Picture this: Standing on the shores of one of the world’s most pristine beaches. The sand is powdery and white. The water is clear and warm. The sun shines on your shoulders while a tropical breeze keeps you cool. Feeling like a superstar, you decide to pop a handstand. Paradise found. Mission accomplished.
If this scene sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen the host of social media images from travel bloggers and yogis chronicling their globe-trotting sojourns. Maybe you’re filled with a bit of wanderlust yourself, or travel envy. It looks like these yogis live on nothing but sunshine and air. But, speaking as a global yogi, what you don’t see in the postcards from paradise is the impact that time-zone jumping has on the body and mind. Remote private beaches hidden from crowds are often just that—remote and not easy to get to!
Take my recent trip to Phuket, Thailand. The flights to the final destination took more than 30 hours. Then, to find an empty beach required a two-hour boat ride to a private island in James Bond Bay. Once there, surrounded by gentle waves and warm Thai waters, the photographer snapped the shot that went on my Instagram telling the travel dream story. Gone were the jet lag, sleep deprivation, and cramped-travel residue. Gone was the stomachache from street food the day before. Gone was the stress of nearly missing connecting flights. Travel, while deeply fulfilling, can be exhausting. Without a daily yoga practice, maintaining such a rigorous international schedule would be unthinkable.
While it has far-reaching effects beyond the physical body, yoga is, in fact, a physical discipline. It speaks the language of the body. And practice is meant to be a daily ritual performed around the same time each day, just like brushing your teeth. Traditionally yoga is done in the morning before breakfast, however, what is most important is that the ritual occurs at the same time every day. Practicing at a consistent daily time helps the body regulate its circadian rhythms—the 24-hour cycle related to biological functions. This becomes both crucial and beneficial when traveling. Knowing how to adjust your body’s circadian rhythms can be paramount in controlling jet lag and sleep cycles. One of the fastest ways to help the body acclimate to a new time zone is to practice your daily routine at the appropriate times of day for the destination. Your body then learns that this new time is morning (or afternoon if you normally practice in the p.m.). After a few sessions, you will have easily reset your body’s yoga clock to the new time zone.
Another critical travel battle: Spending long hours crunched up in uncomfortable airplane seats, which can leave your back in a rounded or flexed position. Sitting for long periods of time with the spine flexed or rounded can predispose your back to pain. One of the biggest contributing factors to back pain is a weak core. And yoga, at its core, strengthens your core. By practicing a daily yoga routine, you bolster your inner foundation, maintain a healthy posture, and can alleviate paralyzing pain, thereby making for a more enjoyable trip.
Most yoga practices include both twists and backbends that work to lift and extend the spine. The action of twisting and arching the spine restores the space between the intervertebral discs, strengthens the back muscles, and works as a counterbalance to the rounded back position.
But yoga is certainly more than a series of stretches. It is a way of life that impacts every aspect of being. The emotional and mental balance that regular practice instills is remarkable. Take stress, for example. Whether traveling or dealing with life on the daily, it is unavoidable. But global expeditions can often load extra tension onto the simplest of situations. In your usual environment when things go wrong, you often know how to deal, weighing other options, finding alternatives, creating solutions. When traveling and things go wrong, the end of the world seems to loom much larger. But these are the precise times that call for a sound mind. You literally need to be flexible. In order to fully experience and enjoy different countries and cultures, your mind has to be willing to stretch. Yoga changes the quality of your thoughts so that you are more “flexible” in your mind. If you can’t get your almond milk latte, you’ll have to be OK with cold milk tea. If your luggage is lost, you won’t get anywhere yelling at the airline employee. You’ll just have to go shopping or make due with what’s in your carry-on. If you can’t find organic green salad with raw vegan dressing, you’ll have to be OK with a veggie stir-fry.
Yoga’s discipline of mindfulness helps you get to this “let it go” state of mind and being. You learn to simply observe and accept whatever arises with an attitude of patience and kindness. Once the skill and quality of mindfulness is packed in, installed in your paradigm, you’ll have one of the most essential items needed to smoothly sail through your journeys—in the world and in your life.