Karma Yoga and Philanthropic Adventure Travel

Here in the United States, many of us think of yoga as being primarily a physical discipline. Indeed asanas (physical postures), breathing and meditation are all parts of the Hatha yoga path. However, there are many paths of yoga, and not all of them involve bending into pretzel shapes. A less commonly known path of yoga is karma yoga, or the yoga of action.

Literally translated as “union through action”, Karma yoga is an often overlooked part of a modern yoga practice. Its roots run deep in the classic Bhavaghad Gita text - Krisha advises Arjuna that, “the reward of all action is to be found in enlightenment.”

Founded in 2008, Roadmonkey is an organization that beautifully blends service to others and exciting travel. Director Paul von Zielbauer, a former award-winning reporter and Iraq war correspondent, believes in the value of exploring new cultures and giving back to communities in need.

Inspired by reading about people living their dreams in adventure magazines, Zielbauer envisoned Roadmonkey as “Adventure Travel 2.0” – substantive travel that is not only engaging and fun, but challenges the participant to a higher standard. To this end, Roadmonkey organizes “adventure philanthropy expeditions”, sponsored by various non-profit organizations, in places such as Peru, Nicaragua, Patagonia, Vietnam and Tanzania.

Upcoming expeditions include:

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro & building a school library on Zanzibar
Cycling the highlands of Vietnam & building a solar-energy kitchen
Whitewater rafting in Peru & building a playground in the Andean foothills

In this day and age, as travelers cautiously check online sources for bad reviews, buy pre-packaged whirlwind tours and print Google maps months ahead of their journey, Roadmonkey is a breath of fresh air. It reintroduces spontaneity into travel and returns us to a several fundamental needs – the desire to explore and understand our world, and to help one another. On some level, we all inherently know that in order to make a difference, we have to take a plunge and dive into new, sometimes frightening territory.

Karma yoga challenges us to find the discipline of self-transcending action. Roadmonkey provides a wonderful opportunity for karma yoga that transforms both communities in need and the traveler by engaging him on all levels – physical, emotional and intellectual.

For more information about Roadmonkey and upcoming expeditions, please visit www.roadmonkey.net.

Airplane Yoga: The Antidote to Stressful Travel

Do you long for the days of Mad Men style travel, when flying was a little more dignified? Long gone are the days of donning your best suit to board a plane – today’s travel is more of a hassle than an exciting voyage.

The stress associated with air travel seems to be reaching epic proportions today. Long, winding security lines, cramped planes, screaming children and rude passengers have already caused one infamous flight attendant to flee an aircraft via inflatable slide. For the rest of us without emergency slide access, what is there to do?

Yoga provides a toolkit for dealing with stress on both the body and mind. You don’t need a mat and a peaceful room to practice – you simply need yourself and your breath.

Ideally, your yogic stress relief techniques should start before you reach your 30” airplane seat. As you drive to the airport, start to become aware of your breath. Try lengthening your exhales to become a little bit longer than your inhales. This helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the relaxation response, in the body.

Next - take a look at your shoulders. Chances are, they may be scrunched up by your ears as your body anticipates and braces against potential airport annoyances. Roll your shoulders up and back a few times, and let your shoulders sink down away from your ears.

When you arrive at the airport, keep up with your long, deep breathing. Reach your arms above your head and stretch from side to side. Roll down and hang over your legs for a few breaths, feeling your weight in the balls of your feet.

Throughout your flight, continue to be aware of finding a long, deep breath. Rock the head from side to side, working out kinks in the neck. Massage out your temples and the hinge of your jaw. Extend one leg out in front of you, point and flex your foot several times, and then rotate your foot in circles. Switch sides.

Now that you’ve warmed up a little bit, scoot up next to the edge of your seat. Place your hands on your thighs, and inhale as you lift up through your chest and draw your shoulders back. Exhale as you round your spine back towards your seat. Repeat several times.

For those who experience anxiety while flying, breathing techniques can help. If you feel your pulse racing and your breath quickening at the first sign of turbulence, try these breathing techniques:

Anti-anxiety breathing
Slowly inhale through your nose, then exhale through a rounded mouth. Inhale through a rounded mouth (as though sipping through a straw), then exhale through the nose. Continue for 3 minutes.

Left nostril breathing
Draw your right hand up to your face and block off your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through the left nostril. Block off your left nostril with your little finger, and exhale through the right nostril. Continue for 3 minutes.

Traveling can knock down even the most balanced person – simple yoga techniques can help alleviate stress and strain. And when all else fails, simply breathe long and deep.