Here’s some news you’ll want to stand up for. Medical evidence suggests that sitting for long periods of time can contribute to both cardiovascular and spinal problems, as well as muscle stiffness and discomfort. Not great news for people clocking a 40-hour work week (by Wednesday). Standing desks, exercise balls and periodic walks are good solutions for the office, but what if your job has you logging in hours at 30,000 feet? Check out these breathing exercises and modified yoga poses that can be done just about anywhere, making flying easier for mind, body and soul.
1. Ujjayi Breathing
Calmness comes from within, so start by checking in with your breath. Take a moment to notice its tempo and intensity, which is usually a reflection of your energy level and state of mind. Take deep, full breaths in and out through the nose with mouth closed, allowing air to pass through the back of the throat like the beginning of a yawn on the exhale. Try to make your exhales slightly longer than your inhales. Known as ujjayi breathing or “ocean breath,” this foundational yoga technique is by itself a powerful stress reliever. A great move to remember the next time you’re stuck in the security check-in line.
2. Neck Rolls
Excessive sitting and carrying heavy bags can both contribute to tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back. This exercise helps to relieve tightness in all three areas. Begin by sitting upright with a straight spine, shoulders slightly back. Exhale and drop your left ear to your left shoulder. Inhale and slowly rotate your head forward until your right ear touches your right shoulder. Keep your head heavy and neutral and your shoulders relaxed. Repeat, moving left to right, 10 times. Reverse, rotating right to left, and repeat another 10 times.
3. Seated Cat-Cow
This subtle move is great for keeping the spine supple and flexible in flight. Seated with a neutral spine, place hands on your thighs. As you inhale, gently puff your chest outward while sliding shoulders back, creating a curve in your back (“the cow”). As you exhale, slide shoulders forward, look down and round the spine, creating an arch (“the cat”). Repeat five times, holding in each position for a breath or two.
4. Seated Spinal Twist
For deeper spinal tension and to relieve knots and kinks, try this gentle twist. Begin by crossing your left knee over your right. Place right hand on left knee and, with an inhale, twist to the left while keeping your spine as straight as possible. Hold the twist for three breaths, looking over your left shoulder. Then, return to a neutral seated position. Repeat three times on each side.
5. Seated Chair Pose
The name might sound redundant, but chair pose is actually an intense quad-strengthening exercise similar to a standing squat. This modified version tones back and arm muscles while lengthening the spine. Begin at the edge of your seat with a straight spine, feet firmly planted on the floor. With an inhale, raise arms straight up. With an exhale, bend forward to a 45-degree angle, keeping your spine straight and chin slightly tucked. Keep arms firmly lifted, relaxing shoulders down and away from your ears. Hold for five breaths. Repeat three times.
6. Thigh Lifts
This is a great move for warding off that “tingly toes” feeling that often accompanies long flights, with an added bonus of core strengthening. Seated with a straight spine, knees bent, lift one thigh as high as you can on an inhale. Keeping abdominal muscles tight and engaged, hold thigh lifted for two breaths. Repeat 10 times with each leg. For extra tummy toning power, try lifting both legs at the same time, using the arm rests for support if necessary.
7. Ankle Rolls
In addition to improving circulation, this simple move helps to prevent fluid from collecting in the ankles, which can cause swelling and the dreaded “travel cankles.” Sitting with legs stretched slightly out in front of you (ideally with shoes off), roll each ankle in a complete circle several times in each direction. After a few reps, incorporate pointing and flexing of your toes for a deeper stretch of the entire foot.
8. Breath of Fire
This breathing technique is a great way to close your airplane yoga session, or to simply arrive at your destination with a greater sense of calm and energetic focus. Begin by sitting upright and notice the movement of your abdomen as you inhale and exhale. Open your mouth and pant like a dog, noticing the change in abdominal movement. Maintaining the panting action, close your mouth and allow the breath to move rapidly in and out through the nose. Breathe quickly, moving the abdomen rapidly. Each exhale should be as sharp and staccato as possible, but the duration of inhale and exhale should be equal. Continue for three minutes, while keeping the jaw and face muscles relaxed.