One of the perks of my passion is that I get to travel the world sharing the inspirational message of yoga with many different cultures. One of the downsides of my passion is that I often find myself packed into a tiny airplane seat staring off into the clouds. A question that people often ask me is how I manage to stay balanced with all different time zones, cities and countries I visit each year. Undoubtedly I love to travel or else I would not have created a lifestyle where I travel and teach Ashtanga Yoga. But more than that it is the inspiration, joy and transformation that I see in the eyes of my students that keeps me committed to sharing Ashtanga Yoga all over the world.
At the airport in Louisville, Kentucky where I was departing after a successful weekend workshop at Yoga East I noticed two different divisions of lines at the security check. than the normal ones First/Business and Economy. One for novice travelers and another for experienced travelers. If there is one thing that I am now it is a practiced, expert traveler. My first trip to Europe I brought a giant suitcase filled with loads of useless things. Now when I venture forth into the world on one of my weekend teaching trips I bring an austerely packed carry-on. With just essential items of the appropriate size this little white Rimowa is the perfect travel companion.
As a yoga practitioner and teacher I am also committed to the ethical choice to eat a vegetarian diet. While the food choices available in airports is definitely improving, my yoga diet preference often puts me outside the average choices available at the airport food court. So I always have a small supply of emergency snack necessities. Black tea is easy to find in almost every hotel, but herbal tea is more of a specialty item. In my zipper compartment there are a few bags of my favorite herbal teas like Licorice Mint or Vanilla Roibos and an organic black tea, just in case. Keeping the tea company are single use almond butter packets that spruce up an airport container of carrots and celery. And then I would not forget the chocolate -- deep, dark and organic is the way into my heart with a few nuts thrown into the mix. One of the things that can be the most disturbing to the body while traveling is the onslaught of unhealthy food options that tempt you as walk from check-in to gate. If you can plan ahead and bring some healthy snacks like dried fruit and nuts or search out the few vendors that sell good salads, have vegetarian items or fresh fruit then your body will thank you after you have arrived at your destination. If I'm going on a long intercontinental travel I make sure to plan ahead and order a vegetarian meal. But on the extra long trips across multiple time zones that turn the body nearly upside down I've found that staying very well hydrated and eating as lightly as possible on the day of departure and during the length of the travel is immensely helpful. Then once you arrive it is the time to eat a meal and help your body adjust to the new timezone and environment.
Too much time spent high in the clouds can leave the body in a state of Vata imbalance. Vata is the Ayurvedic dosha or body type of air and ether. When Vata is excessively stimulated you feel more spacey and ungrounded. Travel can definitely increase Vata tendencies so no matter how congested the place where I am staying might be I always take time out to be totally alone so that I can feel my connection to the Earth and get grounded. Going for a walk outside to experience the natural light, air and elements is a great way to feel human again. Normally each morning I have a short sitting meditation practice that precedes either my asana or pranayama practice. No matter where I am I do my best to create a sense of sacred space in the morning to set the tone for my entire day. If I'm in a city as tourist I will always find the local Ashtanga Yoga center and practice there. If there isn't an Ashtanga Yoga center nearby I'll practice in my room. Keeping the continuity of my spiritual and physical practice keeps my body and soul balanced. While traveling in new climates and countries I never push my body into any postures or intense deep inner work too quickly. Instead I use the practice to maintain a balanced perspective both in body, mind and soul. One of the easiest ways to injure the body is to have too much Vata energy and push the joints too hard during a travel practice. A deep sensitivity to the subtle body combined with non-attachment to the results of practice gives the best results during travel.
These are my tips for staying healthy and balanced while traveling. Next time you face a 24 hour travel from one hemisphere to another I hope you'll remember some of these pointers and find them useful. Maybe someday I'll only travel for pleasure and then I'll return to my over-packed suitcases with too many items I never wear. But for now I am happy writing this on my iPad and being a frequent-flyer.