There’s nothing quite like the magic of travel. It broadens our perspectives, allows us to step outside of our comfort zones, and it challenges ourselves in new ways. Sounds a lot like yoga practice, right?
So why is it that when we trot the globe our practice is often the first thing (aside from our morning smoothie) to fall by the wayside? If you’re like me and you’ve learned that it’s much easier to pack as light as possible, that sometimes means leaving your yoga mat behind.
And then before we know it—despite the incredible new experiences we’re having, and breathtaking vistas we’re taking in—our shoulders are locked with tension from carrying around heavy bags and sleeping on less than desirable pillows, and our hips are so tight we practically need to oil them.
The solution? Yoga, obviously. Whether or not you have your mat in tow, there’s always time for a few highly effective stretches that you really can do anywhere. On a recent trip to New Brunswick, I did just that. Upon discovery of a magical, hidden place called Lake Utopia, we pulled over to the side of the road and I stretched out my exhausted, creaky, travel-ridden body in an organic, intuitive way.
So the next time you’re feeling sluggish from your travels (and given the holidays are fast approaching, this is inevitable!) here are 10 yoga poses to stretch out your shoulders, hips and hamstrings, leaving you feeling back to your old blissed-out yogi self in no time.
Quad Stretch: Dancer’s Pose (Natarajasana)
Begin by grounding yourself in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Shift your weight into your right foot and bend your right knee deeply behind you, to catch the ankle in your left hand. Feel the release in your super tight quadriceps and outer hip flexor, as you shift the weight of your torso forward. Keep your gaze soft and focused on your hand extended in front of you, to counterbalance.
Hamstring Release and Chest Opening: Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
From Tadasana, step your left foot back and turn your foot in at about 45 degrees. Hinge at your waist to reach your right hand to your right ankle as you extend your left arm skyward. Let your gaze follow. Keep reaching through your lifted fingertips to find opening through your chest. Rotate your chest and outer hip upward, and keep your knees soft. Press the right thigh bone back to find release in the hamstrings.
Intense Side Stretch Pose (Parsvottanasana)
From Triangle, simply turn your back heel upward and frame your front foot with both hands. Draw your right hip point back and your left hip crease slightly forward, to square your hips. Soften your knees slightly and breathe into the hamstrings. Walk your fingertips back as you continue releasing your torso forward. Don’t force it, especially if you’re experiencing tightness from excessive sitting, for example: on a plane ride or a long road trip.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana) with Shoulder Stretch
Enter a Low Lunge by framing your front foot with both hands, ensuring your stance is long and your back heel is lifted. Interlace your palms at your sacrum and draw the heels of your palms together to find a deep, much needed release in your shoulders and trapezius muscles. Send your gaze long in front of you to ensure your back is flat and your neck is long.
Low Lunge with Shoulder and Chest Opener
Bend deeply through your back knee so that it hovers a few inches off the ground, and draw your clasped palms beyond your tailbone as you lift through your chest. Feel your collarbones broadening as your heart opens, and continue squeezing the shoulder blades together. Lift your chin slightly and smile, because this feels really, really good.
Leg Strengthening: Standing Split (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana)
Returning to a Low Lunge, frame your front foot and shift your torso forward as you begin to extend your back leg toward the sky. Gently pulse into your standing leg to release any tension you’re holding onto, as you engage the quadriceps while lengthening the hamstrings. Make sure your neck stays relaxed. You’ll notice another gentle release in the upper trapezius if you shake your head gently.
Core Work: Elevated Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
Sure, grab hold of a sturdy rock or boulder, but you could also try this on just about anything that will support an extra lift from the earth, like a bench. Side Plank requires some serious engagement of the abdominal wall to prevent your hips from sinking, but you’ll also find a nice, expansive opening through your chest and shoulders as you lift your floating hand to the sky. From a high plank position, shift your weight into your left palm, stacking your shoulder over your wrist. Spread your fingers wide and reach your right hand skyward, letting your gaze follow. Think about creating one long plane with the arms.
Hip Flexor and Heart Opener: Wild Thing (Camatkarasana)
From Side Plank, lift the hips even higher to step the right foot behind you to flip yourself over. Continue pressing into your left palm and reach the right arm overhead, letting the head drop gently back. You’ll feel a huge release in the shoulders as you open the throat and heart, and be sure to keep the hip flexors activated by continuing to press the pelvis upward. Get wild.
See the World Upside Down: Upward Bow Pose (Urdhva Danurasana)
Rewire your brain and test your coordination by flipping yourself all the way over. I do not recommend this on a hard, rocky surface if it’s your first go at it, however! From Wild Thing, continue reaching your right hand overhead, all the way toward the earth. As you do this, start to spin your left palm counterclockwise, synchronizing both hands so that they land in place together. Draw the feet in closer and keep lifting through the hips, giving the hip flexors and shoulders another massive stretch. Again, please relax your head and neck, and remember to spread through your fingers to give yourself a solid, sturdy base.
Strength and Balance: Upward Bow with Leg Lift
And just for the fun of it, play around by extending one leg up, and then the other, taking note of how warm, relaxed and open your hamstrings have become. Try to keep your weight even and stabilized so that you don’t topple over.
Perform these poses after a gentle warm up of Cat and Cow postures, or a Sun Salutation or two. Be sure to hold each pose for 3–5 deep breaths, and complete them on both sides of your body to stay balanced. It’s always fun to play without a yoga mat, just be mindful that you’re working with a stable surface, with a soft place to land if you fall.
Photos courtesy of Beth Kessler Photography
Andrea Rice a writer and yoga teacher, and has taught at several Wanderlust Festivals. Catch her at Wanderlust Stratton in 2019. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, mindbodygreen, AstroStyle, and several music magazines. Her teaching style is a blend of her love for music and intuitive movement, with emphasis on core strength. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.