Practices for airline flights (or any cramped quarters)
When we’re ready to go on retreat or vacation, we’re ready! We’ve prepped. We’ve packed. We’ve boarded the plane. Yet the experience of actually flying can leave us cramped and cranky, just the opposite of being ready for the retreat experience. The remedy? Try 5 poses for in-flight yoga.
As someone who loves traveling and leads a number of international retreats throughout the year, I make it a point to begin my retreat while I’m on the airplane. Practicing yoga on the plane allows me to arrive in a calm and collected state, fully prepared to open up and delve deep.
You can also utilize these techniques to land ready to be the boss on business trips.
Here are my five favorite yoga poses to practice on an airplane:
1. Parsva Tadasana (Side-Bending Mountain Pose)
Try practicing this pose when you’re standing in line for the bathroom instead of watching a movie over someone’s shoulder. This provides relief from long periods in airline seats; when you’re sitting on an airplane for a long time, your spine can get crunched and compressed, so it feels great to elongate and stretch it out.
Find a comfortable place to stand with your weight evenly distributed between your two feet. Raise both arms overhead and gently bend toward the right, feeling the stretch in the right side of the body. Take a few breaths and enjoy the sensation of decompression. Come back to center and repeat on the other side. If you don’t have enough room to extend your arms overhead, then keep your hands on your hips while you bend to one side and then the other, focusing on the extension in the side of your waist and chest.
2. Eka Pada Galavasana (Standing Figure Four)
This one is a little bit risqué for an airplane stretch, but I like to live on the edge! My butt physically starts to ache after sitting on long flights, and this stretch relieves the pain a little bit.
Stand with your knees slightly bent and place your right ankle on top of your left thigh, just above your knee. Bend both knees a little—or a lot if you have the space—and you can even fold forward to play around with the stretch and the sensation. Take a few breaths and slowly ease out of the pose (making sure not to bump into anyone) and then switch sides. You can also try this pose in front of or next to your seat, especially if you are sitting on the aisle.
Try a variation of this pose while actually in your seat by placing your ankle on top of the opposite thigh just above the knee. Sit tall and slightly fold forward to vary your position and feel the stretch in your glutes. (This is where I love to have comfy socks so I’m not doing it in shoes or bare feet.)
3. Padahastasana (Hand Under Foot Pose)
This is a super compact stretch that you can practice by the restrooms or in the aisles. If you arrange yourself just right, you might even be able to practice it standing up in front of your seat. I love this pose because it does double duty by stretching the hamstrings and wrists. I know my wrists are usually sore from furiously typing and trying to get work done on my computer in close quarters during the flight.
Begin with a simple forward fold and place the palms of your hands under the soles of your feet for the wrist stretch variation. Please make sure not to strain yourself. remember you want to arrive refreshed! So bend your knees or modify this pose as needed.
4. Standing Dancer’s Pose / Quad Stretch
The quad stretch is a no-brainer to counteract the seated position. Start out standing on one foot (remember to connect the sole of the foot with the floor to find steadiness) and bend the opposite knee while lifting the foot back toward your glute. Reach behind you for the ankle or foot (wherever you can comfortably grasp). Stay here and enjoy the stretch in the front of the thigh or quadriceps muscles; if you’re feeling bold (and aren’t at risk of kicking anyone else in the face!), go for a variation of the full expression and extend to dancer’s pose by drawing the bent leg behind you and even lifting up the opposite arm. Fortunately, even the simple standing quad stretch feels great.
5. Practice Deep Breathing in Your Seat
Between negotiating traffic to the airport to make your flight on time, getting through security, and standing in long lines, traveling can increase your blood pressure, to say the least! Meditating and breathing with intention can help reduce stress and anxiety so you arrive at your destination cool, calm, collected, and ready. Sometimes the best yoga pose of all is taking a deep breath and simply paying attention to how you feel in the moment. Repeat this simple breath practice: Inhale fully, hold your breath ever so slightly at the top of the inhalation, and then release the exhalation slowly. Focus on the exhalation, which creates a calming effect.
A few simple poses practiced on the plane can help relieve the stress of flying, keep our blood flowing and our bodies flexible, and can kick-start our restoration even before we land, allowing us to take full advantage of every moment of our travel.