The Great Midwest
by Cassia Reynolds
Let’s talk zen.
For those of you that aren’t acquainted with casual yogi-lingo, zen is that special headspace that you can discover through relaxation and meditation. The official definition, as dictated by the great-and-all-knowing wordsmiths of Merriam-Webster, describes zen as an approach to an activity, skill, or subject that emphasizes simplicity and intuition rather than conventional thinking or fixation on goals.
I’m all about the zen life, whether that means diving into deep-deep-thought while driving down a long stretch of Interstate emptiness; staring out over a morning mountainscape, soaking in the soft, ethereal joy in the dewy mist; vibing to Kurt Vile’s latest album while banging out a blog; or filling my lungs with air to prepare for the all-encompassing hum of the classic yoga “om.”
Zen is everywhere, all the time, just waiting for you to reach out, grasp it, and pull yourself into its illuminating embrace.
And if this sounds like big talk, it’s because zen is bigger than big; it’s transformative. Especially when you’ve been on the road for 14-hours, hunched over your steering wheel and all you can think about is the sore-itchy-stabbing sensations in your lower back. And that’s where all this yoga-talk comes in.
I guarantee that by adding a little yogi-goodness to your road trip routine, you will not only feel better at the end of those long hauls, but you’ll also gain a little bit of zen in your life.
So here’s the 101’s of my stretch-life routine, one that has, on many long drives, evolved my physical, mental, and spiritual self from a grumpy, butt-ache low to a grinning, walking-on-sunshine-effervescence-for-life high.
Why? Because my body has been twisted, stretched, and strengthened. And my mind has been wrung out, mellowed, and soaked in a big old dose of zen (it’s pretty much my athletic version of pouring a frosty beer into a tumbler on a hot summer afternoon and plopping down in a rocking chair in the shade, listening to nothing but the birds chirping and the breeze in the trees).
The Sun Salute
It’s the break of day and you have a long way to go, too much to do and see. There’s not time to get into a whole hour-long yoga sesh. Instead, I recommend a quick, painless-but-tingly, wake up routine: the sun salute. Warm your muscles up, get your mojo going, and put a smile on your face in 15 minutes or less.
I was first introduced to the three-step sun salute by an Australian snowboard-enthusiast with a never-healed-right knee injury. He said that this routine had made sports possible for him again. We used to practice them together before we would head out surfing on the weekends in Newcastle, NSW. And there’s nothing better than warming your body up a little before leaping into some icy Pacific waves.
A fun fact about yoga: all it requires is a mat and an area wide enough that you can stretch your arms out fully and lay down flat. Nothing else. I’ve seen people practice in jeggings (seriously!) so you have no excuse. Clear a space on your campsite, in your hotel room, behind your car at a rest stop, beside your friend’s couch, and remove your shoes, close your eyes, and breath.
The steps are basic, but effective:
- Mountain Pose
- Full Forward Bend
- Step Backward
- Up Dog
- Down Dog
- Step Forward
- Mountain Pose (and repeat 2x)
To check out my favorite Sun Salute playlist, see my Guide for Strange Travels.
The New Classic View
Standing poses and headstands are a funky, heart-thudding way to appreciate a breathtaking view. What can I say - I’m a thrill seeker. And nothing gets my blood pumping faster than balancing myself on the edge of a cliff and seeing the whole world flipped upside down before me.
If you’re new to yoga, headstands are not something that’s immediately mastered - but they’re doable with practice, patience, and a growing comfort with one’s own body. They need to be worked for, just like you worked to hike up that mountain and witness that beautiful landscape.
It’s nighttime and not only are you sore and exhausted, but you head is throbbing with that so-much-activity-in-one-day daze. Well, this next move can get you back into your groove. Work your back out with camel or bridge pose, and, if you’re up to it, a full backbend.
So there you have it - a little bit of zen-fabulousness to crack your road trip routine. And I am no expert! I’m just a girl that loves that one-with-nature-vibe and gets a rush from standing on my head on cliffs. If I can do it, you can too. I hope this inspires you to follow your own zen flow - and let me know if you find your own favorite travel move!