Traveling by plane means dealing with a lot of changes in our environment, sometimes for an extended period of time. The aircraft cabins are pressurized so we can breathe at a high altitude where the oxygen becomes more thin, but even when configured perfectly our body is still impacted by this constructed environment. The lower oxygen levels cause sleepiness, the dry air makes our skin crispy and immune system weak, and because the air is cooled before being circulated, it is often too cold for comfort.
These subtle changes are actually a lot to deal with. Not to mention, sitting in one tiny space without much ability to move causes blood to collect in the legs and feet, which can lead to annoying and semi-painful swelling or even blood clots. But we all love traveling—and posting that photo of the wing of the plane above the clouds—so how can we improve this experience? The answer is yoga. In an ideal world, there would be time for a quick cycle class before departure and a nice vinyasa flow class shortly after arriving at the destination. But when that’s not an option, try this round-up of poses that can be done casually from the (dis)comfort of your seat so you don’t have to be “that guy” blocking the aisle.
Seated Cat Cow
Seated Cat Cow is a pose that not only brings movement to the spine, but also into the hip sockets as the sitz bones move along with the spine. This is an ideal pose to loosen up after sitting so rigidly for periods of time on a plane. Cat Cow pose is included in most yoga classes, but this seated variation can be done just about anywhere!
How to: Scoot to the front edge of the seat, and place the feet flat on the floor and hips width distance apart. Kick off the shoes if you please! Straighten the arms so the hands rest on the knees and sit up tall. Move from the pelvis by rocking the hips forward as you inhale and find an arch in the spine and broadening of the chest. As you exhale, drop the pelvis to reverse the direction and round the spine and tuck the chin. Continue to move with the breath at a comfortable pace for at least 10 rounds.
Seated Pigeon Pose
Hip openers are among the most satisfying of stretches for the majority of people because it’s an area that tends to be neglected in the normal day-to-day activities, despite being used almost constantly. Seated pigeon pose will stimulate blood flow to the area and thus increase oxygen levels that are typically lower when cruising at a high altitude.
How to: Continuing from the same starting point at the front of the seat, with the feet flat and hips width distance apart, bend one knee and bring the ankle to cross on top of the opposite knee. Flexing the foot, start to fold forward from the hip creases, keeping the spine long. Only fold forward as far as feels comfortable and be mindful of any knee injuries. Hold the pose and breath steadily for at least five breaths.
Seated Eagle Wrap
This is one powerful pose! It involves spreading the shoulder blades and broadening the sacrum, two areas where people tend to hold tension. It can feel awkward to get into and hold this pose, but after the release, it will all become clear.
How to: Start by crossing the left thigh over the right, as far as is comfortable, pointing the left toes down and then hooking them around the right ankle or calf. Then, reach both arms forward and cross them so the right arm is over the left. Bend the elbows and bring the forearms perpendicular to the floor. Arrange the arms so the palms can press together, and then lift the elbows higher. Squeeze everything towards the midline of the body and hold.
Seated Spinal Twist
Twists can do a lot to relieve tension or pain in the back and provide a massage to the organs that will aid in digestion. After a period of holding this pose, the release of it will send fresh, more oxygenated blood to the organs, which brings nutrients to the cells.
How to: Reset yourself back at the edge of the seat with feet hips width distance apart. Lengthen tall up through the spine, and begin to twist from the bottom of the spine leading, as if you were looking behind you. One hand can grasp the opposite outer thigh and the same side hand can grasp the back of the seat to aid in the twist. Constantly think about lengthening the spine to help deepen the twist.
Cow Face Pose
This arms-only variation of cow face pose is perfect for the plane and provides a super deep stretch to the shoulders, deltoid, triceps and even chest. It can be a nice restorative pose at the end of this airplane sequence, and should be moved into slowly and held in a way that deep even breaths come with ease.
How to: Take the left arm straight up with the palm facing forward, and bend the elbow to bring the left hand to the spine. Take the right arm to your side with the palm facing down and bend the elbow so the back of the hand rests on the spine. Roll the shoulders back and down to bring the fingers closer together and maybe even hook onto each other. As someone new to this pose, it may not be possible for the fingers to make connection initially. In this case, grab onto the back of your shirt with both hands as close together as you can.