5 Stretches To Make A Long Flight (Or Day At Your Desk) Totally Pain-Free

Written by Katherine Greiner

Spring brings with it a busy travel season filled with tropical vacations and tons of wedding travel. And with travel comes hours of sitting in cramped, awkward places and positions. Over time, these seated positions lead to slouching, muscle tightness, and a misbalancing of postural muscles. As this happens, many muscles on the back of the body get particularly lax or even overstretched, which can lead to annoying pain and discomfort. Ever wonder why your back hurts after long car rides?

Sitting in tight spaces for long periods of time can even affect digestion. The hunched-over torso, which houses the rib cage, comes crashing down on the stomach and intestines, leaving less room for the digestive system to do its work. Many people get bloated, gassy, or stopped-up when traveling. So the next time you take a quick bathroom break, take an extra minute or two to stand outside your car or in the airplane aisle to do these simple moves, which address and relieve the muscle imbalances often caused by long-haul travel. These exercises are also excellent for anyone who sits on the job for multiple hours a day. Hold each pose for 30 to 60 seconds. Happy and healthy travels!

Chest Opener

Photo by Keith Martine

While standing or seated, interlace your fingers behind your back as you gently squeeze your shoulder blades together on an inhale. Next, exhale as you bring both hands to the left side of your waist. Relax your shoulders and work to draw your elbows together behind you, creating a nice stretch on the front of the right shoulder and chest. Repeat on the other side.

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Talasana (Upward Hand Pose)

Photo by Keith Martine

While standing, inhale and interlace your fingers overhead, turning palms up to face the sky. Be sure to keep the shoulders pulling down in opposition to create a better stretch and more space in the pose. If you're in a small, enclosed space where your hands might hit the ceiling (such as a plane), you can do this stretch seated.

Side Stretch

Photo by Keith Martine

On an inhale, reach your arms overhead and interlace your fingers with the index fingers pointing up (or grab your right wrist with your left hand for a little extra oomph during the stretch). As you exhale, lengthen through the spine, press your hips slightly to the right, and arch your upper body up and over to the left. You will feel a stretch on the right side of the body. Be sure to keep the arms in line with the ears to prevent collapsing forward. Keep the lower body engaged: With the abdomen pulled in and the tailbone drawing down to the ground, press down firmly through the feet, and keep the chest open and lifted. Come back to center and repeat on the other side.

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Salamba Anuvittasana (Supported Back Bend)

Photo by Keith Martine

Start standing with feet together or hip-width apart—whichever feels best for your body. Place your hands on your low back for support. On an inhale, roll your shoulder back and down as you begin to arch your torso up and back. (The hips can shift forward slightly to counterbalance.) Be sure to keep the entire body engaged during this pose: Use your arms to support your weight, draw the tailbone down toward the earth, pull your abdomen in, and press down strongly through the feet. If it feels OK for your neck, you can begin to reach the top of the head toward the ceiling behind you; otherwise, keep your head upright and the gaze forward. (Never let your head drop back like a rag doll.) To come out of the pose: Lead with your chest by lifting up before coming forward to stand.

Quad & Hip Flexor Stretch

Photo by Keith Martine

Stand and place your left hand on a seat back, car door, or another object for stability. Shift all of your weight to your left foot as you bend your right leg at the knee and catch the right ankle behind you with your right hand. Energetically draw the right knee and tailbone down toward the earth while simultaneously pulling in the abdomen and lifting the chest—this internal opposition will deepen the stretch. If grabbing the ankle is not readily available to you, you may grab the top of the shoe at the toes; just be mindful of not pulling so hard that you put unhealthy pressure on the top of the foot and ankle. Return to standing and switch sides, grabbing the left ankle with the left hand.

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