Airplanes were definitely not designed with the yoga practitioner in mind. Being scrunched up in an airplane seat with your shoulders curled forward, hip flexors flexed, and your knees bent in a seated position can be very unhealthy.
Tack on a long flight in those uncomfortable seats and it’s a recipe for stiffness. Since I began teaching and leading retreats internationally I have learned a thing or two about jet lag, delayed flights, and general tightness of the body.
1. Stay hydrated.
There is not a single yoga pose that does what water can do for your body. It’s so easy to get dehydrated up in the air, so make sure you’re drinking a lot of water before your flight.
I always bring an empty water bottle in my bag and fill it up with water once I get through security, either at a water fountain or at a coffee shop.
When you’re flying on long-haul flights, many airplanes have water bottles available near the restrooms, so make sure you’re walking around and getting water mid-flight as well.
Expert tip: Bring an empty travel mug and herbal tea bags with you before a long flight. Fill the mug up with hot water from the airplane’s water dispenser and enjoy a nice cup of tea. Sipping mint tea during a long flight can help your digestive system and keep you hydrated.
2. Improve your circulation.
Have you ever had swollen ankles after a long flight? Sitting with your knees bent for hours in an airplane seat makes it hard for the legs to pump blood back up toward the heart.
On my most recent trip from Miami to Asia, I wore black compression leggings pulled down over my ankles. They weren’t the easiest to take off in those small airplane bathrooms, but my legs felt great after traveling for 24 hours straight.
3. Stretch it out.
Start with a few poses to create length in the hamstrings and back. You can also try a few poses that help to open up the front body.
Anything that will help to stretch you out and make you feel refreshed is worth practicing before a long flight. Try the two poses listed below to help stretch out the body.
Step by step:
- Stand with your feet hip distance apart and fold forward, slightly bending the knees.
- Grab onto opposite elbows and hang gently for 10 breaths. Switch the crossing of your arms and hold for another 10 breaths.
- Move your head gently left to right. In order to release your neck, roll back up to standing.
Sanskrit: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Step by step:
- Lay on your back with knees bent 90 degrees and feet hip distance apart.
- Push down through your feet and lift your seat off the floor, walking your arms closer together underneath your back to lift your chest up higher. Stay here for 10 breaths and gently lower back down.
4. Make the most of your time.
Once you’ve made it to the airplane and you’re in your seat, try incorporating hourly shoulder and ankle rolls to help keep the blood flowing and your body limber.
You can also try gentle seated twists in your seat to keep your spine tall. If your flight is longer than a couple hours, make sure to get up and walk around.
I like to make my way to the back of the plane where there is a little more space and do some standing poses that don’t take up a lot of room such as Eagle pose, Standing Half Forward Bend, and Mountain pose.
If you’ve got a layover and a few minutes to spare, try Downward-Facing Dog. The rush of blood to your head and the stretch down your hamstrings makes you feel refreshed. A few standing side stretches and a round of Pigeon pose can also make your body feel great.
Once you’ve made it to your final far-away destination, the best way to prevent aches and pains and to ward off jet lag is to get your body moving again.
Try walking around your new city or hitting up a yoga class. Getting your circadian rhythm up to speed will help you to get the most out of your long journey so you can enjoy every minute.
Safe and happy travels!