The process of travel can be taxing on both the body and the mind. Long haul flights cramp my mental sanity equally as much as they cramp my back and legs. If you’re as active as me, sitting stagnant for 14 hours on a long-haul flight both physically and mentally challenging. I have written in the past about how yoga is something everyone should do while traveling but I wanted to double down on the idea and provide some actual travel yoga flows and poses that I do before, during, and after my flights to ensure that I mitigate cramps and alleviate soreness.
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When I look around at an airport and on a plane, it seems I’m not the only one who thinks yoga clothes are the most comfortable clothes to wear while traveling. There are loads of brands out there selling similar products, but I have found that Athleta makes the most comfortable, breathable, and durable yoga clothes on the market. Wearing a pair of Athleta yoga pants and a hoodie on flights provides me comfort as well as the opportunity to do some in-flight stretches. It also means that I’m prepared if I get an urge to throw down a quick flow in the airport or at the hotel or Airbnb upon arrival.
My yoga practice is constantly evolving. The yoga flows I practice in my hotel room and the stretches I use in-flight and post-flight are a collection of some of my favorite stretches that I have used since I obtained my RYT 200 (vinyasa yoga teacher certificate) in Bali.
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I love unwinding with a good yoga class after a long day of travel. Sometimes It can be hard to find a solid class, especially if I’m out in the middle of nowhere. I use a number of resources for full-length online yoga classes, but my favorite platform is oneOeight. They have a free trial and incredibly knowledgeable teachers, so be sure to check it out on your next trip!
Long-haul flights almost always lead to some kind of discomfort – specifically back and neck pain and stiffness. Between sitting for hours on end, dehydration, and the mental stress that flights can cause (yay turbulence), discomfort is unavoidable. Stretches and yoga poses can help alleviate some of this discomfort and mitigate post-flight soreness. None of these will make you look like a Looney Tune trying to throw down an inversion in your seat or invade your neighbor’s space. Each offers key benefits and requires no more space than your own personal seat. Some of my favorite stretches and poses to do on flights are:
Gentle neck stretch– Sitting up tall in your seat, gently lean your head to the right. Using your right hand, grab the left side of your head near the ear and let the gravity of your right hand deepen the stretch. Take a few deep breaths, in and out the nose, before switching to the other side.
Upper body stretch – On an inhale, find a long spine as you sit up straight in your chair and lift your arms to the sky. Interlace your fingers making sure the palms face the ceiling. Dropping your shoulders away from your ears as you simultaneously lift your arms, take three slow deep breaths in and out the nose.
Side stretch– Starting from the center (seated upright), stretch and exhale as you lean the body over to the right, keeping the fingers interlaced and making sure to keep your left sit bone planted into your chair. Hold and take a few deep breaths here. On an inhale, come back to center and repeat on the other side; this time making sure to keep the right sit bone planted.
Seated cat/cow – Meow. Moo. Sit up tall with your palms face down on your knees. As you inhale, pull the chest forward, slightly arching the back. Then exhale, lower the chin and pull your belly button towards your spine. Repeat this as many times as you like, following your breath as you move. This will keep spinal fluid moving and reduce any tension in your lower back
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Seated spinal twist– On an exhale, bring your left palm to your right knee and your right palm back behind your right side. Looking out over your right shoulder, find a long spine as you inhale. As you exhale, use your inner core muscles to deepen the twist without using any external levers (don’t pull on the chair, but instead use your core to deepen the stretch). Take three breaths here and then on an inhale, come back to center. As you exhale, repeat on the other side; this time taking your right palm to your left knee.
Now that you’ve made it to your destination, it’s time to take full advantage of whatever space you have at your accommodation to stretch out your body. The following are my favorite moves following a flight:
Seated forward fold – Sitting with both legs straight in front of you, gently move the flesh away from your sit bones. On an inhale, find a straight spine as you lift your arms to the sky. As you exhale, fold forward with a flat back. Aim to keep your back as straight as possible, rather than hunching over your legs. Be sure to keep a slight bend in the knee if you suffer from any back pain. Hold for 10 long breaths.
Pigeon pose – From a plank, step your right foot near your left wrist and lower your right knee to the top right corner of your mat (pretend if you don’t have a mat). Be sure to keep your toes flexed to protect the knee. Your back leg should be shooting straight behind you. As you inhale, lift up, and as you exhale, fold over your front leg. Stay here up to 4 minutes before switching to the other side.
Wide leg forward fold – Open both legs as wide as you can without feeling discomfort. Exhale as you fold forward, thinking about bringing bing your chest, rather than your forehead, to the floor.
Malasana (squat) – Stand with your feet hip-width apart or wider and your feet slightly out-turned. If keeping your heels to the ground isn’t possible, you can roll up the end of your yoga mat or a towel and place it underneath them. Squat down with a straight back, placing the elbows between or in front of the legs and the hands in Anjali mudra to help.
Low lunge – Start with the right leg bent with the knee over the ankle and left knee down on the floor. (You can put a blanket or towel underneath the dropped knee if you have any sensitivity.) From here, bring the hands to the top of the right knee. For a deeper stretch, inhale the arms to the sky while dropping the shoulders away from the ears. You should feel a wonderful stretch in the left hip flexor. After a few breaths, you can switch to the other side.
Cobra – Lying on your stomach, bring your palms down near your ribs. Hug the elbows in, pushing into the tops of your toes so your legs are engaged. On your inhale, gently lift up, keeping your elbows bent and shoulders dropping away from the ears. Exhale, release, and repeat at least three times (following your breath).
Downward facing dog – Down dog is my favorite yoga pose for relieving back and shoulder pain as well as for creating more upper back flexibility. To get into this pose start by having your hands shoulder-width apart and feet hip-width apart. Spread the fingers wide as you reach upward with your hips, engaging your core and externally rotating your arms. Then, drop your shoulders down the back and away from your ears as your heels sink toward the ground. It’s ok if your heels don’t reach the ground, everyone is built differently! Be sure to keep a slight bend in the knees if you suffer from any back pain or tension.