Written by: Odette Hughes – Yoga therapist C-IAYT, M.S. Yoga educator, @odettehughesyoga
Those of us that love traveling know what an enriching experience it is: new people, places, food, landscapes, activities, languages, and memories. I went on a week-long trip to Mexico with my boyfriend this month, and we jam-packed our time. We flew to Cabo, drove an hour to Todo Santos the next day, then back to Cabo, drove two hours a day later to a smaller airport so we could fly into Loreto, drove two hours from Loreto to our whale-watching destination, back to our hotel, flew back into Cabo San Lucas, flew from Mexico into Los Angeles for a day, and finally from LA to the east coast. Phew!
The only downside to all this traveling are the aches that can build up in the body. We went so many places, but we were sitting for most of the time: sitting on planes, in cars, or in boats. What happens with prolonged sitting is pain in the lower back and neck, primarily. In this blog I will offer some tips for preventing lower back and neck pain while traveling so you can keep your body as comfortable as possible.
Since we are often sitting while traveling to our destinations, we need to talk about what happens when we sit. When you sit, the natural curves of your lower back and neck tend to “flatten” or disappear. Not only that, but your hips tend to “tuck” under and over time this encourages a slumped position. Sitting in that way is the main reason pain develops – it’s not an efficient way for your body to hold itself so the muscles get tired and nerves can become inflamed or pinched.
Tips for Sitting (in a car or plane) To Prevent Back Pain:
1. Take a thin jacket, cardigan, or blanket you may have brought with you. Fold or wad that up into a rectangle and put that behind your lower back after you have sat down. You want it to be pretty low and thick enough to prevent your back from totally “flattening”. I didn’t have extra clothing on our first flight for this, so I used the neck pillows they sell at the airport actually and it worked fine!
Another option is to roll your clothing or blanket into a “log” and place that right behind your spine from the neck to the hips.
2. Don’t slide your rear close to the back of the seat, which causes your hips to “tuck” and will make #1 pretty useless. Sit directly on your “sit bones”, legs uncrossed with feet on the floor. Sitting with legs crossed is fine for a little while, but remember to cross both and do not keep the legs crossed for a long time (more than 5-10 minutes), because that can aggravate nerves.
Tips for Sitting to Prevent Neck Pain:
Okay, now let’s talk about the neck. I actually don’t appreciate the head pillows that are attached to many plane seats, because they tend to push the head forward. “Forward head” is actually a postural condition which is a major cause of chronic neck pain. So, how do we take care of our necks on a long flight or car ride?
1a. First feel behind your neck with you hand – you can probably feel some of your neck bones sticking out, especially near the bottom of your neck. Feel for the bump which sticks out the most – it should be felt pretty low on your neck. You might feel 2 that stick out more than the others. This is where we need to add support and “padding”.
1b. Take a small towel or article of clothing you have packed and fold this up into a narrow rectangle. Put this right behind those bumps. It should be folded thick enough that you feel it pressing into your neck. Your body pressure should keep it there against the chair. This will prevent your neck from “flattening” or “rounding”, which those built-in pillows will cause you to do otherwise!
Here is a picture using this small neck support + the long “log” version of the back support:
All of these tips should make your body feel comfortable, like it wants to sigh “ahhh”, not “ughhhh”. If something feels not right, adjust.
At Your Destination:
After you are done traveling, the very best pose you can do is a backbend. Try this one: take some pillows from your hotel bed and lay them on the floor. Lie down, bum on the ground. Now lie backwards on the pillow. If it is too soft, stack another pillow on the first one. Lie all the way back. Keep the back of your head supported, especially in that spot at the bottom of the neck. Stay there for at least a minute and up to 3 if you have more time.