A nap and a shower might not hurt either.
Vacations are great, but travel is the worst, amirite? The sleeplessness, the planes/trains/automobiles logistical nightmare to get from Point A to Point B, the cramped conditions of coach travel that leave you feeling like you marinated in strangers’ sweat for several hours with hips so tight you look like a badly-handled marionette when you finally exit at your destination. Unfortunately, I can’t help you with those first few things, but I can recommend several stretches that will make you feel so fresh, so fine, so vacation-ready. (A nap and a shower might not hurt either.) Roll out a mat or a towel (ideally in the grass with some sunshine) and remain in each stretch for several breaths. Happy stretching!
1. Downward Dog
This is really the powerhouse of all the stretches. It stretches your calves and ankles, opens up the shoulders and chest and is all-around the best antidote to forget the hours of your life you just spent slumped over in a tiny seat cursing the engineers of your ride for not including the tiniest bit of lumbar support. Your lower back will LOVE this one. Plus, the added benefit of inversion (any position in which your head falls below the level of your heart) will send some much-needed blood to your head, resulting in higher-energy levels and feelings of euphoria.
Start from a high plank position and lift hips up to the sky, keeping the back and shoulders flat, navel drawn in and heels pressing down. Press your chest toward the tops of your thighs and focus your gaze at the feet to keep the neck neutral. Bonus moves: try pedaling it out to tap into tight hips, shaking the head out to release a stiff neck or wave it forward to plank a few times to engage core muscles.
Let’s talk about that lower back some more. Essentially, sitting for hours is your lower back’s biggest enemy. When you’re sitting, you’re in a constant (unnatural) state of hip flexion, which shortens your hip flexors and makes them über-tight. This in turn can create a pull on your lower back, which is why lower back pain is often caused by tight hips rather than any kind of acute lower back injury. If you work at a desk job, then you know that the struggle is real, and you should be making an effort to stand and walk around for at least a few minutes every hour. If you’re travelling by cramped plane, train, bus or car, then you know this isn’t always possible. Recover with this beauty of a stretch.
From hands and knees, inhale as you hollow out the lower back, lifting the chest to the sky. On an exhale breath, tuck in the navel, rounding the back, dropping the head and gazing back at the feet. Bonus move: slowly swivel the hips side to side for a relaxing total-body release.
3. Extended Puppy Pose
Another one to lengthen the spine and open the shoulders, this dreamboat of a stretch will take you from the shriveled bent-over witch in Hansel and Gretel to party-ready dancing queen/king in no time. This is also another example of a mild inversion, so prepare for an instant high as you come out of it.
From hands and knees, widen the knees to shoulder distance. Maintaining the hips over knees, crawl the hands forward and press your chest toward the ground. If shoulders are pinching, separate your hands a bit wider. Press deeper into the stretch on each exhale. Bonus move: I personally think it feels amazing to have a friend push the heel of her/his palm gently below the scapular retractors in order to get a little deeper in the pose, but TAKE IT SLOWLY AND GENTLY and only do this with someone who knows how/where to press.
4. Low Lunge
If this doesn’t coax your hips back to their happy place, then nothing will. The low lunge is a downright heavenly stretch for the hips and groin, and, with some modifications, can also target the shoulders, chest, back and quads.
Start from a downward dog and step one foot between the hands. Rest the back knee down on the mat and make sure that your front foot is far enough forward that the knee stacks over the ankle (not past the toes!) and your heel can comfortably stay planted. On exhale breaths, let the tailbone sink lower to the mat, resulting in a magical lengthening sensation along the front of whichever leg is behind you. Bonus moves: go for a twist (and stir up that digestion) by keeping the opposite hand of your forward leg down on the floor, rotating from the navel and reaching the arm on the same side (as forward leg) toward the sky. Hug the inner thighs together and concentrate on lengthening and expanding the chest. OR, go for a heart opener by lifting both hands and the crown of the head from the basic low lunge position and leaning back, raising the heart to the sky. (Note: I would not recommend this variation if you’ve had a lower back injury.)
5. Child’s Pose
And, finally, the ultimate crowd-pleaser of a stretch, designed to reduce fatigue while stretching the hips, quads, ankles and lower back. Sometimes after hours of travel, I feel like I could live in child’s pose, but, you know, stay in it for as long as you like while leaving a bit of time to sightsee, eat, drink, frolic, etc.
Start from hands and knees. (Knees can either be spread or remain together, depending on your level of hip flexibility.) Sit back on your heels (or place a blanket between butt and heels if necessary) and extend the spine long in front of you on your mat. Let your forehead rest on the mat and keep arms reaching long ahead of you, bring them back by your sides or stack the hands under your forehead like a pillow. Whichever variation you choose, focus on taking in long breaths and relaxing into the mat. Bonus move: give the obliques and lats a little extra love by alternately reaching the arms overhead to the right and left sides of the mat and holding for several breaths.
I hope these stretches get you feeling blissed-out and vacation-ready ASAP! And if you don’t have a vacation currently on the horizon, maybe this is a perfect excuse to book one. Maybe? Just do it. And let me know which stretches you try!
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