Air Yoga: Getting Balanced at 20,000 Feet

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Wednesday 13th October 2010
In this article
  • Take a deep breath
  • For mind and body
  • Relaaax

Air travel can be stressful: crowded airports… seemingly endless delays… cramped quarters in the economy cabin. Before you start hyperventilating or causing a scene, take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Let the sounds around you fade away. It’s time to join the mile high yoga club. Read on for a SharpMan primer on yoga in your airplane seat…

Just Breathe

The most basic fundamental of yoga practice is breathing. Learning how to take deep, effective breaths can make a huge difference in how you feel, both mentally and physically. Simply apply proper breathing technique to a stressful or even just a less-than-pleasant experience can make a bigger difference than you think.

To try it, begin by gently sealing those lips. Breathe in and out through your nose. Keep your eyes closed and focus on each breath. Rather than breathing "up," by jerking your shoulders up, try to breathe "out," by filling your stomach with air so that it rounds outward. Try to become so focused on each breath — what’s going on in your head and how your belly fills and empties — that you become less and less focused on the environment around you. Make each breath a little deeper until you are to the point that it feels as though your entire body fills with air each time you inhale. Then you push out every ounce of air on the exhale. With each inhale, feel your body relax a little more into the seat. Imagine oxygen "penetrating" your nerves and relaxing them.

Breathing is one of the easiest yoga "exercises" you can do on an airplane. It is subtle and does not affect anyone around you. So, just breathe.

Beyond Breathing

Getting the blood flowing in your head, neck and shoulders is a great way to reduce stress. This can be as simple as negotiating a few head rolls.

Keep your eyes closed and those deep breaths going; drop your chin close to your chest. Slowly roll your head to one side until your ear is close to your shoulder. Hold your head there for a few breaths and then roll back to the front. Now roll your head to the other side. Repeat several times, feeling a stretch in the back and sides of your neck.

SharpMan Tip: Avoid rolling your head in complete circles because it can be harmful to drop your head back, placing the weight of your noggin on your spine. It also restricts the flow of air when you roll your head back, so stick to the front and sides for safety.

If your body needs a little more to help you make it through to your final destination, a few seated spinal twists may be just what you need. As you take in a deep breath, sit up straight and tall, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Elongate your spine, imagining it as a straight line down the center of your back. Rest your right arm on the armrest and slowly draw your left hand and place it near or on your right hip. Gently pull your torso to the right, feeling a stretch. Hold in the stretch for several long, deep breaths.

You should feel the muscles in your back and side stretching, but you should never be in any pain when performing any yoga stretch. If you feel any type of ouch-factor, you have gone too far into the stretch, so loosen back a bit to a comfortable resistance. Be sure to repeat the stretch an even number of times on the right and left sides to keep your body balanced and aligned.

Now for the lower body. Regardless of the class of service, your legs seem to be unnecessarily punished on any airplane trip by restrictive range of movement and relative space. To alleviate this, try a modified version of a seated forward fold. Scoot toward the edge of your seat, as far as space will permit while still allowing you to stretch your legs out straight. Rest your feet on your heels, with your toes pointed toward the ceiling. Place your hands on the tops of your thighs and draw your upper body into a strong upright position as you inhale. On the exhale, lean forward with a straight back until you feel a stretch along the back of your legs. Hold your body in the stretch for several long breaths.

By keeping your back straight rather than arching or rounding it, you will feel the stretch without having to bend too far forward. It will also be a more effective and deeper stretch. After you release back to an upright position, point your toes toward the front of the plane for a few breaths and then repeat the whole stretch.

Relax — Head to Toe

If what you really need is something to lower your blood pressure and soothe the nerves, a relaxation exercise will do the trick. Begin with some deep breathing, allowing your body to become heavy and relaxed against your seat. Close your eyes and after focusing on your breath for a few minutes, begin to shift your attention to your body. Start at one end and work your way to the other. For instructional purposes, we’ll start at the head:

Feel your head becoming heavier against the seat. Your eyelids relax and the muscles in your face loosen. Allow your lips to soften and your jaw to relax. Let your neck release its tension and feel your shoulders release any resistance. As you take another breath, let your back soften and your chest release. Your arms should become heavier as they relax and your fingers will open loosely. Let your hips widen as you relax; your legs become heavy, releasing their tension all the way to the tips of your toes. Now feel the seat absorbing any remaining tension and energy in your body. Once you feel completely relaxed, just breathe.

Try to keep your mind clear of stray thoughts. There will be plenty of time to stress about finding your car in the long-term parking or remembering to get a wake-up call later.

This article last updated on Wednesday 13th October 2010
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