Yoga on airplanes. It didn’t even occur to me that this was a thing. But I’m getting ready to do a long international flight and my yoga instructor suggested some asanas for the trip. It used to be that our biggest concern on long flights was the smoking section wafting toward us unwelcome. But just as dangerous as enduring second-hand smoke is the thought of sitting for 12 hours in a cramped, petri-dish of an aircraft, begging for deep vein thrombosis. Yoga to the rescue. Take a look at the list below for some simple yet effective in-flight poses.
Starting at the Top, Working Your Way Down
1. Head and neck rolls – these are about the simplest way to begin and require the least amount of space. Let your head drop gently toward your chest. Allow the heaviness to hold this position for a few seconds. Then begin to circle your head to one side, all the way around until your chin reaches your chest again. Do this several times, and then reverse. You can modify the stretch slightly by the position of your chin as it approaches your shoulders. Turn your chin to face toward the shoulder or to the front of the shoulder for a different stretch.
2. Arm twist – modify garudasana for a seated posture. With your arms out in front of your body, wrap the right arm under and around the left so that palms are touching. Raise your arms slightly to increase the wonderful stretch you’ll feel in your shoulders. This is a great pose to do before the flight takes off to get your upper body ready for the uncomfortable seats.
3. Front of shoulders – scoot forward in your seat (better to do this one when the seat in front of you is fully upright), clasp your hands behind you, keeping your arms as straight as possible. Press the hands down and lower your head slightly.
4. Spinal stretch – still seated, roll your hips forward and stick your chest out (imagine your chest is filled with helium and is lifting you upward) and allow your head to fall back gently. Think of your spine as a letter “s” as you form the letter, then invert it. Once your head is back, begin there and reverse the process, undulating the spine with the gentle forward and back motions.
5. Torso twist – you can do this with both feet on the ground or with one on your seat if you can manage. You can simply twist to one side, grabbing the side of your seat if possible, hold for half a minute, then switch to the other side. If you have enough room, bring your knee toward your chest, placing your foot on the seat. Twist to the side behind your raised leg and use your arm on your thigh to increase the stretch.
6. Thighs and ankles – alternate lifting the thighs up toward the cabin ceiling. If you have enough room, bring your thighs all the way to your chest (hold on to your seat for support). While you’re there, grab one leg at a time and pull it into your chest to give your tired bum a good stretch. As you lower each leg back to the floor, roll your ankle several times in one direction, then the other.
7. Walking – if you have the opportunity to cruise the cabin, do it! If you can make it to an area where you have just a little room, try a modified mountain pose. Feet together, standing tall, hands clasped together – raise the arms overhead and rise to the balls of your feet. Hold for 20-30 seconds. This is one of those full-body stretches you’ll relish whether in the air or on the ground.
Don’t let your body down while you’re up in the air. Live the yoga mat life wherever you go.