As I fold my slender pink yoga mat into the bottom of my suitcase, I think ‘it’s taking up so much space.’ Without it, I could pack another pair of shoes, that extra jacket, or even use a smaller suitcase. True, but who am I kidding? For years I have taken a mat with me wherever I go. The mat is a both a symbol of my commitment to my practice and a prop whose presence reminds me to honor that commitment, even in unlikely places or under unusual circumstances. With it, my body stays strong and flexible, I expand connections with people and even animals, and, most important, I become more fully and clearly present.
Soon I’ll be flying across the country, belted into an uncomfortable seat, breathing recycled dry air, surrounded by loud engine noise with little opportunity to move for 6 hours. I‘ll do what I can to make it bearable—something good to read, food from home, lots of water, and walking up and down the aisles as often as feasible—that is, not very often. But my body is never happy after long days of travel. Unrolling the mat will help.
Knowing well the physical trials of travel, on some long trips I have found ways to incorporate yoga while in transit. I have stretched into yoga poses while waiting at airport gates in Atlanta and Los Angeles, even in a Costco parking lot, soon losing my self-consciousness when it became clear that no one noticed or cared. On a very long international flight, late at night, I found some space to practice in the galley. The one flight attendant who was awake smiled, and nodded approval.
Arriving in a new place, I sometimes have to rearrange furniture to make space for the mat. But as soon as possible after getting settled, I roll out the mat and fully experience the bodily creakiness that the travel has wrought. Still, with even a brief practice, some of the creakiness dissolves and my body feels more graceful, lighter.
Traveling with the mat connects me differently to people, and even to animals. Over a period of years, whenever I practiced in my younger son’s Brooklyn living room, I shared the space with much-beloved yellow lab, Alice, now deceased. She was always so pleased that I was with her in ‘her’ space. On this week’s trip, I look forward to rolling out my mat in a space shared with three affectionate and curious shelties. I’m sure we’ll work things out and enjoy each other’s company.
As for people, there are many ways the traveling mat expands these connections. I have vivid memories of yoga practices in my older son’s living room shared with my then-toddler grandson. For my grandson, it was a chance to crawl under me when I was in down dog or wheel, and occasionally to sit on me when I was in table or bridge. My practice offered new games for us to play.
Attending yoga classes away from home offers me both a way to experience a great variety of teachers and classes, and also a welcome entrée into a new community. Over many years of sampling classes away from home, I have found teachers and students pleased to have me visit and eager to help me feel comfortable. The warmth is palpable, the human connections real.
Perhaps most important, traveling with my mat changes my internal experience. The practice grounds me, bringing me fully to where I am, to who I am. Practicing early in the day in a hotel in Oakland, in my friends’ living room in New Jersey, in a motel room near a busy street in San Diego, on the deck of a boat in the Galapagos, I enter the day with clarity. The practice enables me to take in and appreciate what this place and this experience offer and to bring deeper awareness to the surprises and challenges. Whatever the purpose of my travel, my practice offers depth, freshness and calm focus.
So I take a deep breath and fold my slender pink yoga mat into the bottom of my suitcase, knowing that I am packing light.