Do You Like to Travel But Get Stiff and Sore from All the Sitting?
This week a student asked if I could give her some tips and movements to make her upcoming plane trip more comfortable. Since summer is travel season, I decided to write this post so everyone can benefit from her question.
Your body is designed to move. So sitting in a confined space for several hours is inherently challenging. Add to this that human comfort seems to be lower and lower on plane, train and bus companies’ design priorities. Even in cars, where comfort is a consideration, seats are “one size fits all” and generally don’t allow you to shift positions easily. All this can result in a stiff, sore and/or tired body.
The key to increasing your comfort in a car, plane or train is to find mobility and skeletal support in spite of the seat or space challenges.
The Problem with Most Car and Plane Seats
Many car/bus/train/plane seats (and chairs in general) slope backward. This rolls you onto your tailbone, not a place designed to bear weight. Even with support from the seat’s back, your body weight is so far back, you don’t have internal support from your skeleton. And if you’re short like I am, your feet may barely touch—or even be off—the floor.
All of this means your back, neck and shoulder muscles have to work harder to help keep you upright, to turn and look around, and to use your arms to eat, use your phone or hold a book.
Tips to Increase Your Comfort on Planes, Trains and Cars
- Sit at the Front of the Seat
Sit at the front of the chair with your pelvis rolled a little forward so that you sit on your “sit bones” (the bony protuberances at the bottom of your pelvis). Have both feet clearly in contact with the floor. While you aren’t able to rest your back against the seat in this position, you can align yourself so that your skeleton supports you. Hint: Try inclining yourself ever so slightly forward so your shoulders are a little forward of your pelvis.
- Create Your Own Back Support
If you need back support, instead of leaning back in your seat, stay sitting at the front. Then put something behind you to fill in the space between you and the seat back. I like to pack a small pillow or towel in my carry-on for this. Alternatively, you can improvise with a sweater, jacket or rolled up scarf.
- Vary How You Sit
Regularly shift and change your sitting position. You might try sitting more on one buttock then the other, changing the position of your feet, sitting all the way back in the seat for a little while or taking a couple minutes to do one of the movement exercises below.
- Get Up and Move Around.
As much as possible, take frequent breaks to stand, move and/or walk.
Movement Exercises for Travellers
Find Support from Your Sit Bones (aka Your Ischial Tuberosities)
In addition to helping you be more comfortable sitting in general, this exercise is a great way to refresh yourself when you are sitting for long periods.
Find a chair with a comfortable yet firm seat. Sit at the front of the chair. Have both feet flat on the floor with space between them.
1. Find Your Sit Bones
Where is the weight on the bottom of your pelvis? Are you on your sit bones, or like most people, is your weight a little behind them? Roll your pelvis a little forward and back. Feel for these bony protuberances almost like the rockers on the bottom of a rocking chair.
2. Sit ON Your Sit Bones Not Behind Them
Each time you roll forward, softly protrude your belly, as if to spill it forward and down toward the ground. Gradually find the place where your weight is in the middle or front half of your sit bones (hint: your lumbar spine will have a soft inward curve).
3. Notice: Is Your Weight More On One Side?
Most of us don’t sit perfectly evenly on the two sides of our pelvis. Sense how you distribute your weight right and left. Does one sit bone/buttock press more or feel heavier than the other?
4. Shift Weight More to Your “Heavier” Side (if it’s not clear, just pick one side)
Shift an easy amount to that side and return . Track how the weight rolls on the bottom of your pelvis. Allow the rest of your upper body to soften and move as you shift. Do this several times, then rest for a moment.
5. Roll Forward and Back on Your “Heavier” Sit Bone
Shift your weight to your heavier side and stay there. Roll a little forward and back on that sit bone a few times, then return to sitting normally. Again, shift your weight to your heavy side and return. Has anything become clearer or easier about this movement? Rest.
6. Repeat Steps #4 & 5 on Your “Lighter” Side
7. Notice: What’s Changed Since the Beginning?
Still sitting at the front of the chair, scan yourself for any differences from the beginning. Where is the weight on your pelvis now, front to back and right to left? Does anything feel easier or more comfortable? Is there a greater sense of support from your sit bones and pelvis for your back, neck and shoulders?
Tap Your Feet to Rejuvenate Yourself When Sitting
This exercise gets your legs moving and increases circulation. Tapping the bottom of your feet like this also reminds your brain of standing and walking, naturally stimulating upright posture.
Sit at the front of a chair. Have both feet flat on the floor with space between them.
1. Sense Your Contact
Take a moment to feel the contact of your two sit bones with the chair and feet with the floor.
2. Move Your Right Foot
Lift your right foot and step it closed to your left foot (i.e. bring the right foot together with the left), then return your right foot to its original spot. Each time, let your right foot drop, allowing the whole sole to make contact with the floor. This should make a sound—not because you’re pushing or stomping—but because the full weight of your leg and foot drop into the ground. Do this several times, then rest for a moment.
3. Repeat #2 with Your Left Foot
4. Alternate Right and Left
Step one foot to the other (feet closed) and return (feet apart), then do the same with the second foot. You only need to lift your foot an inch or two off the floor. Get a comfortable rhythm going. If you were dancing, you would be doing a little side step-tap step, side step-tap step.
Here’s hoping these tips and movements bring more comfort and ease to all your travels!
If you have your own movements or tips you use to keep yourself feeling well on long trips, please share them in the comments below.