deepen their practice and teachings. Yoga retreats and trainings in warm places like Bali, Costa Rica and Nicaragua are popping up left, right and centre, offering yogis a chance to experience a new place, a sense of wonder and, of course, beautiful sunshine. Regardless of whether you’re a travelling yogi, offering workshops across the country or hold a corporate job that has your passport fully-stamped, all that sitting and standing in customs lines can make a person stiff and sore.
Take it from our luminary, Amelie Gagne, who set off on a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia a few years ago. All the long hours in cramped public transportation, and walking miles with a heavy backpack strapped to her torso took a toll on her shoulders, back and hips. A daily yoga practice and lots of stretching saved her from these traveller’s aches and pains, and kept her limber for all her future adventures.
Below are 10 yoga poses that are great for travellers, and help to counteract all the sitting and lugging around suitcases and packs. Some airports now even have designated yoga rooms for travellers to use while waiting for flights. But never be afraid to roll out your mat in the middle of an airport (don’t get run over by the little carts whizzing past!) and stretch it out if your body is asking for it.
1. SEATED FORWARD BEND (PASCHIMOTTANASANA)
Start in a seated position and extend both legs out infront of you. As you hinge forward at your hips, aim for a straight back rather an hunching yourself over trying to grab your toes. You can bend your knees if you like, and gradually over time start to straighten your legs as the hamstrings loosen. If your hands land by your knees, or even your hips, so be it, as long as you feel the stretch along the back of your legs, into your glutes (bum) and low back.
If you’re able to reach your toes, you can wrap your peace fingers around your big toes, flex your feet, pull your elbows to the side and press your toes into your fingers and your fingers into your toes to create some resistance, deepening the stretch.
Tight hamstrings? You can slide a pillow or blanket underneath your knees for a little support. This is also a nice option if you’re looking for a bit more relaxation with your stretch.
2. WIDE-LEGGED FORWARD BEND (PRASARITA PADOTTANASANA C)
This variation of wide-legged forward fold with a shoulder opener is a great double-duty pose. Step your feet wide apart and make sure your toes are in-line and pointing forward. Interlace your fingers behind your back, keeping your palms together and elbows bent. With a straight back and engaged inner thighs, hinge at your hips and fold forward, pulling your fists up toward the ceiling. Let your head be heavy and keep a tiny micro-bend in your knees to keep them from hyperextending.
3. SQUAT (MALASANA)
This deep squat stretches your groin, low back and hips and is also great for digestion. Stand with your feet hip-width apart or wider (if you’re on a mat then take your feet to the edges of your mat) and your feet slightly out-turned. Squat down with a straight back, and keep your chest lifted once you’re all the way down. Place your elbows in front of the legs, gently pushing the inner thighs out, and your hands come to Anjali mudra (at heart-centre). If your heels don’t reach the ground you can place a rolled up towel underneath them to keep you lifted and supported.
4. BRIDGE (SETU BANDHA SARVANGASANA)
Lie on your back with you feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart and close enough that you can just tap the back of your heels with your fingertips. Hands are palm-down on the mat, fingers pointing towards the bottom of the mat. Press into your feet and hands as you begin to lift the hips and chest. You can roll your shoulders underneath you to increase the opening of the chest and clasp your hands together as shown above. Keep your gaze up to the ceiling or towards your belly - avoid moving your head and neck while your hips are lifted. This is a nice stretch for the front body and feels great on the back.
5. SIDE TWIST (ARDHA MATSYENDRASANA)
Any spinal twist is a wonderful release for a tired back, and this variation also works on stretching and opening the hips at the same time. Always make sure you twist from the lower spine up and use your core muscles to move you deeper into the twist, rather than pulling on your knee or leg. Make sure both sit bones are grounded, tuck one leg in and cross the other foot over, knee pointing up. Reach opposite arm as crossed leg up and twist, lowering your arm so your elbow rests on the outside of your knee, or you can wrap your elbow around your knee. If this is too much on your hips you can extend your bottom leg out in front of you.
6. DOWNWARD FACING DOG (ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA)
A staple in every yoga practice, Down Dog is excellent for shoulder and back pain and is also great at making your upper back more flexible and limber. Hands are shoulder-width apart and feet are hip-width apart. Press your hands down and reach your hips upwards, engaging your core, externally rotating your arms, reaching your shoulders away from your ears and your heels towards the ground. A little trick to deepen the stretch in the legs is to bend your knees, reach your tailbone up to the ceiling and then straighten your legs as much as possible again. It’s totally okay to take a bend in your knees in this pose if you’re not able to fully straighten your legs.
7. COBRA (BHUJANGASANA)
A great chest opener after being hunched over with a heavy backpack all day, cobra will also release lower back tension and help in strengthening the arms and shoulders. Lie on your belly and pull your legs together and press the tops of the feet into the ground. With your hands underneath your shoulders, elbows pointing up and back, press into your hands, pull your chest forward and try to straighten your arms. Always make sure to pull your shoulders down and away from your ears and lift from the sternum.
8. PUPPY POSE (UTTANA SHISHONA)
This one is a fan favourite. Very much like Downward Dog, you will feel a nice long stretch all over the spine, and in the chest and shoulders. From table top, walk your hands forward enough to lower your chest and forehead to the ground. Keep your hands active, forehead on the ground, elbows lifted and hips aligned with the knees.
9. PIGEON (OR THREAD THE NEEDLE) (EKA PADA RAJAKAPOTASANA)
Pigeon (or any of its variations) is a great way to open the hips and psoas (front hip). Start from downward dog or table top. Place the front leg wherever feels comfortable to you (ultimately working the front shin parallel to the mat) and make sure your hips are square to the front. Extend your back leg out and make sure it’s straight behind the hip. If you have tight hips, this one can be tricky. You can always start with threading the needle on your back to open up the hips. If there is any pinching in the hips or knees while you’re in pigeon, slowly move out of the pose and work on threading the needle instead.
10. LOW LUNGE (ANJANEYASANA)
A great stretch for the quads, hips and front body, a low lunge will also help you work on stability and mental focus. Starting in downward dog, step one foot forward and drop the back knee. Make sure the front knee is stacked over the ankle (you always want to be able to see your toes). Keep your belly engaged and tuck the pelvis under to increase the stretch. Lift your arms overhead, relax the shoulders and take a slight backbend if you like.