“All my bags are packed... I’m ready to go”... I remember the words of the John Denver classic song Leaving on a Jet Plane very clearly as part of my folk music childhood. I did not realise then the number of times I would actually be using those words (or singing the rest of the song to whoever is around!) but when my life as a “Global Yogi” started to jump from city to city and continent to continent, these words became almost a weekly mantra.
Whether we travel for business or pleasure... or both, whenever we visit somewhere that we do not live there are physical, mental and emotional changes happening. These changes can have profound effects on our various bodily systems as well as our state of mind and our relationships with others. With insights from Ayurvedic doctors and years of life on the road, I offer you some useful tips to consider when travelling... from a Yogic perspective. Most of the ideas I will talk about here are regarding airplane travel over long distances but they are not exclusive to those kinds of trips. Car travel and shorter trips can be equally as taxing on your body/mind/spirit and these concepts apply to all types of travel.
As a whole, travelling is a Vata activity having to do with the Air / Wind element and movement. So generally speaking, we want to keep Vata inducing practices and habits to a minimum when we are in that realm anyway. Foods, activities and yoga practices that help with restoring Kapha energy or Earth energy are recommended.
Day of Travel:
Get your circulation going
Have some light exercise to move blood and get the circulation happening and be careful not to wear yourself out. In the past, I used to love a hardcore Ashtanga practice on my travel days thinking that it would give me a good stretch and wear me out on purpose! Then when I landed, I was craving more the same and realized I was really out of balance and lost connection to the Earth. After experimenting with a variety of other practices, I found that Rolling the Joints and a more gentle lower back and hip stretch practice prepared me better for travel and also left me feeling much more refreshed after landing.
One of the main problems with travel is dehydration, on the inside and out. To help with keeping your skin healthy and hydrated try covering yourself with oil a few minutes before showering on your travel day (or any other time!). Good oils for the skin include organic Sesame (be sure it is NOT TOASTED SESAME or you will smell like Chinese food!), Sunflower, Jojoba or Almond. Coconut oil is good for hot climates but to be avoided in winter as it is cooling. Be sure to get in the ears and nose too! Apply the oil generously in a circular motion on the breasts, abdominals and joints and then straight on the limbs rubbing towards the centre of the body. When you shower, only use soap on the feet, underarms and genitals and let the oil stay everywhere else.
Drink lemon water and have a good breakfast
Start your day with a warm glass of water with lemon to aid absorption of the water and help your kidneys. An ideal breakfast would be some warm porridge with ghee, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon for your immune system. Also, Miso soup is a great start for a savoury palate and even some steamed greens with coconut oil or ghee.
To help with mental stress, print out all of your travel documents a day in advance for the entire trip and put them a plastic folder for easy access. Double check the flight time, boarding documents, confirmation numbers of hotels and cars and phone numbers you may need. Be prepared and take care of this in advance!
Also, know that modern-day airports and security is not always peaceful or friendly. So arrive early enough to deal with lines and be prepared for people who may not be as able to deal with stress as well as you! I suggest a few rounds of Mental Centering before leaving the house.
At the Airport / On the Plane
Take a breath
Remember that things can get a bit crazy when expectations are not met. Whether it happens to you or to people around you... there is stress when flights are missed or cancelled or when extra baggage fees are charged. Take a breath before reacting! This is TRUE YOGA!
Avoid eating out of boredom
While waiting for your flight, resist the temptation for overindulgent eating. Make sure you are satisfied and have something in your stomach and be careful of eating out of boredom.
Chant... if it's your thing!
If mantra practice is part of your yoga... sit and chant silently to yourself ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ to stay focused... be sure not to miss your plane through. If a mantra is too ambitious for the airport... do something to keep your mind engaged: puzzles, reading, movies, music...
Get in the timezone
Set your watch/phone and internal clock to the time zone that you are travelling to as soon as you are on the plane. Get in the mindset of your destination.
Airplane food? Keep it vegetarian
Even if you are not vegetarian, I recommend eating ONLY VEGETARIAN food on airplanes. In my ‘former life’ I built databases for institutional food companies and I spend a lot of time in airport kitchens. They are not sanitary and the food is ... hardly ‘food’. You will need to order your vegetarian meals at least 3 days before your travel, so get in the habit of doing it when you make your reservation. ‘Asian Vegetarian’ is usually the best option on most airlines. It’s also nice to travel with some “healthy food bars” and eat them with some warm tea to help dissolve them.
During the flight, stay hydrated with warm water. You can bring an empty water bottle through security at the airport and then fill it after you pass the checkpoint. Some places you can ask for warm water and other times I fill my bottle half way and then get hot water on the plane. Always put a squeeze of lemon or ginger in your water to help it absorb.
To be realistic... a red wine is not the worst thing to help you sleep, but overall, avoid alcohol as it is dehydrating. For sure, avoid soda and carbonated beverages full of sugar as they imbalance the Vata as well as the nervous system.
Try a new mantra!
Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha 108 times... with your Mala.
Movement and massage
Make sure to turn your ankles and neck often and keep the lower back healthy with a pillow behind the lumbar spine. I always travel with two tennis balls in a sock as a massage tool. It is amazing to put them in your kidney area during takeoff! For long-haul flights, spend some time standing and stretching between naps and whenever you can. Floss and brush your teeth before landing.
Here are some great exercises to help prevent back pain on the plane!
Land in your body by getting clean
Clean yourself upon arrival with a hot shower... with steam if possible! And again, put oil on your body before showering so the warmth will open your pores and allow the oil in.
Take Savasana for 10 – 15 minutes and allow the ground to really hold you... without falling asleep! Take a nice slow walk in fresh air and shake out your legs as you walk.
Get back to routine
Get to your normal sleep / waking routine as soon as possible. Coffee only in the mornings!
When you are ready for a Yoga practice.. try my yoga class Getting Grounded that is ideal for after your flight... and the original inspiration for this article :)
Keep your diet simple
When it is time to eat, stick with simple foods that are easy to digest for the first day or two. Soup and steamed vegetables. Your digestive system will need a bit of time to recover from the speed of airplane travel. If you have access to Grapefruit Seed extract, put a few drops in your water. If you’re up for it, eat a raw garlic clove!
The travel can often bring about stiffness, constipation, irregular menstruation and congestion. The nervous system is also affected and needs extra care. The best thing to do is to rest. Take short naps when you need and become as regular as possible with your habits as soon as you can. Legs up the wall pose with some pranayama and music is great in the early afternoons!
When you eat, just eat. Sit and enjoy your meal and take some time for digestion and rest. Keep your food intake simple and easy to digest. Avoid too much raw food and cold food as they are harder to digest. Find foods that help you to stay warm, grounded and clear minded.
Keep perspective and be excited!
And remember that travel is an eye-opening experience to the many faces of life in modern times. What used to take months and years to accomplish is now easily performed with little effort except some preparations. When you fly over the ocean or across continents, remember the great miracle of life and your part in it; and all the other people by your sides going through their own experiences of seeing things from a new perspective. Do your best to stay calm and relaxed when faced with challenges on the journey and use your excitement for wherever you are going to feed the energy of your heart.
“So kiss me... and Smile for me... Tell me that you’ll wait for me”
* Special thanks to Dr. Scott Blossom whose lectures and guidance provided a lot of this content and a deep feeling of groundedness to a Global Yogi!