Yoga and Travel

I love to travel, but I'm not a very good traveler. I don't like sleeping on strange beds. Sitting in a car or an airplane for hours on end is my idea of hell on earth. I get stiff and cranky.  I need room to move. I don't like strange beds. I want my own pillow.

Recently Hubs and I took a very long trip to South Florida. There was family involved, which was wonderful. But it was also seven and a half hours in the car, which was not so good. We took turns driving. I'm no good after a couple of hours gripping a steering wheel, so I literally watched the clock. Every hour to an hour and a half, we stopped at a gas station or a fast food chain or a rest stop. Ten minutes to stretch, walk around, do yoga in the grass or the parking lot. And then back in the car.  I survived the trip with a few helpful hints to pass along if you're planning a trip this summer. 

Ujayi Breathing while Driving

It's surprising how tense I get just driving a car down the road. Ujayi breathing was a big help with this tension. 

Sit well in the driver's seat. Gently tuck the tailbone, lift the spine, tuck the chin, and lean the head against the head rest. Open the shoulders by broadening across the collarbone, externally rotate the upper arms, find your index finger mound at the steering wheel. Keep your grip soft. Draw the shoulder blades down the back. Begin a gentle ujayi breath. Pay attention to the road. It should go without saying that you keep your eyes open, but for those of you who tend to completely zone out when you start this kind of breathing:  Don't close your eyes! Just breathe, gently and regularly. 

Need help with ujayi breathing? Click here.

My Favorite Stretches for the Parking Lot or the Rest Stop

You don't even have to take your shoes off. Use the car or a post like you would use the wall in the yoga studio. 

Half Forward Fold (Parsva Uttanasana)


Triangle Pose  (Utthita Trikonasana)


Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)


Wide Legged Forward Fold (Prasaritta Padottanasana)


At Your Destination

Be sure you find some time to lie on the floor in a constructive rest position. Lie on your back with a towel, blanket, or small pillow beneath your head. Rest your calves on a chair, sofa, or a low table. If you can't find one that is the right height (you want soft right angles at the knees and hips), place your feet on the floor about 16 to 18 inches from your hips and let your knees fall together. Practice an ujayi breath for ten to twenty minutes. Click here if you need more info on constructive rest.


Learning to Listen

One of my favorite things about a good yoga class is the savasana at the end. The physical work has prepared me for this stillness. I love finding the pause between the exhale and the inhale and staying there in that deep silence for a moment longer. I love this place of stillness. It’s a place designed for listening. As a Christian doing yoga, the voice I listen for is the voice of a loving Father God. But so many people don’t know how to discern this voice.

I’ve begun teaching a class on Listening Prayer, so I thought I would share some of the tools I use to listen to God here.

The revealed word of God, the Bible, is always the touchstone for hearing God. It is our “central reference point by which all other forms of listening prayer are kept in proper perspective,” as Richard Foster says in Celebration of Discipline. It’s also a great place to begin training yourself to recognize God’s voice.

Begin this exercise with a short verse. I often use Galatians 4:6. And because you are sons (daughters), God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father!”

Sit down and relax. Open your hands as though you are willing to receive a gift. Think about God’s love for you and his presence with you.

Repeat the verse to yourself several times. Pause between repetitions and respond. Whatever arises in your heart, just speak it aloud. You may find you have a question, a request for wisdom or understanding, an expression of gratitude or praise. Respond with whatever spontaneously comes to mind. Then flow right back to repeating the verse. Don’t fret or strive, just continue to repeat the verse if no response comes to you.

Then take a few minutes to be still. Ask God to speak to you. Again, don’t fret. Just allow space and time for hearing his voice.

Practice saying the verse again, as though it was God’s voice speaking it to you. After all, the scriptures are God’s word to you. So hear it like this:

And because you are my son (daughter), I have sent the Spirit of my Son into your heart, (insert your name) crying, “Abba, Father!” 

Keep a notebook for recording what you hear. That way you can come back to God’s words to you again and again.

Back Bends Open the Heart

Back bends open the body. Not just the chest, but the heart.

Even the simplest back bends stretch and strengthen the muscles at the front of the chest, abdomen, and legs. Of course, they work on the muscles of the back, too, as they contract to bring us into poses like salabasana (locust pose), bhujangasana (cobra pose), and even virabhadrasana I (warrior 1).


With a focus on the opening chest, inhale and lengthen the torso. Draw the shoulder blades down the back, using the lower third of the trapezius muscle. On the exhale, draw the shoulder blades toward the midline while lifting the low belly in and up to activate the abdominals. Keep the abdominals gently activated as you take the next inhale, continuing to lengthen the torso.

This is a combination of cues that can be used in any back bending pose. Experiment with a few and feel the chest open.

As for the heart opening, I do love this aspect of back bends. I gently lift my face as I open my chest, looking up and out of myself to the Creator, listening for his words to me. As God speaks to us, he often speaks affirmation and love. We learn to listen, to take those words into our open hearts and believe in their truth.

So often we live under a hellish double standard. We have no problem speaking words of affirmation to others and believing their truth. We can tell them that they matter, that they are created in God’s image, that they are pleasing to God. But we turn around and say things to ourselves, like “I’m an idiot,” “I’ll never get it right,” “I’m so stupid.” Things we would never dream of saying to a friend.

We must learn to take those thoughts captive. To hear what is true. To lift our face to heaven and believe the words God speaks to us and about us. Back bends are a good place to start.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. Jeremiah 1:5

Let this be your mantra as you practice this week. Open your heart. Believe.