Yoga has been a part of my life for nearly 10 years. It has been the one form of “exercise” that I have consistently practiced. I put quotations around the word exercise because, my yogis know this, it’s so much more than exercise. Actually, the exercise aspect of yoga is a byproduct of the practice itself, in my opinion. After diving deeper into my practice, and becoming a certified yoga teacher, I realized how much yoga is transferable from the mat to my everyday life. One big bonus is how I can use yoga when I travel.
I put a lot of preparation into my health when it comes to traveling on airplanes. Aside from keeping my immune system in tip-top shape, I have to keep my body in alignment before, during and after the flight. I have been known to be that whacky girl sitting on the floor in the airport lounge or outside of the gates stretching my hamstrings or quads!
Fear not! You do not have to do these stretches at the airport. These yoga stretches and poses can be done in the privacy of your home/hotel before you take off and once you’ve landed.
Sitting in the cramped airplane seats and experiencing extremely high altitude and dehydration is tough on the skeletal and muscular system. Not forgetting any neck pain you may have from falling asleep in odd positions during the flight! So without further ado, here are 5 of my favorite yoga poses to stretch, reconnect, and slow your body down pre- and post-flight.
POSE #1: ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA – Downward-Facing Dog
Technique: Lay face down on the floor. Place the palms beside your chest. Press through the palms to lift the chest, pelvis, and legs off the floor. Hips lift up and back until you are in downward-facing dog. Create space between the ears and the shoulders. Wrap your biceps towards the front of the mat. If needed, slightly bend the knees. If possible, keep legs straight and engage the thighs by drawing the kneecaps up. Breathe fully and deeply for 5-10 breaths.
Benefits: Downward-facing dog is so good for so many reasons! It relieves pain and stiffness in the heels, stretches the backs of the legs, alleviates stiffness in the shoulder joints, strengthens the abdominal muscles, and brings a healthy flow of blood to the brain. I LOVE downward facing dog after I fly because I feel much more grounded once my brain gets a healthy dose of blood supply.
POSE #2 GARUDASANA – Eagle Pose
I modify this one because I only do the arm portion of eagle pose. With this, I am looking to stretch the trapezius muscles and the scapula, not focusing on the legs or balancing.
Technique: Either sit cross-legged or on a block. (If you’d like to stand, you can also incorporate leg stretches by twisting one leg over the other, repeating on the other side–or simply stand with both feet planted firmly on the ground.) Stretch your arms straight forward, parallel to the floor, palms facing each other and spread your scapulas wide across your back. Cross the arms in front of your torso so that the right arm is above the left, then bend your elbows. Snuggle the right elbow into the crease of the left, and raise the forearms perpendicular to the floor. The backs of your hands should be facing each other. Continue to wrap the left palm towards your face and upwards to eventually touch and press into the right palm. Switch sides.
Benefits: Releases tightness between shoulder blades and across sacrum, which is very helpful when sitting in an upright seated position for a long flight. Helps loosen the wrists and stretches the muscles in and around the shoulders: infraspinatus, teres minor/ major, and trapezius. Working on the shoulder muscles helps to relax them so they stop creeping up your neck, which eliminates pesky neck pain.
POSE #3 JANU SIRASANA – Head to knee forward fold.
Technique: Sitting on the floor, stretch both legs in front of you. Keeping the outside of the left leg on the ground, bend the knee and open it outwards. Place the sole of the left foot on the thin side of the right thigh. Extend your hands towards the right foot. If possible, grab onto the big toe. If you cannot reach the foot, you can hold below the kneecap (do not grab onto the kneecap). Reach your chest towards your right foot and slowly fold down, aiming for your head to rest on your knee.
Benefits: Dehydration is not beneficial for digestion. This pose aids in digestion, which is extremely helpful due the dehydration that can happen when you are 30,000+ feet in the air. The hamstrings and calves get a solid stretch in this pose. The spine is also decompressing as you begin to reach the chest forward and fold down.
POSE #4 SUPINE SPINAL TWIST
Technique: Lay flat on your back. Bend your knees and lift your feet off the floor until your shins are parallel to the floor. Reach your arms outwards at shoulder height (body is like a T shape.) Gently lower both legs towards the left side for the spinal twist. Work to keep your knees stacked, ankles together and both shoulders on the ground. Alternatively, twist the legs for a deeper stretch. Stay here for 5-10 breaths. Switch sides.
Benefits: Helps to release the lumbar spine. Creates space in the shoulders and helps relieve tightness. Stretches spinal muscles that are activated while sitting or standing. The gentle twist in the abdominal region is great for digestion. Similar to a wet towel–when twisted the water is wrung out.
POSE #5 SAVASANA – Corpse pose
Technique: Lay flat on the floor on your backside. Move the pelvis until you find your weight resting on the lowest part of your tailbone (this helps to find the natural curve in the spine). Reach your legs out and slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Reach your arms out, palms facing up. Relax and breathe for 3-5 minutes.
Benefits: Can help to lower the heart rate and blood pressure. Relaxes the mind and body. Reduces headaches. I personally love savasana after flying because my body needs the still connected to the earth to ground and recenter my mind, body, and nervous system after the altitude and high speed of flying.
Next time you travel, try out these 5 yoga stretches and poses! Feel free to add in any other favorite poses to make your practice even more delightful. Happy stretching!
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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling, Caitlyn Gibson, Wikimedia Commons, Crystal Chin