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I recently took a long flight from Europe to the US. I cheaped out and went for the budget option. It was a great flight (big shout-out to Norwegian Air), even without entertainment or complimentary airplane food (for the record, I really enjoy airplane food). The flight was just over 7 hours. I quickly realized that I needed to entertain myself. I brought a book, listened to a podcast, and did some staring out the window. And then, boom, my low back began to ache. So I decided to try out some yoga to pass the time and take care of my body.
Some weird things can happen to your body in the air. Your blood has lower oxygen which can make you feel sleepy, your nose may dry out due to the air in the plane, and the blood in your feet and legs can stagnate, sometimes causing them to swell. Bottom line: adjusting to these environmental changes will keep you healthy and happy!
So how do you keep yourself in a zen state and your body happy while in the air? Yoga on the plane!
What a crazy idea, right? Actually, not at all. Well, at first glance a plane may not seem to be the best place to do yoga. Tight spaces, strangers and questionable cleanliness are all factors that may influence a sky-high flow. And let’s face it, doing certain positions in your chair may draw some attention from your neighbor. But yoga is accepted as a healthy and viable activity while you travel and multiple suggested exercises that are yoga-related can have tremendous benefits. Some airports even offer yoga rooms to practice in.
With the spirit of yoga and social appropriateness in mind, below is a brief yoga flow you can do on short and long haul flights!
Deep breathing - This one is straight forward. Breath in for 5 counts, hold for 1 count, and breath out for 5 counts. As you progress, try to double the exhale, turning it into a slow 10 count.
Benefits: relaxes and grounds you (I know, an interesting concept when you are up in the clouds!).
Downsides: your nose may be dry from the plane air and you could be dehydrated. Drink plenty of water!
Anulom vilom pranayam - It is an alternate breathing technique that is very powerful in relaxing the mind and calming the body. Close your eyes. Breathe in from left nostril closing right nostril with thumb and breathe out from right nostril closing left nostril with ring finger and middle finger.
Benefits: relaxes and balances your body.
Downsides: that dry plane air! Blow your nose before this one.
Kapalbhati breath - This one is a bit of an advanced technique, yet with regular practice you will quickly feel the benefits. Take a deep, cleansing breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Inhale deeply through your nose, then forcefully expel all the air from your lungs while drawing your navel in toward your spine. Then, let your lungs fill up naturally again, with no effort as your belly expands.
Perform this cycle 10 times and go back to normal breathing.
Benefits: engages abdominals by contraction.
Downsides: may creep the neighbor out (make sure the green light for the restroom is on for this one!).
Chair pose with toes pointed up - You are already sitting, so chair pose just makes sense! Lean slightly forward and curl your toes up. Extend your arms out, up and overhead, or if you are able, grab on to the seat in front of you.
Benefits: promotes blood flow and stretching.
Downsides: may irritate the person in front of you. (You could always give them a head's up, and maybe even start a chair pose train on the plane.).
Chair twist - Come into that seated chair pose and twist, bringing the left hand to the right knee and reverse. Your top arm can go up or remain on the knee.
Benefits: promotes blood flow and stretching, moving chi throughout your body.
Downsides: may get weird if you are sitting in a middle seat.
Seated forward fold - While seated, bring your abdominals to the top of the thighs. If able, bring your head in between your knees. Allow your arms to hang and relax.
Benefits: reverses blood flow and promotes circulation.
Downsides: may find a weird surprise under the seat. Yikes!
Meditate - Meditation is one the best unkept secret! Start with setting your timer to 5, 10 or 15 minutes. There are numerous Apps you can download with efficient and easy to follow guided meditation.
Benefits: provides mental clarity and peace. Time will fly.
Downsides: you may miss the call for free snacks if you go too inward!
So there you have it! A few ideas on how to do yoga on a plane. For the record, you can invent your own pose variations and movements based on what you need while being respectful of others, share them below in the comments.