Does Your Body Unravel When You Travel?

gail supine

Upright row from supine

“Aaargh, I haven’t done anything for weeks!” moans the client who has just come back from a vacation or a business trip. And the litany of recriminations begins. What happened?!

The first thing that probably happened was the physical constriction of being cooped up in an airplane cabin or a car. Not only are the seating accommodations tight, but when we’re made to feel like sardines in a can we also tighten up our emotional energy. Our shoulders sneak upward – maybe we can hide our thoughts that way. The chest caves as if to protect the heart. Breath becomes shallow. Subconsciously we’re trying to become small. We want to safeguard our privacy and we have these clumsy bodies that we think reveal so much.

We know we’re not comfortable. Think of how you burst out of the subway to freedom after even a short ride. But how do we fight the containment of those tight spaces? Especially when many of us are loath to stretch in public?

As a teacher with private clients for whom I want the best – I want you supple, happy in your bodies, breathing easily, having tools to manage your chronic issues – I hate that it’s so hard to stretch when a situation warrants it the most. I get it – I’m an introvert myself – well, maybe borderline – but it’s never been my modus operandi to draw attention to myself in random places. And we certainly perceive that making ourselves bigger via stretching is going to cause eyes to land.

I maintain that in fact fewer eyes land than you think. I also maintain that there is little judgment in those eyes — just mild curiosity (unless you are making a spectacle of yourself.) In the last few weeks I’ve asked the peeps at my studio, “If you were in public and you knew you really needed to stretch – would you do it?” I received both vociferous yeses and vociferous nos. I also got, “Well I might stretch my shoulders but not my legs,” and “I would do a standing quad stretch but not a standing triangle stretch.” More people were willing to do a lunge stretch (head above the torso) than a downward facing dog stretch (butt above the head). How about you? How much would you stretch and what limitations would you put on it?

The people who have fewer inhibitions about stretching in public are going to be the winners when it comes to tension release during travel. But before we just slice it down the middle and say extroverts will be the public stretchers and introverts will be public introverts, what if you could take a leap and for the sake of longer term health, step outside your comfort zone? What can we do to get you to move your body in a way that will keep energy flowing, and keep constriction and long-term tension at bay?

Taking a page from the East about letting go, my challenge for you is to let go of any narrative that keeps you less than free. The mindset “people are looking at me” is just that – a static set of the mind that does not serve your best interests. If you’re game, here are some tips:

gail cross

Oblique stabilization and shoulder girdle workout

* Visualize yourself doing that power stretch just prior to its execution. Endow the image with light, vibrancy, and specificity. Visualize the release you will get and the satisfaction of having done so.

* Stay in one basic shape for some moments. Once you have made that initial physical change from pedestrian standing to fitness arching, or from pedestrian leaning to fitness lunging, and once any onlooker eyes have landed, those eyes will have less watching to do the less you move. Make it a study in form. Become a figure in a Noh play.

* Become acquainted with small stretches that will draw little attention. E.g., clasping the hands behind your back to pull your shoulders down and back. You might find suggestions in the on-flight guide.

* This link from CNN is an excellent illustrated guide. They’re not really as “yogic” as purported.

Once You Get There

Here are some suggestions for working out in your very own room, regardless of whether your lodgings have a gym. None of these take up very much space.

Chest opener with shoulder work

* Push-ups, planks and crunches. Push-ups and planks are HARD. Therefore they are going to give you a satisfying burst of energy on those stultifying travel days.

* Maintain a small menu of movements. Yeah, you’re going to do 20 push-ups, but they’re going to be good ones. Keep form so your teacher/trainer back home would be proud.

* You’ve packed a Theraband, right? Shown in the photos here are a few different ways to use it.

* PRETEND! Never had a yoga class? No one knows that. Simulate a warrior pose that you’re going to find on YouTube. You’ll be ready to rule.

Hamstring stretch portion of the three-way

It’s pretty easy to make up an alternate identity when you’re in a new place. It’s a great opportunity to try new things. Copy people. Break into a trot. Hold your head high. But whatever you do, keep the energy flowing. Arrive home fresh. You’ve just had a great opportunity to transcend your own limitations. The satisfaction of finishing an old chapter and starting a new one, or even a new book, is exhilarating.