According to AAA 46.3 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles during the busy holiday season. 90 percent of these travels (that’s around 41 million people) will take a road trip to reach their holiday destination. These trips can leave drivers and passengers cranky, stressed out, sore, and just generally feeling less than in the holiday spirit. But, never fear! You can find a moment of calm with these few yoga poses.
As a yoga teacher and former road warrior (I traveled weekly for a job via train, plain, and automobile!) these tried and true poses ground you, relieve stress, and stretch tight muscles from sitting in a small space for a long period of time. Here’s how to stay cool, calm, collected and prevent travel aches and pains with these easy yoga poses to do before, during, and after your travel!
Five Essential Yoga Poses For Your Road Trip
Yoga to practice before your journey:
1. Set a Trip Intention
Find a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes. If you’d like, bring your hands together at heart center (shown above). Decide to set an intention for your upcoming travels. It can be as simple as to “not get stressed out by so much time with the family.” Or, I always like to “remember to breathe.” Maybe it is something larger for you, such as to practice gratitude for your ability to travel or to accomplish a specific goal during your travels. Make it simple. Make it personal. Make it just for YOU.
2. Practice Tree Pose
Travel can be unsettling and ungrounding! Before I hop in the car, I always take a moment to practice a few standing balancing poses, such as vrksasana— tree pose. Plus, it’s a great one for the whole family! My three year old nephew LOVES tree pose; especially when he is about to see a Christmas tree! The pose opens your hips, strengthens your standing leg, and helps you balance in the present moment.
Yoga to practice during your trip:
3. Stretch Your Shoulders with Dancing Eagle Arms
You may not be able to stretch your shoulders from the driver’s seat, but these shoulder openers are perfect for rest stops and parking lots!
Inhale and reach your arms wide in opposite directions out from the shoulders, with your palms facing forward like you are preparing to give someone a giant hug. Exhale and bring right arm over your left. Align right elbow over your left elbow, touching. You can stay here if you are already feeling a stretch. Otherwise, begin to go deeper, bending your elbows and wrapping the right forearm around the left. If you have the flexibility begin to marry the right palm and left palm as though you were giving yourself a high five, as shown in the image below. Listen to your shoulders and your flexibility. Once you are in the pose you can stay static or begin to “dance” your eagle arms. You can lift the elbows up on the inhale and down on the exhale. It may feel good to make figure eights with the elbows, twist, or move the arms around in any way that feels good for your body. During long car rides I especially love to do a gentle backbend and lift both elbows and my heart towards the sky, breathing into the space between my shoulder blades.
Repeat on second side with the left elbow coming over the right.
When you’ve reached your destination
4. Child’s Pose with Shoulder Opener
There’s nothing more exciting than reaching your destination! Once you’ve gotten settled (which may not be until you’re ready for bed), it’s important to take a few moments to connect to your breath, get centered, and ease any travel aches and pains.
I always start by coming to a wide legged child’s pose with my hands in a gentle shoulder opener position.
Bring your feet together. Spread your knees wide apart (mat-width, if you have one). Fold forward into the space between your thighs. If you have the flexibility press the space between the eyebrows down into the ground. (Hotel room towels can work in a pinch as a great modified yoga mat to keep your face from having to touch the ground.) Extend the arms long out from your shoulders. You can stay here in extended child’s pose or, to go deeper into the shoulders, bring the palms to touch in a prayer position. Bend the elbows and bring the palms up and in the direction of the back of your head. Breathe into the hips and shoulders. Take several deep inhales through the nose and exhale fully “AHHHHH” out the mouth. Use this moment to reconnect to your intention for your trip.
5. Crescent Lunge Variations
When I travel I find my hips get extremely tight from sitting in such a cramped position. Lunges are great to open up the hips while also helping open the spine! Practice both low lunges and high lunges on each side, making sure to keep the knee directly over the front ankle and mindful of your feet placement on the mat. You can experiment with backbending, spinal extension, side bends, and twists from this hip opener! (If you are an experienced yogi, you can also take the pose into the runner’s lunge hamstring variations and more!)
Make sure to try a gentle twist with either the back knee down or raised (as shown below). If the right leg is forward you will plant the left hand on the ground next to the right foot. From there extend the right arm up towards the ceiling. Twist your body towards the right. Stay for several breaths. Repeat on second side.
If you have an inversion practice I ALWAYS take an inversion when I have arrived at my destination. Headstand, Handstands, Forearm Stands, even just Legs-Up-The-Wall are favorites to practice when I’ve reached my destination. I find that getting upside down clears my head, releases any pent-up travel stress, and helps me focus on the present moment. Plus, they are just great fun!!
Remember: travel is only stressful if you LET it be stressful. Keep breathing, keep smiling, keep moving your body, and keep present no matter the ups and downs. Be grateful that you are able to travel and find enjoyment in the little moments of your trip.