Pilates: Body In-Flight

Because sitting tends to be a passive activity for most, muscles you'd think would relax -- after all they seem to be doing so little -- actually stiffen. Here are some ways I like to make travel time bearable.
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So I'm fresh off a 24-hour cross country jaunt flying New York to LA and then back again the very next afternoon. This gave me time and cause to explore my conspiracy theory query: "Why are they trying to destroy us with these seats?"

I have often wondered if they make the seats in airplanes, cars, busses, subways, etc. to cater to the already broken down bodies that will inhabit them. This to me is similar to vending machines serving you junk food because they figure if you're already so far gone as to need to eat from a vending machine then there's really nothing anyone can do to help you anymore. Sort of like, If it's already broken, don't even think of bothering to try and fix it.

And I wonder if the reason I'm so uncomfortable in the these seats is because I come bearing good posture and know when my head is being pushed forward or low back enticed to collapse. I often think that if I were to design a seat that encouraged good and proper posture people be more uncomfortable because this position would be so foreign to their bodies. I can only imagine that design engineers are brought in, at great expense, to find the 'prefect' pitch and curvature, and yet the more it's messed with, the more uncomfortable it seems to get. In fact, I was in first class when all this pondering took place and with every button at my fingertip to adjust lumbar "support," footrest, incline, recline, you name it and none of it did what I believe, in good faith, it is intended to do. Let's bear in mind that I am six feet tall and therefore not exactly average. However, I am writing this from the most bare-essential, stripped down version of a seat short of a stump I've encountered in a very long while. I'm on the Bergen line of NJ Transit for the first time and am sitting in what could be described as a basic L. Straight base, straight back, no frills, and guess what ... I'm totally comfortable! This immediately conjures my images of Joe Pilates' own vision for the human condition, in which he created his various apparatus to be as multi-tasking as possible, doubling as furniture in exercise downtime. His Wunda Chair flips from the abdominally assaulting spring action device into a unexpectedly impressive seat that forces proper posture in the most unassuming way. His Cadillac piece originated as a frame that rolled over your bed so you could wake up and begin stretching and strengthening before your feet hit the floor. He even designed wheelchairs with pedals to be used to strengthen an infirm, non-ambulatory person within it. Daily life and exercise, exercise and daily life -- they can fit together so nicely if we allow for it. So what to do in the interim while we are awaiting contact from a major airline requesting the research and redesign of seats that serve the greater good rather than catering to the already bad? Here are some stretching and strengthening tips to make your next trip one in which to build a little extra body awareness so you might walk away a little less worse for wear.

Because sitting tends to be a passive activity for most, muscles you'd think would relax -- after all they seem to be doing so little -- actually stiffen.

Here are some ways I like to make travel time bearable: there are no prescribed repetitions, although stretches can be held a good 30 seconds or more if you're not in pain, use your own internal meter and some common sense. With a little concentrated effort the smallest moves can have the biggest impact.
  1. Toe Tucks For Tuckered Tootsies: Point your toes underneath you and press the knuckles of your feet into the floor to stretch the tops of your feet/toes and ankles.
  2. Figure Four Hip opener: Cross your right ankle over left knee in a figure 4 position. Sit up tall and allow your right knee to 'fall' open as much as your body allows. You may slowly increase this sensation by placing your right elbow/forearm onto your right knee and leaning forward gently pressing down on your right knee. Next, sit tall and press the heel of your right hand against the knee. Use this leverage to help you sit taller and draw your abdominals in and up your spine. This move is as much to lengthen your low back as it is to open the hip. Remember to breathe!
  3. Next, add a twist by placing both hands on the outside of your right leg and twisting to the right, lifting your waist as you do. Switch sides and repeat the entire sequence from numbers 2-4 .
  4. Up Rack for your Upper Back: Sitting up tall in your seat, begin inflating your chest on an inhalation and allowing your chest to float upward. As you do this you will feel an arch beginning to form in your mid-back region. Continue to lift your chest and allow your face to turn skyward as well. Hold your breath in the uppermost position your reach and then slowly release the breath as you return to the starting position. Ideally you want the upward movement to take a count of 5, the breath-hold to be a count of 5 and the recoil to start to take about 10 counts. Again, internal meter and common sense are in play.
  5. Covert Surrender. This stretch releases the shoulders and upper back. Fold your arms in front of you (genie style) and slowly lift them upwards until, ideally, biceps are alongside your ears or even behind them. Back is long and abs are engaged. Brainteaser: try to repeat this with your arms folded in the opposite pattern. (i.e. if right hand was tucked under left bicep try to tuck the left hand under the right bicep.) This neuromuscular repatterning play can help expand your mind and improve your coordination.
Happy travels!