By Selena Brown. Photography by Deun Ivory.
“I wish I had a job that allowed me to travel!” If your gut reaction to this common refrain is “be careful what you wish for, Sis”, it might be time to recenter and add a few things to your packing checklist before you catch your next Lyft to the airport.
We are living in an exceptional moment of our history during which an increasing number of us are blessed to have the opportunity to define success on our own terms and cultivate careers that are uniquely tailored to our individual interests. For some of us domestic and international travel is an integral part of how we envision success, but for others time away from home is less a professional perk and more a career compromise. Regardless of whether you are one who celebrates or tolerates her work travel, multiple trips ranging from hours and days to weeks and months can take a toll on your mind, body, and spirit, leaving you craving things you didn’t even know you valued, from the density of your own carefully-selected mattress, to your favorite neighborhood brunch spot - not to mention the friends and family with whom you enjoy the things and places that make your home so special. Bringing out the om in “business woman” is not always intuitive, but with a little foresight and planning, you may find yourself more centered and less stressed, freeing you to connect with your creativity and enjoy a sense of flow.
Testing. Testing. Are you still with me? Like other powerful practices - such as therapy and prayer - “ritual” is a loaded word, and one to which many people are averse. However, when you think about it, the art of crafting unique rituals tailored to remind you of who you are and what matters to you is anything but taboo - just consider your favorite holiday traditions or your latest #SelfCareSunday routine. In fact, ritual making, a common strategy of narrative therapy (a postmodern approach to psychotherapy, often associated with the field of positive psychology), is a powerful way to reconnect with your values, check in with your intentions, and bring attention to that which makes you feel whole.
In the yoga tradition, many practitioners develop personal sadhanas, daily practices that help them progress along their spiritual journeys. For yogis and yoginis, the eight limbed-path of yoga (including asana practice, pranayama/breathing practices, and meditation), and ayurvedic practices (such as oil pulling, self massage, and neti rinses), can serve as guideposts for crafting personalized practices based on individual need at a particular point in time. Typically renewed monthly or seasonally, a personal sadhana serves to help practitioners look inward while continuing to progress along their path.
In the process of becoming a yoga and meditation teacher I realized how significant maintaining a personal sadhana was for me. Yet, once I began traveling for my work as an outreach counselor and youth speaker, I initially left every element of my yoga practice on hold. Almost instantly I began to feel disconnected from the work that I was so honored to be a part of that many a morning I’d been moved to tears during my gratitude prayers. Setting aside my practices left me stressed, drained, and flustered mentally; heavy, bloated, and exhausted physically; and, spiritually, I felt incongruent, inauthentic, and distant from my true Self. When I returned from that first trip, I vowed that I would find a way to pare down my home practice and cultivate a portable sadhana before my next travel season. I worked with my mentors, journaled quite a bit, and over the course of the next year experimented with different versions of a practice that now helps me stay connected to why I love my work in the first place.
Creating A Travel Sadhana
First, I have great news: you don’t need to be a master yogini, seasoned meditator, or even have an existing home practice in order to start creating a travel sadhana. (Phew!) Although there are perhaps an infinite number of possible starting points, here are three possibilities to help you create your first one. Grab a journal and your favorite writing utensils, and get ready to brainstorm!
Path One: A Sensory Journey
A simple way to create a ritual that can transform any trip into a retreat is to prepare your own on-the-go spa pack inspired by the five senses.
Who doesn’t find herself utterly enraptured and caught up in the moment when enjoying her favorite dessert? When thinking of how to bring presence of mind through the sense of taste, consider bringing herbal tea along on your next trip. A well known favorite for morning or evening routines, why not toss a tea bag into your purse and ask for hot water when offered an inflight beverage? Opting for a tea that is naturally sweet will help keep things simple; I suggest selecting one with mint or licorice root. While tea is an excellent choice because it also stimulates the sense of smell, perhaps you’ll find the practice of allowing a piece of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate to melt slowly over your tastebuds a meditative treat. (Trader Joe’s sells vegan-friendly tins that keep the goods from melting, cost less than $5, and will last throughout your trip and beyond when enjoyed one tasty triangle at a time.) For those which a stronger sweet tooth, all natural ginger candy is an excellent multi tasker also known to ease nausea.
Since the sense of smell is so closely tied to memory, start to take notice of the scents that make your home unique, and consider bringing something special along with you on your next trip. If there is a linen or air refresher that you use in your home, consider transferring a couple ounces to a small atomizer. If there are warmer scents you use, consider bringing a tealight version, or a plain tealight to which you can add a drop of your favorite essential oil, or even bring along a travel-sized diffuser to transform your hotel room into a tranquil oasis. Select a soothing scent for evening, or an uplifting citrus for mornings. If you have a little extra space in your luggage, a lightweight humidifier that allows for the addition of essential oils can achieve this goal while also counteract the impact dry airplane air and regional climate differences can have on my hair, skin, and sinuses.
There are many delightful options for including elements of touch to your travel ritual. Embrace your own skin, remembering that your body is the sum of its many beautiful parts. A gentle, environmentally-friendly antibacterial gel followed by a rich hand cream elevates the practical to pleasurable pampering. Honoring the senses of smell and touch, one simple solution is an aromatherapy rollerball; a tingly peppermint infusion adds a cooling effect when rolled onto the nape of the neck. Those who experience tighter, dryer skin when traveling may find relief in aromatic face mists or masks. For an extra sensory treat, whether or not you enjoy serum-infused eye masks, consider adding a silk eye mask or satin pillowcase (your tresses with thank you) into your bag alongside your most luxurious nightclothes.
Although most of us are blessed with the ability to take in the world around us through the sense of sight, many of us rarely bring our attention to the richness that surrounds us. Taking a few moments to sit in relative stillness, connect with the breath, and intentionally draw your focus to your surroundings can serve as a powerful meditation, allowing you to root yourself in the present. Playing rounds of “I Spy”, noting as many hues and intricate patterns as you can will bring a new perspective to any space. Think, too, about the room that serves as your temporary abode. Bringing a printed (gasp!) image and a few small things from home (perhaps a shell, mala, or other item from your home altar) can make a hotel room feel a little more like cozy, or many an AirBnB feel like your “other” house. For the most minimalist of us, dedicating a folder in your phone’s photo app for your favorite images can serve the similar purpose. Be sure to include as many of the faces, places, and special keepsakes that bring color to your life.
Last, but not least, hearing is such a strong part of who we are that many of us use words related to sound in our daily speech. (I hear you!) Investing time to craft a soundscape to serve as the soundtrack for you personal or professional travel is one that will come back to you with significant returns. Not only can you use music to influence your mood each day, but as you create new memories these soundtracks will transform into souvenirs themselves. Tap into your inner DJ ahead of your next trip, creating playlists to keep the rhythm rolling from airport to airport. Create a motivational playlist to listen to before your meetings; and a soothing selection to help you wind down before hopping into your temporary bed; or, instead of prepared playlist, streaming a music channel inspired by your destination can make you feel more connected to your temporary home-away-from-home. For those whose travel keeps them away for more extended periods, opting to stream your favorite radio station back home can make the miles feel fewer. Alternatively, queuing a playlist of podcasts that include a combination of news, lifestyle and culture can make sure you stay in the loop. Another great treat? If you’re the type of go-getter for whom reading a novel sounds like a luxury reserved for vacations, consider listening to an audio version instead; it’ll make the security lines, pre-boarding, and awaiting your luggage feel both productive and (almost) pleasurable!
Path Two: Mind. Body. Soul.
Rather than a self-guided sensorial journey, consider creating a travel sadhana dedicated to self-study. Known as svadhyaya in the yogic tradition, the practice of self-study takes the art of self-esteem, self-love, and self-respect to the next level, and is all about connecting to your own Divine nature. A great place to begin a self-study practice is by taking some time to consider where you are placing your energy each day. In your journal, draw a venn diagram with three overlapping circles, labeling one “Mind” another “Body” and the third “Soul”. Begin to fill in the parts of your daily life that honor each, noting that some activities (like journaling or taking a yoga class) will overlap. If there are things in your daily or weekly schedule don’t seem to fit anywhere, write them on the outside of the circles for now. You may find that you have been funneling your energy into one or two categories in particular, and that cultivating a sadhana dedicated to balance will allow you to redistribute your attention to reconnect with your intention. When it’s time to plan your next trip, select one task from each of these three areas (or one or two that overlap) can help you feel more rooted no matter where you are.
Path Three: The Yogini’s Journey
Now that we’ve discussed decidedly less yoga-specific options, let’s dive right in to the yogini’s path. For those of you who already have or are actively developing a dedicated practice at home, rest assured that there are ways to stay connected to your full buffet of practice while only brining a bento on the road.
Between a full-length asana, pranayama, dharana and dhyana sessions, a home practice can easily take around two hours. Even at home many of us don’t always have two hours to spare, and make adjustments each day according to what we need, shortening the movement one day, lengthening the meditations on another. Without realizing it, this skill has already prepared home practitioners for cultivating flexible (slight yoga pun intended) travel sadhanas. No matter what you daily home sessions entail, it’s possible to distill it into a travel-sized version that captures the essence of each component of your practice while on the road. Instead of an hour-long asana practice, consider selecting a couple poses to hold for more breaths; luxuriating through several conscious rounds of your favorite namaskar; or resting (yes: resting) in adho mukha svanasana for the duration of an entire song. Instead of a twenty- or thirty-minute meditation, consider instead using a bracelet-sized mala, or simply sitting tall before hopping out of your borrowed bed each morning to bring energetic balance with a few rounds of nadi shodhana/alternate nostril breathing. If mornings are too packed while traveling, consider switching to a lunar sadhana, with something as simple as relaxing your muscles with a conscious body scan once you get into bed each evening. Alternatively, treat yourself to guided meditation apps, or hit play on Latham Thomas’s Beditations. No matter how brief these pared-down versions of your home practice are, bringing mindful attention to each activity will ensure that you still receive their full benefits.
You Make the Rules
No matter what shape your travel sadhana takes, know that every act is one of self-care. Remembering to breathe and bring your attention to whichever selections you choose can transform each caress, massage, or movement into a meditative expression of self-love. Acts of renewal will help you continue to stay connected to your authentic Self, to flow along your career path, and to radiate your unique light out into the world.
May it be so.
Selena Brown (M.A., M.Ed., RYT 200) is a professional youth speaker, and leads private yoga and meditation sessions through Pramāna Wellness.