Travel Like a Yogī, Part 1: TIPS

I travel a lot. I did the math for 2017, and I was away from home for 31% of the year. Most of this travel was to far-off places, involving back-to-back long-haul flights from my Hawaii home to my final destination.

All this travel means I spend a lot of time in airplanes, and I’ve made it a priority to get good at it. Read on and learn how to make 14 hours in a metal cylinder a little less shitty.

Here are my top five travel tips for long-haul flight survival (and maybe even enjoyment).

Travel tip #1: Hydrate like a mother.

Literally, I’m saying that you should drink fluids as if you’re hydrating for two. And water isn’t enough. Remember, you’re not just losing water when you’re sublimating moisture from right out your skin. You’re also losing important minerals like potassium and sodium. So drink water and have a banana and a packet of salted nuts.

Or, better yet, if you have a chance to pack some raw or lightly steamed vegetables in your carry-on, do it. The fiber will help your body hang onto the water you drink, and it’s way, way better to eat veggies than the overpriced caramel popcorn from the snack cart. My favorite grab-and-go airplane food is a box of triple-washed organic greens, some baby carrots, a tub of hummus and a half-pound of fresh ahi poke from the local supermarket.

For next-level planning ahead, try this hydration hack. Before you leave home, take two minutes in the kitchen and prep the ingredients for warm salted lemon water. Cut a lemon or two in half, then sprinkle the cut sides with a pinch of good sea salt. Bag ‘em up and throw them into your carry-on. Once you’re through airport security, squeeze half of a salted lemon into your HydroFlask and visit the nearest coffee kiosk for some hot water. This beverage is tasty and great for sipping while you’re in that desiccating airplane air.

Fun fact: I know I’m dehydrated when my bracelets/rings leave deep imprints on my skin.


Travel tip #2: Cover your mouth.

Okay, you know how you can walk through any Japan airport and count scores of people wearing those white paper surgical masks? And maybe you think, oh wow, they’re so polite about their cold symptoms or bad breath or whatever? Here’s the deal with those: the masks aren’t for you; the masks are for them.

Turns out, face masks that cover your nose and mouth are brilliant at keeping your own personal moisture in and much of the ambient nastiness out. This means no more crusty boogers or nosebleeds from dry airplane air, and less risk of airborne irritants getting all up in your breath holes. 

Also, you look super hip to the cool Asia travel ways, yo.

For extra health- and comfort-boosting effects, I put one drop of essential oil on the inside of my mask. The antimicrobial compounds in eucalyptus, the calming aroma of lavender and the stink-masking scent of lemon are all regulars in my aromatherapy applications.

If you’re going to try this tip, bear in mind that you’ll potentially have this mask on for hours and hours and hours, which means that even one single drop of straight peppermint right next to your nostrils might be a bit too brissssk, ya feel me? Like that time I used peppermint Dr. Bronner’s in the shower, undiluted, as body wash, everywhere. MMMMINTY. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.

Make sure undiluted essential oil won’t make direct contact with any sensitive skin. As another option, I sometimes make a skin-safe dilution of essential oil in a carrier oil like coconut, and then it doesn’t matter if the oil touches my skin or not. 

Pro tip: Instead of a disposable paper mask, get yourself a reusable cloth mask that filters out more pollutants, fits better to your face and is way cuter. I wear Vogmask brand, size L.

Travel tip #3: Buckle up tight.

And I mean TIGHT. Wedge your ass into that economy seat, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and then pull the end of the strap until you feel your iliac crests pressed back and your butt bones forcibly snuggled deep into the cushion.

Here’s why. Often times the reason for back pain is shear forces resulting from an unstable pelvis position, plus sub-optimal abdominal muscle engagement because your body has nothing to push against. Therefore, if you use the seatbelt to lock your pelvis in place, your spine has a nice foundation AND you’re in maximum contact with the back rest so your torso is mostly well supported, too.

For a demo and explanation by a real doctor of physical therapy, check out this video from mobility badass Dr. Kelly Starrett:

Travel tip #4: Pack your own food, or plan ahead.

Airplane food is weird. (Unless you’re in first class. Maybe. I wouldn’t know.) It’s often over-salted and over-sugared. The portion size in these “meals” is just enough to piss me off. I usually decline the meal service (if there even is one) and bring my own food. For a flight that’s 9+ hours, I’m bringing aboard two solid meals and several snacks.

My meals always include a heaping portion of cooked vegetables, like steamed broccoli. Remember travel tip #1? Yeah, my carry-on is mostly food.

If the airline provides a complimentary meal, I request a “special meal” at the time I book my reservation, as a kind of food insurance. I find that ordering a special meal increases the chances that I’ll receive something less awful than the standard fare. And bonus, these special meals are served before the meal service carts begin their slow procession down the aisles, so I get my hot food way earlier.

A bunch of international airlines offer extensive meal choices if you book in advance. I’ve seen vegan/vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose-free, diabetic meal, low-sodium meal, halal, kosher, the tempting and mysterious “soft and bland” selection… the list goes on. Not all carriers have these options, though, and most frequently the only choices you’ll hear are “pasta or beef?”

Moral of the food story: bring your own whenever possible because it’s somewhat controllable. Don’t leave your nutrition up to chance, especially when you have to sit in the same seat for another 8 hours while your gut deals with the consequences of whatever you put in your mouth.

Travel tip #5: Pick your airline wisely.

I am famous (in my mind) for budget shopping for my flights. I am also famous (again, in my mind) for dropping an extra couple hundred US dollars to fly with a carrier that I trust and enjoy.

Fool me once, shame on you, you crap-airline-that-shall-remain-nameless. Fool me twice, shame on me.

I will sing the praises of Hawaiian Airlines forever and always, plus their codeshare partners Emirates, Japan Airlines and JetBlue. These carriers have consistently delivered great service for me.

Also, Hawaiian Airlines has my favorite boarding music and best safety video ever. After more than two months away from my O‘ahu home, there’s nothing like the sound of Henry Kapono singing “At Home in the Islands” as I slide my duffle bag under the seat in front of me. As for the safety video, check it out here: 

I wish you good travel ♥︎

Now, over to you, friend. Which of these five tips are most useful to you? Do you have a favorite strategy or genius travel hack to share? Would you like me to share more of my travel tips?

Leave a comment below, and let’s travel the world together with ease, style and FUN.

Big hugs to you, fellow explorer.

What's in my bag?

I’m a hardworking lady, and I need all my stuff to work just as long and hard as I do. I’ve compiled here a list of the tried-and-true products I carry around with me every day, plus notes on how I make it all work together.

Some days, I leave my house at 6:00am and I’m not home until 10:00pm or later. My appointments for the day can range from meeting with clients to teaching yoga classes to attending (or starring in!) opening night for the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival. With that range of events, I’ve got a wide variety of criteria for the stuff that supports my work. 

I often commute on public transportation and on foot, so I carry a backpack instead of a purse or gym bag. My work takes me from my home in Hawaii to India, Australia, Japan and Europe, which means my gear needs to function in all weather and emergency purchases can be extra challenging. 

I need both essentials and contingency supplies to make it through the day; however, anything that I can leave at home, I WILL leave at home. Carrying unnecessary dead weight for sweaty miles and long hours is not my idea of an efficient lifestyle habit. If it doesn’t fit in my backpack, it’s not coming with me.

Through years of trial, error and regretful purchases, I’ve crafted this list of 10 favorite things that have stood the tests of schedule, weather, comfort and physical durability. Oh, and cuteness. Because obviously.

  1. My favorite backpack is the RooTote, small size, available in Tokyo and online. My friend and mentor Anandra George was rocking one everywhere in India, so when we were last in Japan together, I knew I needed my own. I stash my personal items in the sneaky side compartment.
  2. My laptop is the rose gold MacBook. It’s small, fast, a little bit glam and a workhorse – just like me. Also, it weighs two pounds and fits easily in my RooTote backpack – not like me.
  3. Aloha splash-proof zipper pouches are my quintessential wet-dry separators. I have the mini, small and medium sizes and I don’t leave home without them. These coated Tyvek bags keep my MacBook super safe from everything, including soaked gym clothes and, once, an adopted SCOBY in a jar. And check out this beautiful example of “bag inception”: on a hike, I used a mini one to hold my cell phone and car fob inside a medium one, so my wet swimming stuff stayed away from the electronics and the electronics had a bit of padding and everything was in one little easy-to-carry package. Boom, life hack.
  4. Cream deodorant by Natural Aloha is a combo of coconut oil, arrowroot powder and magic. I stay un-stinky for hours and hours, and my skin loves it. I apply some in the morning and I carry an almost-empty tin of it in my RooTote for reapplication when my schedule goes 10+ hours.
  5. I carry Cottonelle wipes for freshening up on the go. I use these on all my body parts, no shame in my game. I figure, if they’re sensitive enough for “down there,” then I can totally use them on my face, hands, feet and everywhere in between. You’re welcome.
  6. Active lifestyle apparel by local Hawaii companies Lily Lotus and Fighting Eel give me life. When I’m wearing this stuff, I feel comfortable, cool, supercute and socially conscious. I regularly get complements on how “yoga professional” I look, and I think, “Yeah, but it feels like I’m wearing pajamas,” and then I mentally high-five myself. Five favorite pieces: Lily Lotus kimono, Lily Lotus long legging, Lily Lotus kia bra, Fighting Eel shorts om, Fighting Eel tank swoon. BONUS: All my favorite pieces can be machine-washed and dried, easy squeezy. 
  7. Chelsea Abril is my LipSense dealer. (She’s also one of my favorite photographers in the whole world.) This stuff doesn’t rub off or transfer onto anything, which means I can have flawless, pretty color on my lips that looks fresh hours and hours after I applied it. Five favorite colors: Bombshell, Berry, Fly Girl, Nude (for layering), Purple Reign.
  8. Uni Style Fit multi pens and Zebra MildLiner highlighters are my favorite writing tools of all time. If you’ve ever seen me working, you know I take notes almost constantly, diagramming and color-coding as I go. The Style Fit inks come in a rainbow of colors (which I’ve totally collected), they don’t run or fade, and the tips come in widths from 0.5mm to 0.28mm. I’ve had the same pen bodies for over five years, and I get my refills at Fisher Hawaii or on Amazon. I get the 5-color body and the 0.28mm refills. My favorite journal (I’m a bullet journaler) is the Leuchtturm1917 with dot-grid pages.
  9. I hydrate way more with my Zojirushi flip-top bottle than I would without it. I’ve had the same small black one for several years and its cost per use is down to pennies. Double-walled construction means cold stuff stays cold and hot stuff stays hot, be careful! The best feature is the locking flip-top button, which lets me keep the bottle secure even when I’m playing the harmonium and can only sneak out one hand.
  10. My portable battery pack is the best emergency purchase I’ve ever made. The one I have is a brand called “myCharge” from a random airport kiosk in Europe. Nowadays, I always carry the battery pack, a lightning cable and a mini-USB cable – neatly tucked into a mini Aloha Collection pouch in the side compartment of my RooTote. This little pack has saved the day too many times to count, and I’ve even helped out friends that needed a power-up!

These ten products have stood the test of Stephanie life, which is pretty rigorous if I do say so myself. If you try any of these items, I would love to know how they work for you.

Do you have your own daily must-haves? Tips to share? Favorite products? Let me know in the comments below.

Love and lifestyle optimization, babes!

Yogāsana for Sound-Based Practices

This article is a companion to the practices we explore in yogāsana class in the Heart of Sound yoga teacher training. My development of this work is inspired by my experiences with Leslie Kaminoff, Judith Hanson Lasater and Denise Kaufman.

This type of practice has very different goals than an āsana class that focuses on more gross-level forms and actions. While your students probably won’t get very sweaty, their subtle awareness skills will get a great workout.

Now that you’ve experienced this very special approach in your own body, we’ll review key components and some practical examples here. I’ve also provided a few philosophical ideas to support your teaching and help deepen your experience and your students’ understanding.

Guiding questions, with philosophical connections in italics:

  • How do I feel most stable? Most activated? Most connected? Most free?
    • cultivating spaciousness, awareness and discernment
  • In what ways am I pushing myself? In what ways am I holding myself back?
    • Ayurveda of the mind: discovering hidden tāmas, soothing rājasic tendencies
  • If this pose were easy, what would that be like? (And do it!) 
    • rewriting your thoughts, līlā, sukha
  • This practice is a prayer for peace. Let that idea seep into every movement.
    • pūrṇa concept, āsana as fullness instead of grasping for external successes
  • Instead of transcending the body and its limitations, we celebrate the body as an instrument of grace, made perfect in its limitations — just as the holes and stops in a flute are what creates its music.
    • Tantric connection, non-dual principle, the unity of fullness and yearning
  • In addition to this celebration, we practice yogāsana keep our body instruments tuned, graceful and clean, ready to be used by Grace. 
    • precision and specificity as devotion, like learning the mouth positions in Sanskrit pronunciation
  • We savor space, we savor stillness, we savor silence. 
    • listening inward first, like nāda yoga or vocal toning for the gross body, or a physical practice of NVC self-empathy
  • Resist the urge to “fix” your posture to fit an external image of “good form” or “proper alignment.” Stay with the feeling. 
    • progression of satya

Key points:

  • Encourage feeling the shape from the inside rather than adhering to a look or style. Eschew canned alignment points such as “square the hips,” or “front knee at 90 degrees” and “second toe points forward” for example.
  • Prioritize students’ awareness of their breath and, further, their postural support muscles. Coach scanning for necessary engagement and unnecessary tension.
  • Favor layman’s terms and descriptive language. Resist the urge to overstate anatomical details. Rather than “lift through the quadriceps and draw the femur head into its socket,” I might suggest, “Move your leg muscles around until you can feel your front-of-thigh muscles engage. Keeping that, pull your hip back toward the back of your mat.”
  • Avoid using abstract ideas of body parts and “should-ing” through important alignment details. In my view, “the sacrum” doesn’t exist, and it certainly doesn’t have any prescribed way it “should” be. However, my particular sacrum likes to tilt slightly backward in seated postures (which has been quite distressing to a handful of my teachers). Your sacrum may very well be similar or dissimilar to mine. There is no canonical alignment, no idyllic sacrum in the sky to which we must aspire and try to imitate.
  • Remind students that they are free to adjust themselves at any time, that there is no obligation to “power through” any discomfort, that they can decide to come out of a pose when needed, or to opt out entirely. Conversely, you might also remind students to explore their edges and attempt challenging things, but to do so with compassion and curiosity.
  • The point is not to get all students to align as perfectly as possible; rather, to invite all students to listen deeply to their own bodies as lovingly as possible.

Examples of specific poses:

  • In “Warrior 1,” students might take a shorter stance.
  • In “Triangle,” students might turn the front foot outward slightly and let the front knee bend slightly.
  • In “Triangle” and “Revolved Triangle,” the top arm need never be vertical. Start with top hand on hip, cue students to maintain space in the upper chest, and only then direct them to extend their top arms only as far as they will go without compromising their breath. 
  • In “Mountain Pose,” have students close their eyes while bending and unbending their knees. Coach them to try stepping their feet wider apart, closer together, one forward, one back, turned in, turned out, all the while asking the question, “How do I feel most stable here?” Remind them to keep their feet just that way as they open their eyes and look, resisting the urge to “fix” themselves.

Examples of things to explore:

  • Specifically describe a shape without giving it a name. Then, once students feel your interpretation of the pose and have had an opportunity to find what works for them, you might say, “We’ll call this our Triangle Pose.”
  • You might cue “step one foot forward” instead of “step into Warrior 1,” to help students loosen their expectations of what a named pose “should” be.
  • Reverse the pattern of in-breath and out-breath. For example, if you habitually teach inhaling to Cow Pose and exhaling to Cat Pose, switch it up. Whether you love this variation or hate it, you’ll gain useful information about your body. Further, you’ll give your students powerful permission to experiment and make their practice their own.
  • Instead of cueing students to breathe more deeply or more fully, invite students to breathe as subtly and shallowly as possible without holding the breath.
  • In balancing poses, draw students’ attention to the tiny movements that occur within what looks like stillness. For example, holding an arm balance or a one-legged standing pose requires a lot of dynamic adjustment.
  • If you habitually teach Seated Forward Fold with a flat back, try inviting students to let their spines round forward. Continue coaching deep inquiry: “Does this feel more comfortable, or not?” “Does this feel more open, or not?” “Are you able to breathe more easily, or not?”
  • Play with going “too far” — take Crescent lunge really deep, or in Half Moon float your bottom hand, or in any twisting pose take a bind with a strap as needed. Consider these guiding questions: “How are you changing the shape of your breath to accommodate this position?” and “Where can you expand more?” For safety reasons, this exploration is more appropriate in smaller groups. 
  • Some of my students love working their bandhas and for them, I suggest releasing the bandhas as much as possible. I reassure them that their pelvic floors won’t fall out if they stop lifting and they can return to the bandhas anytime they want. These students are often surprised to find they have difficulty relaxing in this way, and I humbly suggest that anything that presents a challenge is a good opportunity for renewed tapasya.
  • In simple static poses like Sukhāsana or Śavāsana, draw students’ attention to the subtle Cat/Cow movements of their spines and the rise and fall of their ribs with in-breath and out-breath. These small movements happen consistently in all bodies but differently in each individual body, and the key point is awareness, not “correctness.” (In other words, your spine and ribs and organs move with each breath and mine move too, but how your parts move is different from how my parts move.)

Integration with other Heart of Sound topics:

  • For ideas on how yogāsana works to change karma, see the “Yogāsana and Karma” article.
  • For more ideas and connections in using breath practices, see the Prāṇāyāma articles.
  • For more on the topic of physical body awareness, see the article “Mantra and the Nervous System,” as well as the article “Voice and the Enlivened Spine.”

Note from Stephanie: 

I put quotation marks around the pose names in this article when I mean to indicate my loose interpretation. In class, I explain my re-definition of each pose to meet my needs for clarity, safety and inclusion. 

For example, I might introduce a pose like this: “Stand at the back of your mat. Step one foot forward, whichever one feels like it wants to go there. Bend and unbend your front knee, and adjust your foot placement — turn them in or out, step them together or apart — until you can point your bent knee straight forward without discomfort. Let your back foot root down firmly, especially through your heel and pinky toe edge. Point your eyes forward, your heart, your hips. Now, lift your arms skyward with soft shoulders. As an option, you might rest hands on hips. We’ll call this our ‘Warrior 1.’” 

I find this approach to yogāsana very refreshing and my students often find the practice revelatory and empowering. On an esoteric note, I connect this free interpretation of āsana to the journey “from form to formlessness”!