Pack light, stay grounded during travel & safely lift luggage overhead

keep calm and travel on ar-yogaA principle in life to remember is to travel light. You are traveling all the time. Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light. – Yogi Bhajan

Hi friends! The holidays are in full effect & people traveling from here to there is at it’s peak. I, myself, just went from LAX to Chicago O’hare International Airport. That is 2 hubs of pure madness- happy people, frustrated people, slow people, rushed people- you name it, I saw it. Of course, the physical therapist in me was also assessing everybody’s body mechanics- Ouch! Merry Christmas guy, that’s a rotator cuff injury for you, OoOoo! Happy Hanukkah Lady, neck pain for you, Ahhh! Happy New Year, there goes your low back. Not good folks! According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 54,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, clinics and other medical settings for injuries related to luggage in 2009. Injuries to the shoulder, neck, and back, may be caused by struggling & rushing with heavy, over-packed luggage.

The yogi & physical therapist in me want you to keep calm & travel on- injury free! Below, I pass on traveling tips & inspiring travel quotes. Enjoy! xoxo ar

“He who would travel happily must travel light.” – Antoine de Saint Exupéry

1) Keep it simple, keep it light: For starters, avoid buying luggage that is too heavy/bulky when empty. When arranging everything in it’s place, distribute the weight of your items into a couple bags instead of all in one large luggage piece. Lastly, pack lightly. I am the QUEEN of over-packing, but in my 3rd LAX to Chicago holiday traveling season, I may have finally got it down, yeahh! Shop online & have your gifts mailed to your final destination. For the first time, I didn’t check in! THAT SAVED ME as breezed through LAX with a sense of peace knowing I didn’t have to wait in the line to check bags in. The line, by the way, was OUT the door. I used a medium size duffel bag. Inside of it I placed a second small duffel bag, that way when I am on my leg back to Los Angeles, I’ll have a bag that I can check in containing any holiday presents I receive. When using a duffel or shoulder bag, if possible sling it across your chest & be sure to switch sides often. If you find yourself having to lean to one side in order to manage your shoulder bag, it is a sign that your bag is too heavy- either lighten your load or to decrease stress on your spine carry evenly weighted bags in both hands. My second carry on was a backpack. The AAOS has some good tips for backpack users: “When using a backpack, make sure it has two padded and adjustable shoulder straps to equally balance the weight. Choose a backpack with several compartments to secure various-sized items, packing the heavier things low and towards the center. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder does not allow weight to be distributed evenly. This can cause muscle strain.”

“To my mind, the greatest reward & luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

2) Stay grounded in the present moment: When traveling it’s easy for your mind to be in, you know, a tizz- A state of nervous excitement or confusion. We are all guilty of being so concerned about where we are going that we forget where we are. It is essential you stay grounded during travel. It can help you be a smooth operator and allow you to appreciate the small things. Being grounded is an issue that stems from the root (1st) chakra. Being grounded means you’re rooted in the “now” & thus your attention is focused on being in the present moment. When jumping from thought to thought, there’s a natural tendency to disconnect & go off into lala land. Being in monkey mind mode makes it hard to bring your attention to the outward world, remain in the “now”, & focus on the task at hand. So here insert traveling catastrophe- forgot my ID, forgot my money, forgot my camera, or Home Alone status I forgot my kid. On an energetic level, being grounded allows you to draw from the earth’s slower energy in order to be connected in that sense. Connecting to a source, like the earth, that exudes calming energy quiets the mind, grounds you, & brings you back into balance. All those people that are standing in long lines with a sense of peace on their face are the ones that are grounded. They value the mentality that to enjoy your journey you need to not take any given moment for granted & when any given moment arises that is not under your control- you roll with it. Learn more about grounding techniques & meditations on the Focus page under Grounding!

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey.” – Fitzhugh Mullan

3) Be mindful & slow down: We’ve all been there- Everyone’s all lined up in the aisle, antsy and rushed to find their seat and get settled & here you are in a tiny 2 foot wide aisle with your 30lb carry-on & the pressure to lift that thing overhead with ease is ON. You’re going to encounter people that get annoyed easily everywhere you go, their problem, not yours…so pause, breathe, and lift slowly.When you assess the risk vs reward of lifting luggage overhead hastily, mindlessly, & carelessly, the risks are: neck, back, & shoulder injuries; the rewards are: getting into your seat maybe 20-30 seconds faster & not annoying some person that shouldn’t even be on the forefront of your concerns. You make the call, are you going to slow down now because it’s your choice or slow down later due to a muscle, ligament, joint sprain or strain?

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

3) Travel Injury-free by carrying & lifting with proper body mechanics: The weight limit for carry-on items is generally about 40 lbs. (18.2 kg.), but think twice before attempting to lift that amount of weight overhead. Now is not the time to be Hercules. If you aren’t accustomed to lifting heavy items, honor your limitations and capabilities & ask for help (ain’t no shame in your game if you do) or stow heavy items under the seat in front of you, not overhead. Even if your carry item is light, but is oddly shaped, keep the following in mind: Leo M. Rozmaryn assessed injuries that occurred from baggage falling from overhead compartments & boxes, picture frames, and other oddly shaped items were the most likely to produce injuries with about 82% of these occurrences producing a bruising or laceration injury. Your journey is just beginning, so ensure that when lifting overhead you start by utilizing proper lifting techniques…

  • Get your body as close as possible to the object to be lifted
  • Position your feet at least shoulder width apart for stability. A narrow stance sets you up for instability.
  • Engage your core for spinal stability & low back injury prevention. When the deep core muscles are activated, the superficial spinal muscles will be less engaged, preventing you from straining them.
  • Your leg muscles are stronger than your back muscles. Bend your knees & hips while keeping your back straight as you lift the object.
  • Breathe! Inhale to prepare, exhale during the exertion. You will have more power in your lift and avoid the Valsalva Maneuver. The Valsalva Maneuver occurs when you hold your breath during heavy lifting. When holding your breath, you will decrease the venous blood return back to your heart and alter your blood pressure.
  • Airplane aisles are small, but try to avoid twisting and bending as much as possible. If you have to twist, stop, move your feet in small steps, and then continue with the lift.
  • Break up your overhead lift into several steps. First lift luggage onto the top of the seat, place your hands on the left and right sides of the suitcase, bend your knees & engage your core and lift it into the overhead bin while avoiding arching your back.
  • Never lift any object that causes pain!
  • If asking for help or 2 people are working to get something up overhead, communicate with each other! Tell the other person when you are letting go or if you feel that you are losing your grip to avoid injuring fellow passengers or flight attendants lending you a hand.

In the following video, Manu Kalia, a Physical Therapist who integrates Exercise Science and Ayurveda, demonstrates proper body mechanics and posture for squatting and lifting with an emphasis is on low back injury prevention.