5 Yoga positions to help your body feel better after a plane ride
You’ve been sitting in an airplane seat for hours. Whether you’re traveling with your kids and have been focused on them, or you’re traveling without them and have been reading and napping, chances are high that you haven’t been able to move around much during the flight. Your spine is stiff, your hips are tight, and your ankles are swollen, not to mention you’re stressed and tired. What to do?
These yoga poses offer relief to both body and mind. They require virtually no equipment and can be done anywhere…even in the airport, while you wait for your connecting flight. Find an unused wall in the corner of the terminal, spread out your sweatshirt, and have your stuff (backpack, pillows, books, whatever you’ve got) ready to use as props. If you wait until you get to your hotel, the situation is even better, since you’ve got your own private space and tons of pillows and blankets. Your body will feel a whole lot better if you take just a few minutes for yoga before you crash on that hotel bed.
This simple pose is often called “butterfly” by kids. After your legs have been squeezed together for hours in a cramped seat, this pose will offer relief to your hips, inner thighs, and pelvic floor.
Sit anywhere comfortable (on the floor, in a seat, on the bed in your hotel room). Bring the soles of your feet together in front of you. For most people, about 12 to 18 inches away from the groin works well, but you can tuck them in closer if you’re more flexible. You can tuck some pillows (or backpacks, or whatever you have handy…even the arms of a seat) under your knees for extra comfort and support, though this is completely optional. If just bringing your feet together feels like enough, stay here; if bending forward over your feet is an option, you might like to try it, as it will increase the inner-thigh stretch while also being calming and soothing. Just fold forward as far as you can without your sit bones popping up off the floor, or any pain occurring in your hips or knees. It’s okay if that’s only a few inches.
Stay in the pose as long as you’d like. In some forms of yoga, this pose is held for five minutes or longer. Try to stay here for at least a minute, breathing deeply.
I never skip this one after a flight; if there’s only time for one, this is it. During a flight, extra fluid collects in your feet and legs (due to the changes in air pressure as well as the immobility). Letting gravity drain it out will do wonders for your body. This pose is the most restorative way to get your legs above your heart.
It’s pretty simple: scoot up to a wall (door, chair, wherever you have space) and bring your straight legs up the wall. You can be right up next to the wall or a few inches away, depending on how tight your hamstrings are. You may like to put a pillow (or a few) next to the wall, under your low back and hips. If you want your sit bones right next to the wall, the secret way to accomplish this without lots of scooting around is this: sit next to the wall, perhaps on your pillows. Turn your torso away from the wall and bring your elbows to the floor. Flip your hips so both sit bones are touching the wall. Now, as you bring your legs up, you’re right there!
I even like to do this pose on the plane after landing (instead of standing around in the aisle waiting to get off the plane). I pull my knees to my chest, turn around in my seat, and put my legs up my seat back. It’s such a relief for my swollen legs. For every person who looks at me like I’m crazy, there’s another one who says, “What a great idea!” Depending on your height and flexibility, this may not work for you, but if you think it might work, don’t be afraid to give it a try. It feels spectacularly good at that moment.
This is a great chest and back opener. It will help undo some of the effects of slumping in your airline seat. (You can’t help it; the seats are designed to make you slump.)
To do this pose, you’ll need some sort of prop handy; it could be a yoga block, several books, a few pillows, a backpack, whatever you have around. Lie on your back with bent knees. The soles of your feet should be about a finger’s distance in front of your hips. Then press with your feet to lift your lower back. Slide the prop under the bony part of your lower back (your sacrum – it’s around the level of the top of your glutes). Allow your body to relax onto the prop. Check in with your low back; if it hurts, the prop may be too high, and you should try to use something a little smaller. Once you’ve found the right height for your back, rest your arms wherever they’re comfortable. Many people enjoy resting the arms above the head or out to the sides, because that adds to the chest opening, but resting next to your body is also a good choice. Stay here for several minutes, continuing to breathe deeply.
After sitting in a cramped airline seat, the hips and thighs often feel tight and pinched. This pose opens the outer hips, helping the body feel spacious and balanced. The supine version of pigeon offers a restorative way to get the hip opening you need; I find that it’s often just the thing after getting off the plane.
Lie on your back with bent knees (optional: with your legs up the wall, soles of the feet touching the wall). Pick up your right foot and cross the ankle over the left knee. You want the bony bumps on your ankle to be just past your thigh bone. This may be plenty of stretch for you; if you want more, you can hold onto your left thigh with your hands and draw it toward your chest. After holding for at least a minute, release and do the pose on the other side.
You can even do a version of this pose while you’re still sitting on the plane. Just sit in your seat with both feet flat and cross one ankle over the other knee; you can even draw the thigh toward you to deepen, just as above.
Your spine has likely been slumping during the flight, since those airline seats aren’t great at supporting your back. Your back might be stiff and feel like it needs to be cracked. Twists are excellent at “resetting” your spine and helping to bring everything into alignment again. A twist also squeezes the discs between your vertebrae, helping bring moisture back into them so that they feel less stiff. You could do a simple seated twist (sit cross-legged, bring one hand behind you and twist to look over that shoulder, repeat on the other side), but the supine version makes gravity your friend in an oh-so-delicious way.
Lie on your back with your legs straight. Hug your right knee towards your chest. Let go with your right hand and rest it on the floor next to you, with your arm straight (more or less…let it be relaxed). Let your left hand draw your bent right leg over the left side of your body. Maybe your right leg touches down to the floor; if it doesn’t, you might enjoy having one or several pillows ready for it to land on. If your neck doesn’t complain, turn your head toward your outstretched right hand, so the twist is complete all the way up your spine. Then close your eyes and breathe deeply. Stay in the pose for at least a full minute, and preferably longer. When you’re ready, roll to your back, straighten your right leg, and repeat the pose with the left leg bent.
The next time you take a flight, try doing these yoga poses before you crash into bed or rush off to do your fun activities. Not only will your body feel much better, but your frazzled mind will settle into the restful stillness and recover from the stress of flying. Then you’ll be ready to slide into sleep…or into fun!