Long plane trips, small hotel rooms and unknown cities can make it challenging to continue practicing Yoga on a regular basis. But it’s really important. Jana explains why.
Travelling can put our bodies under stress. Changing conditions (plane, car, bus, train, bicycle…) and trying to rest on sometimes uncomfortable mattresses, pillows and plane seats can not only be uncomfortable but can hinder our immune system. That’s why restoring balance and relief to our bodies on a physical, mental and emotional level becomes even more important. Practicing Yoga does not just mean moving our body into different postures and flowing through sequences on a mat but Meditation, mindfulness and diet are vital parts as well. So even if we reduce (not stop!) our physical practice whilst travelling, it is a great opportunity to increase meditation practice or try different breathing techniques and strengthening our Pranayama practice.
Why is it so important to keep moving on long flights?
You might have experienced it, being on long flights or even frequently on short flights, blood flows slower and builds up dominantly in the legs and they feel swollen. This is mainly caused by the lack of movement over a long period of time. Due to the slower circulation the risk of blood clots forming is higher and in some cases this can lead to deep vein thrombosis, and a bigger clot can form and stay on the vein wall and cause swelling and long term discomfort or in the worst case it can break off and travel through to the lungs. Don’t panic just yet, even though most people experience swollen limbs, the risk of deep vein thrombosis is relatively low (1:4,650). You are at higher risk if: you have had surgery in the previous two months, are pregnant, have had blood clots before or it is common in the family, are obese, have a broken leg, cancer or a recent severe illness like pneumonia or heart attack. This is not to scare you but to help you be aware of the risks and to take a proactive approach in your preventative measures.
So what can you do to help your body?
Get that blood moving! Get up and move every two hours and stay hydrated. While sitting, mobilize and move your ankles and feet. Off the shelve compression socks might not be ideal for you and the standard size can have a negative effect if too tight or too lose. If you are in the higher risk group, you might want to consider custom made compressions but this does not replace the need for movement. Aspirin and alcohol have a negative effect. Alcohol is a diuretic and also tends to make you more lethargic. Aspirin thins the blood but is not shown to prevent clotting in veins but may lead to uncontrolled bleeding if the skin is damaged. So movement is the best medicine.
How did my practice change on three weeks of holiday? My challenges: little space and different surfaces (carpet, tiles, wood) and not trying to wake up my partner. I prefer practicing in the morning while I have time for myself (yup, being an early riser even on holidays) but room to practice was usually limited to a gap next to the bed. Luckily it does not take much space to practice a few rounds of sun salutations in the morning. For very hard floors I used a towel to support my knee but otherwise a mat was not needed. Especially after sitting on planes and in airports and sleeping with a less ideal pillow, those downdogs and added standing postures felt great! This followed by my meditation practice was the perfect start to my day.
An airplane is not quite the place where I wanted to get into my sun salutations. I have tried to get up and for a walk around the aisle as often as possible. Easy seated twists, seated glut stretches and joint mobilizations of neck, wrists and feet are great to keep mobile while stuck on the seat. While waiting for the toilet I have used the space for a few bigger stretches. My favourite were a deep standing forward fold, Warrior I against the wall followed by a nice deep calf stretch, those surely got the blood flowing more freely again.
Have you ever wondered why the food on planes is always a bit average? This might be because our taste buds are numb! Due to the different cabin pressure and oxygen level on air planes our mucus membrane in the nose dry and swell up which inhibit us from receiving all those beautiful food smells, which are crucial for our taste.
Remember, our bodies are made to move and being confined in small spaces/positions for long periods has a detrimental effect. So get up stretch out and make movement a part of your travel.