It’s no secret that sitting for long periods of time is hard on the body — but not all sitting is the same. Hunkering down in a car or a plane, for instance, combines sedentariness with a cramped environment and ergonomically unfriendly seating. For many people, this is a surefire route to discomfort that may linger long after they stand up.
“Traveling can wreak havoc on your body,” says Justin Reilley, a yoga and kettlebell instructor and owner of the Yoga Rebellion studio in New Jersey. “You think, It’s just sitting. But sitting in a plane or car is completely different than sitting on your couch — you’re in a cramped space, you don’t have room to change positions, and you usually don’t have many opportunities to stand up and move around.”
The havoc Reilley is referring to includes hampered blood flow throughout the body, impeded mobility, and a slumped posture. This can result in swelling of the lower legs and feet, lower-back and neck pain, and general feelings of achiness and stiffness when you finally unfurl from your seat.
Make a point to move your body before a long stretch of sitting, Reilley suggests. Wiggling around as much as possible during a flight or car ride — or even a long day at your desk — can help alleviate negative effects. Even ankle and wrist circles are beneficial. (Wearing compression stockings to combat leg swelling and adding lumbar support with a rolled-up sweatshirt may also reduce the aches and pains associated with longer sits.)
And once you arrive at your destination, he recommends taking five to 10 minutes to move slowly, with intention, while focusing on the breath.
“Take your time to get your body back in the mix,” he says. “You’ve been so sedentary, you don’t want to hit the gas if you’re not warmed up.
“Physically and energetically, the waters have become still. When I was 20, I could jump out of the car after a long road trip and do a handstand. Now that I’m 43, I know that right when I get up from something is when I’m primed to hurt myself. It’s important to bring attention to how your body is feeling and adjust before moving too hard.”
Reilley recommends the following four yoga-inspired stretches to bring life back to your body. Integrate them into a sun salutation or perform them slowly on their own.
Deep Squat With Twist
- Begin standing with feet about hip-width or wider, and toes slightly turned out. Lower yourself into a deep squat. If your heels come off the floor, place a folded mat or blanket underneath them for support.
- Keeping your spine long, press your elbows against your inner knees and bring your palms together in front of your chest.
- Hold for 30 seconds or longer, continuing to breathe.
- Stand and reset if needed. Then, from the deep squat position, bring your right hand to your left ankle and raise your left hand toward the ceiling (or place it behind your head). Do not let your knees cave in or turn out. Allow your body to rotate through the thoracic spine and open up to the left.
- Hold for three deep breaths, then switch sides. Alternate sides for 30 seconds or as long as it feels great. Move slowly and stand to reset your squat as needed.
Lizard With Twist
- Begin in a low-lunge position with your right leg forward and your left leg back, left knee resting on the floor behind your hips. Place both hands on the floor inside your right foot and heel-toe your right foot out to the right to a comfortable position. Your toes can point straight ahead or slightly to the right. Aim to keep your right big toe grounded and that knee tracking over your second and third toes. Maintaining a long spine, support yourself with both hands on the floor.
- Raise your left hand and circle that arm behind you so your chest opens up to the left and your hand reaches toward the wall behind you.
- If it is possible without forcing or wrenching, bend your back knee and reach your left hand for your left ankle. If you can reach the ankle, grasp it.
- Hold your deepest position for about 30 seconds, breathing deeply.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Standing Forward Fold
- Begin standing tall, with your hands on your hips.
- Bend your knees slightly and, keeping a neutral spine, hinge your hips back to fold your torso forward over your thighs.
- Your hands may land on your legs or on the floor in front of you.
- Inhale and lengthen your spine.
- Exhale and find a lift in your kneecaps as you gently try to straighten your legs.
- Inhale again, and on the next exhale, extend your torso back down. Take care to maintain length in the neck, keeping the shoulders drawn back and avoiding any rounding in the back.
- Hold for 30 seconds to a minute, or as long as it feels great, breathing deeply throughout.
- Lying on your back, bend both knees so your feet are flat on the floor.
- Gently lift your hips and shift them slightly (about one inch) to the right, then lower your hips back to the floor.
- Extend your left leg on the floor, then draw your right knee toward your chest, using your hands for assistance (but without forcing your knee down).
- Keeping your shoulders on the floor and your left leg straight, slowly rotate your lower body to the left. Allow your right knee to roll over the left, but don’t force your knee to touch the ground or push on your lower back to force a deeper twist. Let the right knee hang loosely and try to relax as gravity and your breath help you move deeper into the pose.
- Extend both arms at your sides, perpendicular to your body. You can also place your left hand on the outside of the right knee to gently enhance the stretch — but, again, don’t push hard.
- Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
This article originally appeared as “Yoga for Sitter” in the December 2022 issue of Experience Life.