Archive for July, 2014

July 12, 2014

9 Tips For Traveling Like a Yogi

mexico asta vakrasana

Ashtavakrasana (Eight Bends Pose) on driftwood in Cancun

Travel can be very disruptive to a yoga practice, however with a little flexibility it can also serve to deepen and expand yoga horizons. Letting go of the idea that yoga has to be on a mat in your home or a studio opens up the whole world as a practice space. This of course makes sense since practicing asana (yoga postures) is only a small part of living a yogic lifestyle. Because so many yogis take the summer months to get away from home I thought I might pull together a few yoga travel tips to help you optimize the fun factor of every moment of your summer get-away.

Partner Yoga Warrior Poses on Woody Island.

Partner Yoga Warrior Poses on Woody Island.

Tip 1: Packing
At first the idea of packing to accommodate a yoga practice can seem daunting however there are some compact options. Travel mats that are thinner and fold easily into suitcases are an option, as are toe socks and grip gloves that you can wear to practice on any surface without slipping. And conveniently, yoga clothing is travel clothing at it’s best. Nothing would be more comfy on a long flight or car trip than your favourite yoga pants, so wear them to go. Plus who says you even need a mat. Yoga on the grass is delicious (And a grassy field is a soft landing pad if you are practicing inversions).

Tip 2: Circulation
Fitting some yoga asana into the journey itself will not only help you enjoy the trip more but can help you avoid health problems associated with sitting for long periods, like deep vein thrombosis. The limited space associated with airplane travel can be challenging, but if you choose an aisle seat or an emergency exit more options open up. In your seat you can keep the blood flowing by doing neck rolls, eagle pose arms, shoulder stretches, camel pose (by lifting your arms over your head as you open your chest), cow pose arms (opposite arms clasped behind back), seated cat/cow spinal movements and gentle seated twists. If you get an aisle seat you can also take a regular walk up the aisle and maybe pause in an emergency exit area, or near a wash-room space, to do a standing forward bend (you can add a spinal twist to this by lifting one arm to the sky) and maybe even a lunge or two. If you are in between flights at an airport there are lots of wide open spaces to do a full range of movements. If you are lucky you might find a space tucked around a quiet corner. Not that you need to hide away. People expect to see pretty much anything in an airport and it is a great conversation starter. I have unrolled my yoga mat in airports world wide (yoga mats are great for stretching out and taking a short between-flight nap as well). Road trips of course make yoga breaks easy and fun. Simply keeping an eye out for cool spots to stop and snap yogi pics can be a super fun travel activity for the yoga geek in you.

Tree Pose in a Canola Field in Saskatchewan

Tree Pose in a Canola Field in Saskatchewan

Tip 3: Plan to Breathe
The often sedentary aspect of travel can be an opportunity for breath awareness, meditation and sense of community. If you are travelling on your own, stepping on a plane is a little like a mini version of the ancient yogic tradition of the Sanyasini, where a monk leaves his home, family and all that he owns to devote himself to his practice. For a few hours we are completely dissociated from everything we know. We don’t know how smooth the flight will be, or who will be sitting beside us. We are no longer at our starting point and not yet at our destination. Thich Nhat Hanh writes that this is a wonderful time to practice being in the moment by linking your breath to such phrases as “I have arrived, I am home. In the here, in the now.” rather than focusing on your destination throughout the flight. Use this time to practice your pranayama and your mindfulness meditation. After all what else is there to do? And how about doing alternate nostril breathing or Ujjai breath during turbulence, lost luggage, delays or any other travel related stress to calm and balance the nervous system.

Breath awareness can also bring you more in touch with your surroundings once you have arrived. Any time you become aware that you are in the midst of a wonderful travel moment, you can commit yourself to pause and breathe for 5 long slow breathes and genuinely take it in.

Tree Pose at chichen itza

Tree Pose at chichen itza

Tip 4: Make a Travel Journal
You can do this for any type of travel. Road trips provide lots of flexibility to fit in yogic moments. These can include stopping to get out and do an asana, breathing or meditation at any inspirational place you pass. The key is to tell yourself that this is part of the plan. Look for places to stop. Take pictures of your yogic moments to make a scrap book/journal memento of your yogic escapades. Journaling is a well studied stress management tool. It has been found to have a positive overall impact on health and to improve cognitive functioning. It gives you time to unwind, process and fully explore your experience, and it can be lots of fun as well.

Tip 5: Food
Food habits can be seriously disrupted with travel. It helps to leave with something packed that is healthy so that you don’t succumb to the heavily processed snacks that get handed out on flights, or to the temptation to stop for fast food because you are too hungry to wait until a healthy option is available. Nuts, dried fruit, sandwiches, muffins, apples, and boiled eggs are all easy to prepare and to eat on the move. If possible, look for fun places to stop and picnic that are off the beaten track.

Half Moon Bind in Nasik, India

Half Moon Bind in Nasik, India

Tip 6: Salute the Sun
If you do not already have a home practice, suddenly being away from your studio practice can leave you a little adrift. One solution is to adapt the sun salutation to your time availability and mood. Do it slowly for a calming, meditative effect, or add repetitions and do one breath per pose to get your heart pumping. Finish with a side bend to either side and a lying twist. If you are still learning this series print off a copy of a basic version before you leave.

Tip 7: Utilize Technology
Technology has dramatically expanded options for yoga on the go. You can download yoga apps for iPhone, many of which are electronic versions of yoga flash cards, and some also include narration and sequencing. Meditation apps are also available. The yoga journal website is a good source for sequences and free downloads. For a more authentic class experience you can also try one of the growing number of sites, free or for a small monthly free, that posts live classes that you can follow along with in your living room or on the go. The internet can also be used to check out the yoga at your destination.

The other obvious option is to not use technology at all. You can make your travel time an opportunity to explore your practice and listen to your instincts. Following the sound of the wind, the bird song, the ocean, or whatever is your moment is not just an opportunity for mindfulness, these are also the moments that will remain with you long after you make it back home.

Yogi fun at sunset

Yogi fun at sunset

Tip 8: Take in Some Local Yoga
On arrival check out some local yoga classes or plan to do some yoga on your own where you can soak up your surroundings. This allows you to meet new people and to get your bearings as well. If you are not up to leaving your hotel room/tent/camper/cabin immediately after arrival try your legs against the wall to boost circulation and re-balance.

Tip 9: Yoga Before You go

All the yoga you are doing now is keeping your joints, limbs and mind supple so that you will be better able to handle cramped conditions and stressful moments that sometimes go along with the excitement of travel. Taking your yoga with you will also ensure that you are more energetic and open to all the wonderful travel experiences that happen along the way.

Happy Yogi Travels!

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July 12, 2014

Yogis in Uganda

Laura and Ann Marie yoga with the Rhinos at the Rhino Sanctuary

Laura and Ann Marie yoga with the Rhinos at the Rhino Sanctuary

The cameleon that welcomed us to the birth house

The cameleon that welcomed us to the birth house

We arrived in Uganda for the Shakti Prenatal Yoga Teacher training to the usual welcoming warmth of the Ugandan evening.  Maybe it was the exhaustion of having travelled for so long or the excitement of having finally arrived, or both, but the melting chocolate bar that we shared in the van on the way to the birth house was possibly the tastiest chocolate ever eaten! We arrived at our cozy guest house and after a short few hours of sleep we were up again for the first of many 7am yoga practices. Before long we were making our way to the Shanti birth house for prenatal yoga training lectures and introductions. We were picked up by boda boda drivers and drove through the jungle lined paths to the birth house on the back of these small motorcycles. As we drove children waved at us excitedly and shouted “Haaaaaallooooo Muzungu! (Muzungu being a friendly term for foreigner). We waved back and took deep breaths of the damp morning air, drinking in the passing scenery and knowing that this might be one of the most perfect moments of our lives.

Sharing a laugh on our outdoor lecture mats

Sharing a laugh on our outdoor lecture mats

The midwives at the birth center and the women of the income generating program were so excited to see us. We were welcomed with bright white smiles and excited handshakes. During our stay the Shanti staff  gave us tours of the birthing rooms, sewing and beading hut, the Shanti garden and surrounding village. We were invited into the homes of  the women of the income generating program , a program designed to give women living with HIV/AIDS the skills and opportunities to support their families. Many of these women are widows and this program allows them to feed and school children. They made us delicious food from fresh, local ingredients. We sat in circles around a serving table and sang, laughed and chatted as we ate.

A Shanti Yogi mom during one of the practicum classes. The woman in the white is having her 8th! baby

A Shanti Yogi mom during one of the practicum classes

Somehow in the midst of all this activity, including a day of hiking at a Rhino sanctuary and another day at the Entebbe Wildlife center on the shores of Lake Victoria, we also fit in our Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training. This training was enhanced many times over by being woven into the birthing, sewing, beading and laughter that was going on all around us at the birth center. On Thursday, when the mothers come to the center for their prenatal visits, the teacher trainees taught their teaching practicum classes to the brightly dressed expectant mothers that the Shanti Uganda Birth house exists to support.

Laura teaches some rhythms in traditional Ugandan attire

Laura teaches some rhythms in traditional Ugandan attire

We had 9 participants in the teacher training program, 3 from Newfoundland, two from Japan, two from Germany, 1 from Australia, and 1 Ugandan. The latter being Flora, a traditional birth attendant, doula and yoga teacher for Shanti Uganda. This mixture of cultures and backgrounds made this a circle of mutual learning and sharing that continues to resonate as we keep in touch through various mediums. Our group included nurses, midwives, doulas, a physiotherapist, an environmentalist, a musician, and a university prof. There was no shortage of perspectives, or laughter for that matter. To have learned so much, to have had so much fun, and to know that all the proceeds from this very successful fundraiser will play such a big role in helping Shanti maintain the quality of support, training and care that they provide to the women of this community made this an experience that was rewarding on so many levels.

Our graduating group of Prenatal Yoga Teachers!

Our graduating group of  Shakti Prenatal Yoga Teachers!

The income from these types of fundraisers literally changes the lives of the women and children in this community. Beyond providing a safe and respectful birthing oasis and enabling these women to feed and educate their families, Shanti empowers these women, giving them hope and dignity.

This trip was a truly unique opportunity to experience Uganda, it’s food, it’s people, and village life in a very personal way. I feel honoured and blessed to have taken part in this experience and feel so thankful for wisdom I received in spending time with both the inspiring women of the Shanti Uganda program and the participants of the yoga teacher training. It has truly been a privilege and a joy. Thank You beautiful souls!

Contact Bobby at Bobby@ShaktiYoga.ca if you are interested in participating in a similar experience to support the Shanti Uganda birth house & women’s income generating program in Uganda in 2015.

To find out more about this incredible program go to http://www.shantiuganda.org