A regular visitor to Tokyo, New York City- based Yoga Instructor and Interculturalist Judit Torok shares her techniques for alleviating big city stress.
Yoga on the Go
Traveling can take a lot out of us, physically and mentally. Running from trains to taxis, carrying and lifting heavy bags, standing and waiting in long lines and being jammed into tight and uncomfortable spaces – these are common for travelers. And through all of this we often forget to take care of ourselves and instead accumulate anxiety and strain on our bodies that can have serious long-term consequences for our well-being.
Yoga can teach anyone to respond to stressful situations with freedom and flexibility. By focusing attention on your posture, balance and breathing for even a few minutes a day, you can reap some of the benefits of yoga.
Don’t have time for yoga? No problem. The two variations on yoga poses that I will teach you are beneficial for anyone and will fit right into your daily schedule. The stretches are easy. They don’t require big changes to your daily habits, and they don’t take a lot of time. Even if you don’t consider yourself the ‘yogatype,’ the simple practice of effective breathing, stretching and relaxing can improve your general well-being and alleviate some of the tensions associated with travel.
There are probably many occasions in your day when you are just standing: boarding a train, bus or airplane, waiting in line at the supermarket or post office, or waiting for your friends or colleagues to arrive for a lunch appointment. Most people have a fairly bad standing posture. They tense up the shoulders, tilt the head, slouch the stomach forward, bend sideways to hold a heavy bag, and so on. Prolonged poor posture can result in increased stress, strain on the body, and even injury.
To combat this, you can try the following basic yoga pose that encourages a more centered and balanced stance. First, put your bags down and put your cell phone away. It might feel strange to be standing without a device in your hand, but yoga is most beneficial when you’re free of distractions. Stand on both feet, balancing equally on each side. Straighten out your legs and extend your spine up while relaxing your shoulders. While doing this, imagine that there are two heavy weights on your shoulders and at the same time a big balloon lifting you up from the top of your head. Tilt your pelvis gently forward and look straight ahead. Relax your hands at the sides of your body. Now take a couple of deep breaths through your nose - a long inhale and exhale (breathing through the nose is more effective in yoga because it filters out dirt, moisturizes and warms the air, and quiets and steadies the mind). And here you are, in a basic yoga pose called “Tadasana,” also known as Standing Pose or Mountain Pose.
It seems too simple to be true, but the benefits are numerous. Tadasana helps your balance, opens your chest to allow you to take more effective and calming breaths, and relaxes the tension in your body. It also helps to maintain long-term health and well-being. Stay in this pose, continuing to breathe for as long as is comfortable, and you will notice how much better and centered you look standing than everyone else around you. Enjoy!
In the second pose you should be sitting in a chair or on the floor with your legs crossed. Most people spend large portions of their day sitting in the office hunched over a computer, on the couch, or in an airplane seat squeezed between other unhappy passengers. Wherever you are, sit up straight and put down whatever you might be holding in your hands (remember: no distractions!). Keep both feet straight on the floor, lift up your spine, relax your shoulders and arms and look straight ahead (imagine, again, that your shoulders are weighing you down while a balloon attached to the top your head is lifting you up). Bring both of your hands above your head. Inhale deeply as you stretch up with your hands pointing upward. On your next exhale, gently bend your torso to the left, leading with your arms as if you were trying to fold over a big wheel, rolling slowly to the left. Keep your head between your arms and look straight ahead. On the inhale, straighten up again with your hands reaching toward the ceiling and, on the exhale, bend your torso gently, this time to the right and again reaching on top of the large wheel while rolling gently to the right. Repeat this sequence a couple of times, always stretching upward on the inhale and bending to either side on the exhale.
This pose is a variation on a Side Stretch and can also be done while standing. It is a simple stretch that will increase your energy and bring fresh oxygen and vitality to your body. In a formal yoga class, this pose prepares you for advanced poses such as Gates Pose (Parighasana), Revolving Head to Knee Pose (Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana), and Revolving Wide Angle Seated Forward Bend (Parivrtta Upavistha Konasana). If you try this in an airplane seat, people will notice your hands stretching up. Who knows – some might even try to copy it themselves.
Both of these simple stretches can be done anywhere and anytime. I hope you will give them a try and begin building a yoga routine that enables you to become a more balanced, relaxed, and healthier traveler. tj
This article appeared in Issue #271. Click here to order from Amazon