From daily commuting to globe-trotting, travel takes a toll on our bodies and minds in various forms of discomfort, anxiety and frustration. Whether you battle travel-induced backaches, a fear of flying or are prone to road rage, you’ll benefit from these five yoga-inspired ways to decrease tension and increase comfort.
No matter the mode of travel, you’re generally sitting more than you’re standing. With recent studies illustrating the dangerous effects of prolonged sitting on our health, it’s important to make the most of opportunities to stand and move.
Whether you’re in line for the bus, given an in-flight reprieve from the seat belt sign, or finally climbing out of your car, you can easily practice these two standing stretches:
Standing chest opener
Opens chest and shoulder muscles to counteract seated slouching.
Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Interlace your fingers behind your low back. Inhale as you look up, lifting and spreading your collarbones while extending from your midback. Exhale as you draw your shoulder blades downward, reaching your hands further down your backside. Hold for a breath or two.
Standing side lengthener
Lengthens side waist, back and hip muscles compressed from sitting
From standing, inhale as you reach your arms overhead and clasp your right wrist with your left hand. Exhale as you side bend to the left, gently pulling your right arm to increase the right side stretch. Hold for a breath or two. Repeat on the other side.
Move while seated
Even a little bit of movement goes a long way when you’re seated for long periods. Provided you aren’t in the driver’s seat, try these two easy, in-seat moves:
Stretches neck and upper-back muscles
While seated, place your right hand on your left shoulder. Exhale as you drop your right ear toward your right shoulder. Take two long, deep breaths, keeping your left shoulder down to increase the stretch along the left side of your neck and upper back. Repeat on the other side.
Opens chest and shoulders while promoting midback mobility
Sitting upright, place your left hand on your right leg while you slide the back of your right hand behind you along your waistband. Exhale as you rotate from your midback. Hold for a couple breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Because prolonged sitting is a travel reality, how you sit and what you sit on matter. Sitting cross legged or leaning to one side may seem comfortable in the short term but long-term effects can include an aching back, stiff neck and swollen ankles. Always try to sit with proper posture, following the natural curves of your spine. Avoid crossing your legs or ankles, which can stifle circulation and cause edema.
Because it helps when your seat is ergonomically designed for long-term comfort, savvy travelers are smart to practice due diligence when choosing their means of transportation. Increasingly, car manufacturers and airlines are wising up to the importance of seats that optimize skeletal alignment and minimize muscular stress. Most automobile seats are equipped with adjustable lumbar supports, but some even include features such as body bolsters that adjust to changing G-forces.
Unfortunately, too many people are stuck in a pattern of chest-oriented, shallow breathing that feeds into poor posture and increased back and neck pain. The solution is breathing diaphragmatically, facilitating better respiration and postural support for proper spinal alignment and ribcage position.
To practice diaphragmatic breathing, simply focus on taking long, slow, deep breaths. Draw air into the lowest lobes of your lungs first and then expand through your middle ribs and chest without arching your midback or lifting your shoulders. Completely empty your lungs on your exhale to ensure functional diaphragm use. Try inhaling and exhaling for a seven-count each (total of 14).
Relax your mind
Working with pro athletes, it’s part of my job to help them mitigate their stress response to the mental challenges of their careers. When a batter almost gets nailed by a wild pitch, it rattles them. You know the feeling — it’s the same heart-thumping, anxiety-and-anger-inducing sensation you experience after a near collision in traffic.
Being able to leverage the physiological benefits of diaphragmatic breathing are clutch in these circumstances. Shallow breathing keeps us locked in our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), which makes us much more susceptible to external stressors, like feeling trapped in a cramped airplane seat or bumper-to-bumper traffic. Conversely, diaphragmatic breathing promotes calm composure by putting us in our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and repose), which lowers heart rate, blood pressure and the stress hormone: cortisol.
When practicing breathing for relaxation, focus on exhalations like big sighs of relief. Combining breathing exercises with a simple guided meditation will not only make your travel time pass more quickly but can also ease anxiety. I’ve created “yoga for flying” breathing, mediation and movement programs for multiple professional sports teams, so they can use their frequent flying time to decompress.
Restore your body
Combating travel stress doesn’t end as soon as your trip ends. Practicing self care when you reach your destination is essential. Be sure to get adequate rest, nourishment and hydration. And immediately release any lingering travel tension by doing the standing stretches noted previously, as well as raising your legs above your heart to change gravity’s impact on your body and relieve swelling.
Legs above the heart
Promotes venous blood flow to ease edema
Lying on your back, place your legs up on a chair or some pillows — whatever comfortably rests your legs higher than your heart. Remain here for at least 10 long, deep breaths.