Woman standing under departure signs in an airport

“How yoga and meditation have helped to reduce my car sickness symptoms”

Posted by for Wellbeing

There’s nothing more unfair than getting to your mid-20s or 30s and finding that you still get travel sick. If you’ve tried those little wrist bands, tablets and staring into the distance, writer and motion sickness warrior Sakshi Udavant has found another, more promising solution.

I love travelling, but there’s one thing that always holds me back: car sickness. It’s difficult to enjoy road trips if you feel nauseous five minutes in.

Motion sickness is a really odd and annoying thing. Those of us who live with it feel ill when our bodies detect movement when we’re not actually moving ourselves. Our eyes and inner ears can see and feel that we’re in transit, but the rest of our body is still. That juxtaposition sends conflicting signals to your brain, causing a disconnect and makes you feel sick. 

In 1977, cognitive psychologist Michel Treisman came up with a theory that suggested motion sickness is an evolutionary adaptation to protect ourselves from being poisoned. He proposed that some poisons affect the vestibular system (parts of the inner ear involved in balance) in ways similar to how motion sickness feels, so the body tries to vomit out the poison.

While thankful that my body has some excellent self-preservation mechanisms, that’s hardly useful when planning on travelling somewhere. I don’t want to spend a two-hour plane ride or car journey dry heaving into a plastic bag.

There are plenty of tips out there for reducing motion sickness, including looking into the distance, taking deep breaths and consuming ginger. But I’ve tried those and even the thought of boarding a coach has me breaking out in cold sweat. So, I’ve decided to try something a little more long-term

After a quick search online, I found that yoga is supposed to be helpful in managing motion sickness. “Yoga gives a general boost to all the systems of the body and allows them to come into balance and communicate more effectively,” says Alice Chadwick, an Iyengar yoga teacher.

How yoga can help manage motion sickness

Chadwick says yoga develops our awareness of the placement of the body in space. “Balances (on one leg or on the hands) and inversions (like headstand or shoulder stand) help to train the brain to ‘map’ where the body is and how it is moving/not moving, even in unusual positions,” she explains. “So when communication between the brain and the motion sensors of the body improves, complaints such as motion sickness may gradually reduce in severity.”

The only problem? You can’t really do yoga in the middle of a car or plane (unless you get a whole row to yourself, and even then it’s a stretch). That’s why using yoga to manage motion sickness is more of a before and after thing rather than a during thing. 

However, if you want something handy to manage the symptoms in the moment, Libby Stevenson, a yoga instructor and women’s health coach, suggests using meditation and breathing exercises to help manage car sickness during the trip. 

“Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through pursed lips,” she advises when you notice the symptoms arising. “Place the hands below the belly button and feel them rise on the inhale and lower on the exhale.”

Trying yoga as a solution to car sickness

Following all this advice, I wake up 30 minutes earlier to pack in a soothing yoga session before going on holiday. I know yoga is supposed to be helpful, but I’m still sceptical that it will be able to help reduce something I’ve struggled with all my life.

However, I’m pleasantly surprised that my journey is smoother than usual. Sure, I still feel dizzy during particularly bumpy roads and have a headache for a few hours, but I don’t feel as nauseated as usual. When I do feel sick, I use Stevenson’s meditation technique and feel a wave of calm wash over me. 

Woman standing on one leg
Alice explains that balance poses that involve standing on one leg can help the brain to map the body's movement - reducing motion sickness.

For the first three days of my trip, I keep up with the morning yoga routine but then start lagging behind. And as soon as the breathing and stretching stops, I start feeling more and more sick when on the move.

I can’t tell if it’s a placebo effect or whether yoga has genuinely helped cool my symptoms. I’ve been practising yoga for several years now so it’s interesting how profound the impact of doing a quick pre-trip flow has been. Clearly, it’s not about how long you’ve been practising for, but when you do it (ie hopping on the mat just before travelling, rather than doing a regular yoga class for 10 years). And yoga teachers say that even beginners can reap the benefits. 

“Most yoga poses offer variations for beginners,” said Thimela Garcia, a yoga teacher and a holistic health author. “Don’t feel intimidated by the name or look of yoga poses, just start with a short 10-15 minute routine and increase accordingly.”

4 yoga poses for managing motion sickness

Yoga teachers suggest the following poses to help manage motion sickness:

Mountain pose (tadasana) 

Stevenson said this pose helps with motion sickness because it realigns the spine upright and improves our breathing by opening the collarbones and lifting the rib cage, allowing us to take deeper breaths which has been shown to help alleviate motion sickness. It also gives the digestive organs space which can help ease the feeling of nausea and the inclination to vomit, she added.

Balancing poses such as Tree Pose (vriksasana), Warrior 3 (virabhadrasana 3) and Eagle Pose (garudasana)

These poses strengthen the parts of the brain that deal with balance, Stevenson said. Since motion sickness is triggered by a discrepancy in the parts of the brain that deal with balance, doing balancing poses on a regular basis can reduce our chances of getting motion sickness.

Woman in eagle pose
Poses like eagle pose, mountain pose and tree pose can all help, as well as calm, deep breathing.

Meditation and breathing techniques

For meditation, she suggested trying alternative nostril breathing. However, she advises avoiding Ujjayi and Kapalabhati techniques as they heat up the body and can worsen the sensation of motion sickness.

Of course, there’s no guarantee these techniques will eliminate your motion sickness for good because there tend to be many factors at play. But I’ve found that they genuinely do help to reduce the severity of symptoms, and that means having an infinitely more pleasant trip.

Images: Getty/Live Yoga Teachers

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