How to lose a practice in 10 days (or, what Madonna can teach us all about maintaining a yoga practice during the most hectic travel time of year)

Madonna in high heels, with one leg behind her head--because why not?

Madonna--in a bit of a bind?

Between work, family, and just life, it’s hard enough for most of us to maintain a truly consistent yoga practice. But when you throw holidays and travel into the mix, it can seem damn near impossible not to lose the yoga practice that you rely on to keep you grounded.

Maybe Madonna — who is, from what little I’ve read about her practice, a pretty committed Ashtanga practitioner — can teach us a thing or two about doing what you need to do to do yoga. You might have read recently about the outrage that emerged when Madonna was allowed to leave a stranded plane well before the rest of the passengers on her flight bound for London.

What’s worse, some bloggers wondered? Was it that Madonna dared to do some yoga in the aisles before her VIP departure?

I’m writing this blog post 430 miles from home myself, and I’ve traveled quite a bit in the past month — all of which has led me to think about ways to maintain a yoga practice while on the road. Here are five tips for me.

5. Take a cue from Madonna and do some yoga in the aisle.

Granted, Madonna and her entourage surely fly first class, where the aisles are luxuriously wide when compared with coach. But if you’re facing a long layover at the airport or stranded on a plane, I vote for doing whatever yoga you can fit in.

Earlier this year, on the way to the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, Calif., for a teacher training program with Tim Miller, I posted a Facebook status update that read:

Rose Tantraphol highly recommends finding a quiet corner of the airport — esp if your flight’s been delayed for two hours and counting — and taking 25 breaths in a headstand. You’ll feel much better while providing fellow weary travelers with some free distractions.

Several of my friends liked the posts, and a few more gave left kudos as comments. I had found a quiet corner of a gate that wasn’t being used, and made a point to tell the nearest person there that I was about to stand on my head to release some tension. I thought she might be a little weirded out, but she shrugged and never looked up once.

Was the Material Girl being insensitive on that plane? My guess would be probably not. I absolutely understand if other passengers were frustrated that she was able to deplane hours before they were able to, but that’s a different issue than her doing some yoga in the aisle. It’s one thing to do bhastrika if everyone were trying to sleep on a red eye, but based on these accounts, I don’t see how this was inappropriately intrusive.

4. Use the opportunity to travel your yoga and drop in on classes in new studios.

I love checking out new studios whenever I travel. Some people learn more about the new city they’re in by running through local neighborhoods; I do the same thing by visiting local yoga studios. Drop-in classes are typically between $18 and $20 a class—not the cheapest way to go, but if you have the funds, it’s well worth it to spend the money and get to see how different studios have found their unique ways to share yoga with a community. It’s also a fantastic way to get outside your comfort zone and try new styles of yoga.

On this note, I just got a new iPhone, so let me know if you have a favorite app for finding local studios. I’m a planner, so I usually do research in advance of a trip and plan out all my studio options beforehand. But a studio-finder app would be great to have on hand.

3. Pack a travel mat (and maybe a heat source) when you’re prepared to practice on your own.

Especially with Ashtanga yoga, traveling provides a perfect chance to practice on your own. I find it challenging to motivate myself to consistently practice at home while I’m not traveling, because I live in a community with an amazing yoga studio. But it’s much easier to want to practice on my own when traveling.

I’ve practiced on my sister’s L.A. apartment balcony, a wooden dock in back of a beautiful Traverse City, Mich. bed-and-breakfast, a second-floor apartment in Montreal, Quebec, and the list goes on. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that every time I practice on my own, I learn something new. When I practiced on that narrow dock in northern Michigan, for instance, I was so surprised to realize that I’m far less connected to the earth — far less evenly grounded in the way my weight is distributed through my feet — than I had realized. Changing where you practice can change what you become aware of in your practice.

Hilltop Yoga, where I practice and teach yoga, is a heated studio where rooms are typically kept between 87 and 94 degrees. That means I am used to heat, and it really affects my practice when that external heat is missing and I feel cold (especially since you don’t have the benefit of other people’s body heat when you’re practicing alone). Whether heat is a crutch is fodder for another conversation, but lack of heat is, for me, probably the toughest part of practicing alone while traveling.

If you’re traveling by car and have room to spare, you might consider investing in a small space heater to take with you.

2. Remember that there are, classically speaking, eight limbs of yoga.

Postures, or an asana practice, represent just one limb of the eight-limb yoga path. If you’re pressed for time in between flights or family gatherings, see if you can at least find 15 minutes a day practicing another of the limbs of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras — pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara (sense withdrawal) or dhyana (meditation) seem to make the most sense.

1. If all else fails, and you really can’t practice, roll it with — after all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

In an ideal world, we’re all practicing yoga six mornings a week. Most of us don’t live in this utopia where we can honor this schedule every week of the year. So do your traveling, do what you can to keep up your practice, and if all else fails, use that lack-of-practice frustration that builds — on the level of the body, mind and spirit — to recommit that much more when you return home.

Those are my thoughts on maintaining a practice. How do you maintain your practice while on the go?

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10 thoughts on “How to lose a practice in 10 days (or, what Madonna can teach us all about maintaining a yoga practice during the most hectic travel time of year)

  1. I’m reading this from my in-law’s house after doing 30 mins of cardio and contemplating how to do 30 mins of home practice on our bedroom floor tomorrow morning before anyone wakes up and without waking up my husband. Great timing to catch your blog post via Facebook – thank you for the inspiration! I’m super pumped that I got a yoga mat for Christmas and will be attending Hilltop and Just B classes with a spanking new mat and a renewed sense of my desire to make yoga a long term part of my life.

    It isn’t in the day to day, it’s the long term stick-to-it because I love it, that keeps the nagging voice down and lets it be “okay” that I didn’t practice for 3 days in a row. I will use that frustrated-semi-guilt to make my practice stronger when I get back home.

    • Emily — so great to see that Christmas brought into your possession something (a mat, woo-hoo! — so important) that will continue to inspire you. I know there’s always a lot of talk about the commercialism of the holiday, but I think that’s a beautiful example of how gift-giving can be used to truly share the spirit of what this holiday meant to be — to give a gift that allows you to, all year long, bring out something you are passionate about. Thanks again for sharing, and I’m excited to hear about how our practice continues to strenghten.

      • That is a great point about gift giving – I’m LOVING my new mat! It is the first one I have ever owned. Definitely helped me to overcome some mind-objections yesterday and I’m sure it will continue to do so.

  2. A laptop, yoga DVD, and travel mat help me maintain my practice when I’m traveling longer than a few days, but practicing somewhere unexpected is one of my favorite things about traveling. This summer I took a towel to the beach and did sun salutations with sand between my toes. Something about the crowded beach made me feel all the more committed to my practice.

    • Alisa — I also love practicing somewhere unexpected! Sand is an amazing thing, isn’t it. I practiced in sunset lighting on a beach in Vancouver — with a lot of people moving about around me — last year and it was such a peaceful feeling.

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  4. Rose, great pose, it is nice to meet you, like your blog, I always do yoga in airports and planes… even wrote a post once called “The places where I have done it” hee hee… I like that Madonna is doing this maybe airlines will get the drift and open a yoga room in all flights! I will add you to my blogroll to stay in touch :)

    • Hi Claudia — I’ve long thought that airports should offer a yoga room. Airlines offering one is even better! I just checked out your blog and love it. Great resources. I’ve add you to my blogroll as well, and look forward to keeping up with your posts. Happy New Year!

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