As I sit on a plane, headed for someplace sunny and warm, I think what an uncomfortable and unhealthy experience I, and my fellow travelers, are having. So, I decide to do something about it. In flight yoga – no mat required. Here are ten easy exercises you can try the next time you find yourself at 30,000 feet.
1. Being confined to a small space gives us a great opportunity to practice breathing. You can put in your headphones, select a calm and relaxing playlist or even a recorded breathing meditation. Close your eyes, and breathe through your nose. Notice the feeling as your belly expands. Since planes are noisy, this is a good time to practice your Ujjayi breath. Slightly constricting your glottis (like your breathing through a straw) bring in a slow, full breath. Pause, then exhale slowly. Notice how much calmer you feel!
2. Stretch your neck. Start by dropping one ear to your shoulder. Feel that nice stretch along the side of your neck. Take a deep breath and relax into the stretch. After 5 or 6 breaths, slowly roll your chin from shoulder to shoulder, making a gentle half circle. Then hold on the opposite side for another 5 or 6 breaths.
3. Give your hands some love. Using your thumb, give yourself a hand massage. Kneading the palm of your hand, the large muscle at the base of your thumb, and the place where your fingers connect into your hand. Roll the tip of each finger between your thumb and forefinger. Turn your palm up, and gently stretch the fingers backwards, stretching the under-side of the wrist. Then, turn the palm down and stretch the back of the wrist. This is a great stretch to counter all of those downward-facing dogs!
4. Practice your bandhas. Engaging Mula Bandha is an important part of keeping our yoga poses strong and safe. As you sit in your seat, gently draw up on the muscles of the pelvic floor. This can be likened to stopping the flow of urine. Hold the muscles firmly for a few breaths and then relax. Repeat this exercise often so that it begins to come more naturally.
5. Seated cat and cow. Sitting tall in your seat, take a deep breath in and extend your sternum toward the sky, stretching the belly. Then, exhaling as you press your lower back into the seat behind you and lower your chin to chest. Exaggerate the movements and flow with breath 10 to 20 times.
6. Seated twist. Again, sitting tall and erect, draw your navel in toward your spine. Begin to twist your belly toward one of the armrests, followed by your ribs, chest, shoulders, and finally your head. Reach your arm across your body and holding the armrest, breathe into this delicious spinal twist. Hold for several breaths and switch sides.
7. Pull one knee up into your chest and hold, breathing deeply for 5 to 10 breaths. Then switch.
8. Remove your shoes if you can. Flex your toes up toward your kneecaps, and hold the stretch for your calves and achilles tendon. Then, point your toes like a ballerina, and hold the stretch for your shins. Flex and point, circle your ankles, spread all 10 of your toes apart from one another.
9. When you leave your seat to go to the bathroom, stand in the back of the plane, reach your arms overhead and lift your sternum to the sky. Breathe deeply as your spine soaks up this gentle backbend.
10. Seated Savasana. Close your eyes, rest your hands on your lap, palms up. Tune in to the sound and feel of your breath. Walk your self through a little guided meditation, bringing into awareness one body part at a time, and relaxing that part with an exhalation. Let yourself be aware of how amazing it truly is that you are 30,000 feet in the air, and in a relatively short time you will reach your destination. Offer gratitude for the miracle of flight, the beauty of the sky and clouds outside your window, and your health.
Consider ending your practice, and your flight by telling someone around you the meaning of the word Namaste. Safe, happy, and healthy travels to you.