Traveling the world and experiencing new cultures is one of my absolute most favorite things to do—just ask my wallet. In my humble opinion, you can’t put a price tag on the rich learning experience that travel provides. Getting lost in the ancient streets of Beijing, awaking to sounds of morning prayer and chanting in Bali, smelling fresh rain on the pavement in Belfast, catching a glimpse of the sun melting into the ocean in Santorini—all of it. Except maybe the hours of waiting in airports and cramped into planes, subways, cabs, cars, buses, and (insert any other mode of transportation here).
It used to be that a ten-hour flight in a middle seat wouldn’t bother me. After all, they served free wine on International flights and I was so excited about the adventure ahead. As I’ve gotten a bit older, those endless flights have gotten a bit—OK, a lot—more challenging. On my most recent trip, a nearly twenty-four-hour excursion to Vietnam, I decided to apply my own best yoga advice to the journey. The result was a freer body, a clearer mind, and it also left me feeling a lot less jet lag once I touched down in Ho Chi Minh City.
The following yoga poses help relieve back pain, open up your hip flexors, and even provide a bit of a workout while you’re in transit. Try the seated postures when the seatbelt sign is on and the standing postures if you can briefly and safely stand while on the plane or for those extra-long airport layovers. They’ll help bring blood flow back to your head and legs and counterbalance the hours of sitting.
Take your hands to your hips and lengthen through your spine. On an inhale tilt your pelvis forward, roll your shoulders back, slightly arch your back, press your chest forward, and lift your gaze up. On an exhale, tilt your pelvis backward, round your spine while shrugging your shoulders forward, drop your gaze down toward your belly button to relax your neck. Repeat about ten times and throughout the flight when needed. Find a neutral spine to finish. This posture helps strengthen and stretch the spine and neck, and stretches the hips, abdomen, and back.
Sit up tall on the edge of your seat and gently draw your right knee over your left to cross your legs, take a deep inhale to lengthen through the spine, exhale bring the left hand to the outside of the right knee, and rotate toward your right. Relax your shoulders and take five to ten full deep breaths in and out through the nose. With each inhale, lengthen and with each exhale ease into the twist a little bit more. Seated twists ease tight backs and tone, massage, and rejuvenate the abdominal organs.
Cross your right leg over your left knee, making a figure four shape with the legs. Flex the right foot and either ground your left foot on the floor or come up onto your toes. Thread the needle by clasping your hands around your left leg, just under your knee or rest hands on the tops of your foot and knee. Hold for ten full deep breathes on each side. This posture stretches hip flexors, outer thighs, and relieves tension in the lower back. Repeat on the left.
Gomukhasana Arms/ Tricep Shoulder Stretch
Lift the left arm to shoulder height at the front of the body and turn the palm up to face the ceiling. Reach the arm overhead and bend the elbow to bring the hand to rest between the shoulder blades. Bring the right arm down by the right side of the body and rotate it clockwise so the palm faces out to the right. Bend at the elbow and reach fingertips toward the left hand. Clasp hands at fingers if you can (resting the hands on the back is fine too). This stretches the arms and shoulders, relaxes the shoulders, opens the chest, and improves postures.
Place your fingertips on a wall at hip-height. Walk your feet back and bend from your hips until your legs and torso form a 90-degree angle with the floor with your ankles directly underneath your hips. This pose opens your hamstrings, back, chest, and shoulders, helping to relieve lower back pain.
Ground through both of your feet and then shift your weight into your left foot, gently lifting your right foot off the floor and bend your knee so your lower leg is behind your body. Carefully grasp your right ankle or top of right foot with your right hand and gently pull your foot straight up until your heel is by your butt. Hold for 5-10 breaths before switching sides.
Hanging Forward Fold
Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, toes facing forward. Put a soft bend in your knees and fold forward so that your torso comes to rest on or towards your thighs. Grab onto opposite elbows, and let your upper body hang. You can slowly straighten your knees, if that’s accessible and doesn’t strain, to stretch the backs of your legs. Hold for about ten breaths. This postures stimulates blood flow to the brain and stretches the hamstrings and lower back.
Planting one foot firmly on the floor, bring the bottom of the other foot to the inside of the standing leg’s calf or upper thigh (avoid pressing the foot directly into your knee). Keep a wall within reach in case you need it for balance (hopefully not from unwanted turbulence!). Switch legs and repeat. Tree Pose improves balance, opens your hips, engages your core, and strengthens your ankles.
If all else fails, grab a glass of free wine (and lots of water to stay hydrated) and take some long, slow deep breaths. Happy travels!
(Photos: Diana Pop, Photographed: Sarah Beston, Yoga Clothing: Colosseum Brand.)
By Sarah Beston