Earlier this month I was sitting on a cramped plane for 5+ hours debating on how quickly I'd be tackled by security if I grabbed the loudspeaker and led a mile high yoga class. As I looked around, people were sleeping with their necks at unreasonable angles, legs scrunched up, or fidgeting to find an ounce of relief in their tight backs. So many bodies would benefit from some deep breathing and lengthening poses...I think I'm on to something here. There are many serious side effects for allowing our bodies to stay stagnant in cramped spaces for long periods of time including:
- deep vein thrombosis
- poor blood circulation
With plane seats getting smaller and the space in front of us getting shorter, it's up to us to nurture our bodies on those long flights. So, I started modifying yoga poses that were accessible in my plane seat and for when it was safe to move about the cabin. Sure, I may have gotten a few furrowed eyebrows from the guy across from me, but I didn't care. My body was in need and I listened. After all, that's what we learn in yoga right? Listen to our bodies.
Without further ado,the following are yoga poses you should carry-on to your next plane flight to help improve circulation and release anxiety!
*Bonus: Want to take this with you? Here's a PDF for you to print out or download to your phone: Yoga Poses for Your Next Plane Flight PDF
Like in a class, breathing can have a dramatic effect on lowering anxiety levels and fear. If you have an Ujjayi practice, use it on the plane whenever you feel yourself get anxious or agitated. For a simple breath: close your eyes and begin to lengthen your breath to 4 or 5 seconds on the inhales and 4 to 5 even seconds on the exhales. Begin to take notice of where you feel the sensation of the breath the deepest. Draw all of your attention there. Follow the breath. Any thoughts that come into the mind - label them as thoughts and take a step back, bringing all of your attention to the breath. Continue this breath for as long as you like.
Cat / Cow
Place hands palms down on knees - sitting up tall. Inhale - arch the back drawing the shoulder blades away from the ears and down as you draw the chest through and gaze forward or up. Exhale - round the spine as you tuck your chin to your chest and tuck your tailbone (creating a C with your spine). Draw your belly to your spine. Repeat 10 - 15 times.
Sit tall - on your inhales draw your shoulders up towards your ears and on your exhales release your shoulders down your back - creating circles with your shoulders. 15 rolls in each directions.
Inhale - lengthen through the spine. Exhale - placing your right hand on your left knee / thigh and your left hand on the low back - begin to twist to the left. Stay for 5 breaths and then reverse directions.
Bend your elbows and lift your arms so your upper arms are parallel to the floor (creating a 90 degree angle) with palms facing each other. Position the right elbow under the left and begin to draw the back of your hands together. Release the shoulders down the back and take 10 deep breaths. Switch arms.
Extended Mountain Pose (arms)
Raise arms up overhead with palms facing each other and fingers reaching towards the ceiling. Draw shoulder blades down the back. Hold for 5 - 10 breaths. Extending up slight bend to your right for a left side stretch (be careful not hit your friend next to you!) and switch directions.
Thread the Needle (modified)
Sit tall and cross your right ankle over your left thigh (towards the knee). Keep your right foot flexed. As you inhale extend through the spine and on your exhale forward fold - being mindful of the seat in front of you. Hold for 15 breaths then switch sides.
Lift your right thigh (optional: hold under the right thigh with your hands for support) and begin to do circles with the ankle, do a few rounds of pointing and flexing, and then circle the other way. Switch legs.
Here are a few poses for when the seatbelt light goes off and it is safe to move about the cabin.
Standing tall with your left hand on your seat or in the back of the cabin against the wall near the bathroom for support (we all know about turbulence) - bend your right knee so your right foot draws back near your buttocks. Grab hold of your right ankle and draw the ankle away from your hips until you feel a good stretch in your thighs. Hold for 5 breaths and switch legs.
Extended Mountain Pose
Similar to when you were seated - find your foundation in your legs and raise your arms up overhead (draw them forward not to the side and be mindful of other passengers and crew). Release the shoulders away from the ears and bathe in the glory of your body being fully extended. On an inhale draw the arms to the right (keeping the left shoulder open - i.e don't let it dip forward) and then to the other side.
That should help get you through your flight! Be sure to also stay well hydrated and I wish you all safe travels!
*If you have poses that you love to practice on a plane I'd love to hear them, post on our Facebook Wall and share what keeps your body lengthened during long flights!
Certified yoga teacher, writer and artist