As much as I love to travel, it can be hard on the body! All that sitting on planes, trains and automobiles tightens the hip flexors, makes the lower back achy, and can cause swelling in the feet, ankles and hands.
To shake off the discomfort of travel, I like to do a "mini" practice. These poses focus on lengthening the hip flexors and quadriceps, making space in the shoulders and chest, and opening the outer hips.
Below, I'm sharing a video of my post-travel practice and a step-by-step guide to each pose.
(I sped up the sequence in this video, but you should take as much time on your mat as you'd like.)
Restorative Bridge: First things first: a supported bridge pose will gently lengthen your hip flexors and release tension in your lower back. You can find more details on this pose – and the hip flexors – in my previous post here.
Figure 4 Hip Opener: Cross one ankle above the opposite knee, and pull your legs toward your chest. Lengthen your pelvis toward the mat as best you can, and feel the stretch in your outer hip and thigh. Repeat on the other side.
Downward Facing Dog: Wake up your upper body and lengthen your spine in this yoga classic. Pedal your feet out or wag your hips side to side for a deeper stretch.
High Lunge: In lunge, lift the inner thigh of your back leg up toward the sky to lengthen your spine. This will give more length to the hip flexor in your back leg; reaching the arms overhead will get energy flowing through your shoulders and arms. Repeat on the other leg.
Cobra: It feels so good to backbend after travel! Support your low back by keeping your legs parallel. Lift only as high as you can keep your lower back clear and never push through a 'pinch' in your spine.
Wide Stance Forward Fold: Use this pose to find space in your legs, glutes, and back muscles. If your low back rounds toward the sky, simply bend your knees until you feel your lower back drop down towards the ground. Try to isolate the stretch in your legs, not your back.
Side Angle Pose: This standing pose works as an effective hip opener, and the overhead arm stretch is a bonus after travel. Repeat on the other side.
Locust Pose with Arms Bound: In this pose, you'll tone the muscles along the back of your body as you open your chest and shoulders. If your shoulders round forward instead of lifting up, hold a towel so your shoulders lift and you get a solid stretch across your chest muscles and the frontal shoulders.
Puppy Pose: This is a great alternative to child's pose, and it is one of my most recommended poses for low back pain or injury. This shape helps tip the pelvis to neutral and reestablish a natural curve in the low back.
Pigeon Pose: This pose stretches the same muscles as the figure 4 hip opener but with added power. Keep your pelvis square, and isolate the stretch in your outer hip. If you experience knee pain, discontinue the stretch or consult an alignment-oriented instructor for refinements. You can add a bonus quadriceps stretch here, too.
Bow Pose: Now that your quads are getting loose, work in a deeper backbend. Keep your legs parallel, and as with all backbends, support your low spine with tone in your belly.
Twisted Lunge: Since travel zaps energy levels, try keeping your back knee down in the twist, and focus on breathing width into the back of your torso. Feel free to keep your hands pressing in front of your heart if the straight arm form is too intense.
Forward Fold: You did the wide leg form before, so take it a little deeper here with your feet hip width. Bend your knees until your ribcage touches your legs for maximum low back happiness.
Standing Crescent: With your feet together, reach your arms overhead and grasp your right wrist with your left hand, then lean to the left. Exaggerate your breath into your right ribs, and enjoy the space that creates in this side stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Yoga Squat: To get the most out of your yoga squat, it's important that your heels stay grounded. If they lift, widen your feet and turn them out to the sides (tracking your knees over your feet).
Inversion: If you practice inversions, post-travel is the perfect time to change your perspective and get upside down. If not, add another down dog here.
Reclined Hero: There is no better pose for opening the fibers of the hip flexor. Be patient with this pose. Place a block or bolster behind you if it's too deep at first, or go for a bridge pose instead.
Fire Log Pose: This is a great hip opener. To start, your pelvis must be level. If it's tucking under, elevate your hips until your knees drop and your low back draws in and up. Like other hip openers, you're looking for a stretch in your outer glutes and thighs.
Give it a try after your next long flight or drive. Your body will thank you.