Airplane Yoga – 8 Poses To Practice On A Long Flight


Don’t we all love to travel! But the thought of squeezing yourself into those tiny seats, sitting for long hours, feeling bloated and bored … does kind of dampen the excitement, doesn’t it? Most people, especially avid traveler’s, very well know how strenuous traveling can be for the body and mind.

Especially the long flights, where you are wedged into cramped airplane seats, with your knees stroking against the back of the seat in front of you, your elbows struggling for space on the single armrest, and not to mention the lack of proper sleep. Everything takes a toll and gives rise to a dull ache building in the body, numbness, restless leg syndrome and uneasiness, resulting in stress and anxiety .

In most cases, all that time in the sky – anywhere from couple of hours to a day long journey crossing multiple time zones, can be extremely daunting for the human body. “The important thing people need to realize about an airplane cabin is it’s really not a healthy environment,” says Leslie Kaminoff, a yoga therapist and breathing specialist in New York.

Other factors that affect the body and mind are the fact that crusing that high altitude may make you feel like you are high up in the mountains as there is less available oxygen in the cabin and humidity is also generally 10-15% lower than the normal condition.

Another risk involved with long hours of immobility is developing leg clots or deep vein thrombosis (DVP). It is also commonly known as the ‘economy class syndrome’.  Drying out of nasal cavity, dry skin, dehydration, feeling bloated, tired, etc., are a few other side effects of long flights and that’s why some people dread the thought of it.

While drinking lot of water, walking up and down, eating in moderation, keeping your skin hydrated, avoiding alcohol and sugar-laden food and drinks, etc., are a few ways to avoid uneasiness and keeping your immune system strong, the practice of Yoga on airplane can make the grueling airplane experience more comfortable and less unhealthy.  

Yes, the science of Yoga isn’t confined to a definite space like a Yoga studio or home; it can be practiced anywhere, on your chair, at your office and of course, even on an airplane! It can help you reap benefits of a good stretch, become mindful about your inhalations and exhalations, calm your mind and ease anxiety. Let us look at a few more benefits of in-flight asanas.

Benefits of Yoga on an Airplane:

1. Alleviates muscle tension: Sitting in a compact space or seat during long flights can get highly uncomfortable and can cause muscle tension. The practice of yoga stretches such as neck rolls, shoulder lifts, arm stretching, etc., helps in releasing the tension, muscle kinks and pain and stiffness in joints.

2. Improves blood circulation: It’s common for many of us to experience a tingling sensation and numbness in the legs. This occurs due to poor blood flow. Subtle yoga movements ensure healthy blood flow throughout the region of the body thus reducing numbness of body parts.

3. Eases anxiety: Mindful and deep inhalations and exhalations during the flight can get the oxygen and nutrients circulating, which in turn soothe the nerves and decrease anxiety. A calm mind and body helps elevate your mood and health for the trip ahead.

4. Strengthens the body: The practice of yoga poses on an airplane strengthens the tissues, muscles, ligaments surrounding the spinal area and other body parts. When the body is robust, there are fewer chances of blood clotting, restless leg syndrome, or no or poor sleep during the flight.

The following are chair variations for 8 Yoga stretches that can be performed with ease by anyone on an airplane. Try these on your next flight, without worrying about disturbing your neighbour. And who knows … you may even inspire them to practice Yoga!  

1. Seated Forward Fold Pose (Paschimottanasana): Forward Folding yoga poses are calming and nurturing in nature. The forward fold reduces cortisol levels and fosters a sense of grounding.

Steps: In the seated position, inhale and raise your arms straight up, in line with your ears. As you breathe out, fold forward from your hip joints, moving your body (head to pelvis) as one unit, while keeping the spine straight. Relax your head and let your arms naturally drop down. Try and grab the toes if possible and relax.

2. Cat-Cow Stretch (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana): Cat-Cow stretch warms up the entire body and brings flexibility to the spine, which tends to get stiff due to prolonged sitting. This stretch improves blood circulation which benefits the internal organs and also helps improve our posture. .

Steps:  Lengthen your spine and place the hands on your thighs. Inhale and gently draw your chest forward and up as you allow it to expand. Same time roll your shoulders back and look in an upward direction. As you exhale, drop your chin closer to the chest, round your spine, pull your shoulders forward and gaze at your navel. Repeat the movement 5-6 times, synchronising it with the breath.

3. Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana): This is a great asana to stimulate the digestive fire, to release stiffness from the back & neck region, and to detoxify the body and relieve stress and tension.

Steps: Sit on the edge of the seat. Try and elongate your spine, and look ahead while you keep your head aligned with the spine.  Cross your right knee over your left knee and keep the right foot off the floor. Now stretch and place the left hand on the right knee. The right hand can rest on the armrest or you can bend and place right hand behind you. Be mindful of your inhalation and exhalation and gently twist to your right and look over your right shoulder.

Repeat the same movement on the other side.

4. Eagle Pose (Garudasana): When done on a chair, this pose works as upper body workout and releases shoulder tension effectively.

Steps: Sit with a straight spine. Extend the arms in front of you, parallel to the floor. Cross the arms in a manner that right arm is above the left and bend your elbows, with the right elbow resting on the left elbow. Your palms will be facing each other as you raise your forearms and keep them perpendicular to the floor, giving a deep stretch to your shoulders.

You can practice this pose either by simply placing your legs on the floor or crossing one leg over the other like you would do in a standing variation. Keep the hands in the same position and cross the left leg over the right. If possible, go all the way and hook the left foot behind the right calf.

5. Fire-Log Pose (Agnistambhasana): Give your hips a good stretch with Agnistambhasana. This pose opens the hips and assists in the release of pent-up emotions. However, considering you have limited space to move around, the following are easy-to-do step for a chair variation.

Steps: Sit on the edge of your seat with a straight spine and place both legs firmly on the floor. Bend your left knee and stack the left ankle exactly on top of the right knee. Rest your left hand on the left knee and gently push it downward. Same time with your right hand, ensure the left ankle does not move or slip.  Feel the stretch around the hip and inner thighs and breathe.

Repeat the movement with the left foot down and right knee bent.  

6. Cow-Face Pose (Gomukhasana): This is another great hip-opener yoga pose with an added reward of shoulder and chest stretch. It may be challenging to sit and bend your knees, in which case you can focus only on the upper body stretch.  

Steps: If you can, sit with both knees bent such that one knee (left) is directly over the other knee (right). If sitting like this on a tiny chair is uncomfortable, then simply sit straight and place your feet firmly on the floor or cross your legs such that the left knee is above the right. For the upper body stretch, begin with bending your left elbow and sweeping the left arm behind, resting the back of your left hand between your shoulder blades.

Now raise our right hand and bend the elbow such that the right palm rests on your back. If possible, clasp the fingers of both hands together. While you do this, keep the head and spine straight and breathe normally. Repeat the stretch with left elbow pointing up and right elbow pointing down. If sitting cross legged or with knees bent, remember to switch the legs too.

7. Easy Ankle, Neck, Shoulder Rolls: Practice these simple stretches from time to time to to melt the tension away.  

Steps: Sit straight and place your feet firmly on the floor. For neck rolls, relax your shoulders and drop your your left ear towards the left shoulder. Then gently roll your head sideways, bringing chin to the chest and then right ear to the right shoulder. Repeat this movement 5 to 10 times.

For shoulder rolls, create gentle circular movements by first moving your shoulder forward, then upward, backward and downward. Repeat this 5-10 times with breath awareness.

For ankle circles, raise one leg at a time and rotate your ankle in clockwise and anticlockwise direction.

8. Seated Corpse Pose (Savasana): Once you have practiced a few stretches, you can consciously relax each and every part of your body and relax like how you would in a Corpse Pose.

Steps: Sita back and rest your hands on your knees with palms up. Spread your feet 2-3 inches apart. Close your eyes. Move the awareness from your feet to ankles, knees, hips, lower back, mid back, upper back, neck, fingers, forearms, shoulders, face muscles, and finally bring the awareness to your breath. Relax your body from head to toe and let go and tune into the inner silence.

Author bio:

Bipin Baloni is a passionate Yogi, Yoga Teacher and a Traveler in India. He organizes 200 hour yoga teacher training in Nepal. Bipin Baloni conducts Yoga Teacher Training in India in different cities. He loves writing and reading books related to yoga, health, nature and the Himalayas. 

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