Travel Like a Yogī, Part 3: IN-FLIGHT FAVES

Welcome to part three of my “Travel Like a Yogī” article series. In part one of this series, I revealed my five essential tips for flying in comfort. In part two, I shared how I pack, including a specific folding method that maximizes space and visibility. In this part three, I’m spotlighting my top seven products for DIY in-flight luxury.

I love the feeling of first class travel, without the hefty price tag. With this collection of seven items, curated and tested over thousands of hours of travel, I’ve got luxury in the bag.

Favorite product #1: Vogmask face mask

My Vogmask is the most game-changing product in my carry-on bag. This little guy was $30 and worth every penny. I wear a size large, although I’m a small human—most adults wear a large, the medium size is for children.

The mask helps keep allergens and pollutants out, but it has the bonus of keeping my own moisture from my breath in. This is a huge win for staying hydrated in dry airplane cabins. And if I have to be in polluted air for an extended period of time, the Vogmask is designed for exactly that.

Breathing with the valve mask properly aligned did take a little bit of getting used to—it is after all filtering the air coming in, so there’s a noticeable restriction of airflow. At first, I had to tell myself not to get annoyed that there was something totally covering my nose and mouth. But I got used to it quickly, so I don’t see this as a huge downside. However, if you suffer from respiratory difficulty, do give yourself a few short-duration practice wears before you decide to have it on for a long period of time.

Favorite product #2: Bose QuietComfort noise-cancelling headphones, over-ear, Bluetooth capable (QC35 II)

The technology of the Bose noise-cancelling headphones is well documented on their site and there are glowing reviews aplenty all over the Internet, so I’ll just skip to the effects of having them on me personally.

The moment I put these on I feel a dramatic reduction in sound-based stressors. What does that mean? Because I’m a meditative singing teacher (plus actor and singer), my sonic environment and my hearing are very important to me. I need to avoid sound fatigue in order to fulfill my service to the world. This isn’t just for musicians and sound professionals, however. Coping with environmental noise stressors can be fatiguing and damaging to your ability to focus.

Conversely, when I have a peaceful sound-space I experience less stress, my nervous system is less keyed up, I can pay attention more easily, and my energy can be pointed at the things that deserve my focus. 

Here are a couple more detailed notes on this product, which you can skip if you’re not interested in these headphones:

In the latest version of the Bose Quiet Comfort noise cancelling headphones, there are three levels of cancellation—high, low and off—so you can pick whether to cancel out most of the ambient noise, to keep the level of noise cancelling lower to be more aware of the sounds around you, or to have no noise cancelling at all. This is a nice feature, especially when I’m working in a café and I don’t want to be rude to the people around me that might talk to me, but I really don’t want to hear the blender and air conditioner.

There is a very slight “air cabin pressure” feeling in my ears when I turn the noise-cancelling function on. It’s just a bit weird at first; however, I find this an easy exchange for quieting the loud airplane drone, especially when I’m trapped with that drone for 10 hours or more. These headphones plus my Vogmask are my must-haves for experiencing zero jet lag.

Favorite product #3: lululemon vinyasa scarf

I love this thing. “You can wear it so many ways,” the lululemon educator told me, but when I first saw this scarf in the store I thought it was too fussy. I wasn’t interested in turning my scarf into a hoodie and a vest and a toboggan or whatever. I ended up buying it because I wanted a scarf and it’s a nice one, and I ignored the ‘how to style’ instructions attached to its tag.

I was wearing my scarf on a flight not long after, double-loop style, read: the laziest way to wear it. I got cold. I pulled one loop of the scarf over my head. Lo, I made a hoodie.

That was enough for me. I’ve since learned how to make my vinyasa scarf into a vest, a cravat, a shirt, a turban and several other variations. It comes with me on every flight. It isn’t fussy, as it turns out—it’s versatile.

Favorite product #4: Quay blue light filtering glasses

I’ve heard great things about these glasses combating the effects of prolonged screen time, including eye strain, headaches and fatigue. However, I did not suffer from any of these symptoms. I simply decided to try these glasses because I had a coupon.

(Drop a comment if you’ve ever done that. And tell me what you bought. Shoot, drop a comment if you’ve NEVER done that. Otherwise I’m not sure I believe that people like you exist.)

I noticed that after using these glasses for a week I felt much more energetic after my usual amounts of laptop work. My sleep quality improved noticeably, and the only thing I was doing different was using these filtering glasses. Although I didn’t think I had eyestrain, I was clearly experiencing something adverse from spending hours each day staring at my laptop and phone screens.

These glasses are in the $50–65 range, they’re really well-made, and—bonus points—they come in a bunch of different styles that all look really cute. I raise both hands for life hacks that also are cute hacks.

Favorite product #5: Aloha collection pouches 

These little guys are packing efficiency wonders. They factor heavily into my overall packing strategy, so I have an entire article in this series (Travel Like a Yogī, Part 2) dedicated to that. I’ll let you read about these pouches in that post. Suffice it to say, I have a lot of them, I use all of them, they seem a little spendy but they’re totally worth it.

Favorite product #6: Hydroflask food flask / Zojirushi insulated bottle

I wrote about why I love my Zojirushi insulated bottle in the “What’s In My Bag” article here on skkYOGA. It’s the perfect size and shape for hot or cold beverages of all kinds, and I can lock and unlock the ‘open’ button with just one hand.

For hot food, I use my Hydroflask food flask. I put freshly-cooked porridge in this flask and it stays piping hot for hours. It takes two hands to open, so it’s not convenient for use while I’m teaching, but it’s great for all other occasions. The screw-top mouth is nearly the diameter of the flask itself, so I can stick a fork, spoon or chopsticks into the wide opening, no problem. The wide mouth also makes it easy to thoroughly wash up.

Favorite product #7: USB-powered mini-humidifier by Deneve

My little Deneve gives me moist air whenever, wherever I want. This is a huge boon whether I’m stuck in a desiccating airplane cabin for a few hours or living in a dry climate for a few weeks. Every time I’ve traveled without it, I wished I’d had it.

It’s super easy to use: all I have to do is stick this tiny guy in a cup with water and plug it into the nearest USB outlet. On long-haul flights I plug it directly into the USB at my seat. I take off my Vogmask and stick my face right over the mist output and breathe deep—this keeps my skin and breathing holes hydrated, which mitigates the effects of jet lag. To maximize the moisture I’m breathing, I make a little tent over my head with my lululemon vinyasa scarf, worn hoodie style.

The humidifier comes in a little kit with a couple of spongy, straw-like refills, so you can reserve one for water and use the other one for essential oils. Important note: I never use essential oils on airplanes, and I always check with the person I’m sitting next to before I use the humidifier at all. The last thing I want is for the person I’m sitting next to for 10+ hours to feel uncomfortable, even when it’s pretty obvious that the only thing it’s misting is the water in the cup.

These seven must-haves for in-flight luxury also amount to a large part of my no-jet-lag master plan. All seven of these products fit easily together in my purse, which makes them even more travel-friendly.

Travel time can be a stressful gauntlet or a luxury adventure, depending greatly on how you’re prepared. I’d love to know which of these seven items you like best, which you’ve already used or which you’re excited to try.

As always, I wish you good travel wherever you wander.

How to Get Your Friend to Try Yoga

or, Why ‘I’m Too Inflexible’ Is Kinda Legit

When I hear someone say “I’m too inflexible to do yoga,” I take it that on some level, they are experiencing fear. Fear is not a bad thing, as long as you recognize it for what it is and treat it with compassion.

Fear is wonderful for keeping us alive and safe. Fear is why I didn’t shortcut down that dark alley in Chicago. Fear is why I didn’t hike ‘Olomana on that windy day. Fear has saved my life over and over; however, fear can be a little trigger-happy in its enthusiasm to protect me. It’s like a well-meaning guard dog, but it’s scaring off some good stuff. Like yoga.

If you’ve never experienced a yoga class before… ahem, I mean, your friend… there’s a lot to be afraid of. What if you don’t know what to do? What if you hurt yourself? What if you can’t understand what the teacher is asking? What if you can’t keep up? What if you look or move differently from everyone else? What if you fall down? What if you have to leave? The “what ifs” pile up and you might decide at that point to quit before you even start. That’s fear, barking like a nervous and very loyal dog, trying like hell to keep you in your comfort zone where no bad happens — and no change, either. Woof woof woof.

When you attend a yoga class, you’re asking your body and mind to enter a space that you’ve never visited to do an activity that you’ve never done. The unknown is scary. Change is scary. The thought that we might not be up to the task is very, very scary. Woof.

Consider the possibility that what you think of as physical inflexibility is actually mental inflexibility. There is no rule book that says you must touch your toes to practice yoga; however, you may have decided for yourself that that’s a necessary qualification. I encourage all would-be yogīs to stretch their mindsets, firstly, to imagine that yes, you can practice yoga and be just the way you are right now.

You might hear someone say in protest, “If I did yoga, I’d probably hurt myself.” When I hear statements like this, I understand that the underlying concern is physical safety. To those individuals, I offer this reassurance:

Your yoga teacher is dedicated to helping you feel good in your body. The chance to help people is why we got into this yoga teaching thing in the first place. (It’s definitely not for the money and prestige.) We want you to feel safe, strong and spacious. If you show up in class, we will do everything we know how to do to support you. If you tell us your limitations, we will work with them. If you share your fears, we will ease them. Different teachers have different approaches and personalities, but I promise that we all want the best for you. 

I’ve heard a different response to the “I’m too inflexible to do yoga” statement, and it goes like this: saying you’re too inflexible to do yoga is like saying you’re too dirty to take a shower. 

This answer is funny, but it doesn’t work for me. If you’ve never taken a shower before in your life, okay, maybe this answer fits. If a shower has ever left you feeling sore, or made you question your ability to live successfully in your body, sure. Otherwise, I find this response avoids addressing the person’s concerns and makes a joke instead, and with that I disagree.

One of the greatest lessons of the beginning yogī is the fraught journey to your first yoga class. You might feel mountains of doubt, anxiety, inadequacy and confusion, and that’s before even rolling out your yoga mat. I find the best way to ease these feelings is to connect to the deep values underneath. For example, a strong value for integrity might rise up as self-doubt. Your core values of clarity and security might activate your anxiety. 

Allowing yourself to recognize and honor these values is a compassionate way to work with uncomfortable feelings. When you give yourself the space to hear the beauty in these underlying values, you let your fear know that you’ve heard its warning and determined it’s okay to proceed. A shift occurs, a softening, an opening to new things.

Yoga practice is a safe way to look your fear in the face and say, “I see you. I honor you. I thank you. But I’m doing this for good reasons, and it’s not going to kill me.” In yoga class, with love and consistency, you send a clear message with each new movement and every breath, “You can bark all you like, I’m listening to a deeper voice.”

Seeing things from a different perspective can feel like a stretch. When you practice yogāsana, this stretch is literal. Taking a new position is not comfortable nor easy, but the understanding you gain from the effort is worth it. As you learn to approach your own edges, you get to know yourself in a way you wouldn’t otherwise. You may realize that a certain pose is not for you, at least not right now. When you experience first-hand the struggle of a new pose or a new angle, you naturally gain empathy for the struggles of others. 

I love this quote from Judith Hanson Lasater, “Yoga is not about touching your toes. It is about what you learn on the way down.” I’ve offered this very quote to my own friends who are hesitant to try their first yoga class.

And finally, here are a few words you can share from my heart to your friend’s, or even yours:

You will live in your body for your whole life. I imagine you might enjoy it more if you explore it more, fear and flexibility and all. Yoga class is a great way to do that.

Setting Goals the SMART Way

Growing up, my bedroom was full of half-baked craft projects and partially used notebooks. On weekends, the floor would end up covered with sewing detritus or magazine cut-outs or song ideas on several handfuls of loose paper. I’d spend whole days busy with various ideas, but by Sunday night I’d have no finished product to show for all that creative mess.

I’d emerge from my room in the evening, hungry, after being holed up for five straight hours.

“What did you make?” my mom would inquire.

“Well, it took forever to get the colors right, and I ran out of stick glue so I had to use white glue which dries super slow, but then while I was waiting I started writing a new character for my story…”

I would explain the mitigating factors that prevented me from actually completing anything while Mom finished cooking. After dinner, I’d put the sprawl of supplies back into their bins until the next weekend.

Back then, I thought I was an artist—and I was and still am—but as a kid I was wishing to create art instead of making artistic creation a goal.

Goals and wishes can seem very similar. Both goals and wishes express that I want something to be true that’s not currently true. Samesies. However, the important difference between a goal and a wish is whether I take action steps toward a defined outcome (that’s a goal), or not (that’s a wish).

My problem in those childhood endeavors wasn’t my work ethic, it was my lack of any focused objective. “Make cool stuff” was too vague a statement for me to accomplish. Furthermore, I had no way of knowing when I was actually done with something, so I would keep working on a project, adding and editing and rearranging, until I inevitably got bored with it. My wish to create was getting me lots of practice with nothing to show for it.

Fast forward to today. Now, I set goals weekly, and I’m the most productive I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve stopped just wishing to make cool stuff. Instead, I practice an easy goal-setting method that’s proven really effective for me. I’ve outlined it here—“S.M.A.R.T.” goals.

The acronym S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. There are variations, but this is the one that works for me.

Specific 

“Specific” means that the goal is focused and clearly defined, with explicit outcomes that determine success. No nebulous ideas allowed. To figure out if my goal is specific enough, I answer this question: how will I know when I’ve reached my goal, or in other words, what does completion look like?

For example, “write and publish blog articles” is way too vague. Instead, I might revise that goal to “spend three hours writing for my blog per week and publish one article every Wednesday.” Notice that there are two elements here: one is a number of hours and one is a simple yes/no.

Measurable

This component answers the question “how many?” or “how frequently?” or “how much?” Because these are measurable quantities, I can track my progress. In the above example, I made this explicit with “three hours per week” and “one article every Wednesday.” This is super helpful even when I don’t hit my goal, as I feel a distinct difference between “I wrote two hours instead of three this week” and “I didn’t write enough this week.”

Also, this measurable component allows me to adjust future goals based on past experiences. In our blog writing example, if I did write for three hours in a week and still did not finish an article in time to publish it on Wednesday, I can choose to either bump up the number of hours next week or to write faster.

Attainable

“Attainable” means that the goal is challenging but reasonable, taking into account my schedule and other resources. During this step of goal-setting, I troubleshoot potential roadblocks before they happen, such as travel plans interfering with my scheduled writing time, and I get real about whether I need to revise my weekly goal. Like, can I realistically expect myself to do three hours of writing during the week I’m on vacation with my family at Disneyland, or should I either revise that goal or suspend it until the next week? 

This component also reminds me to choose goals that I can personally achieve without outside circumstances determining the ultimate result. As an example, the goal “write a blog that goes viral” would depend on factors beyond my control, but the goal “publish one article per week to my blog and optimize it for search engines” is totally up to me.

Relevant

This step is a big one—I make sure that the goal is aligned with my bigger picture, my values, my life’s purpose. If the goal isn’t relevant to me I can’t justify spending my energy on it, no matter how high a priority it is for anyone else. The questions here are:

  • “Would hitting this goal impact my life and/or others’ lives in a meaningful and positive way?”

  • “Does this goal represent a worthwhile use of my time and efforts?”

  • “Will this outcome move me forward in the direction I want to go?” and

  • “Is my ‘why’ fulfilled in some way by this goal?”

For me, it’s totally fine if my answer is a simple “yes” for each of these questions. I don’t get too detailed or deep with it because I’ve learned that my initial gut reaction is excellent guidance.

Time-based

“Time-based” is the component I’m most thoughtful about. While small ongoing goals can be measured in hours or occurrences per week, larger goals require different metrics. These big, longer-term goals tend to have more defined endpoints, so I break this step into parts—weekly goals, milestone goals and the overarching goal.

I’ll use a different writing example here. An overarching goal might be “finish my book by the end of 2019 and send it to a literary agent.” It’s a biggie, so I break it down. One milestone goal might be “finish the first half by August 1.” From there, I break it down further, such as “complete the book outline by April 15” and “write the first draft of the first chapter by April 30.” With this time-based statement, I stay connected to the discipline and focus required to meet my goal.

Once I’ve gone through all five components, I write my S.M.A.R.T. goal in my planner, where I’ll see it throughout the week. I usually have about five ongoing small goals, but when it comes to big goals I limit myself to one at a time. (That’s one active goal at a time. I allow myself to put projects on pause to shift my focus when necessary, such as when I’m in rehearsal for a play.)

To put this all into practice, I ask myself what actions I need to take per week—or even per day—to make solid progress, and I consider what behaviors I need to establish or maintain in order to ensure success. Do I wake up an hour earlier? Do I give up playing Toon Blast? Do I schedule check-ins with an accountability buddy or coach? Do I make calendar appointments for my writing time? Making these decisions and executing on them is way easier when I can tie my efforts to my clearly defined goal.

When I chart my course this S.M.A.R.T. way, I feel more centered and motivated, which translates to very satisfying productivity in exactly the direction I want. And my inner kid Stephanie is super happy to finally have something to show for all her hard work.

As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up someplace else.” Using this goal-setting method, I know precisely where I’m going, how I’m getting there, and what progress I’m making along the way. While this technique is popular in the business world, which is where I learned it, I find it useful in just about all areas of my life.

Have you used the S.M.A.R.T. method? I’d love to hear about it. And if you haven’t used it before, are you stoked to try it?

Or, do you have a different favorite goal-setting practice? If so, do tell. I’m always interested in how talented, smart, busy people get things done.


P.S. This is a photo of me and my family at Disneyland, where we are totally on vacation right now. Goals, honey. Goals.

Kong family at Disneyland 2019.JPG