When we fly we feel an altered state in our minds as well as our bodies. We can suffer from anxiety as well as feel the physical effects that sitting for a number of hours can have on us, so what’s the solution? Yoga!
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which mean to join. To practice yoga is to practice oneness and unity between our head, heart and hand, or our body, mind and emotions. Through the practice of controlling our breathing, specific gestures, locks and physical poses we can achieve a balance with our physical, vital, mental, emotional, psychic and spiritual wellbeing. In other words we can be happy, happy campers, or in this case… flyers.
So that all sounds very wonderful but how can we make this beautiful yoga philosophy tangible to us on a cramped flight, with questionable food, cute babies screaming and kicking the back of our chair?
Keep calm and breathe. Pranayama is a term generally referred to as breath control; however it has much more spiritual depth. Prana is our vital energy or life force and Yama means control. So when taking control of our breath we are taking control of our energy and redirecting it into a more positive flow. So when we feel anxious or stressed on a flight, it is important to breathe and focus our energy to keep us calm and in control.
An easy way to do this is to concentrate on a basic yogic breath. Always breathe in and out through the nose. Start with an exhale and on the inhale focus on filling the bottom of the lungs, think about the air making your belly stick out, then fill the lungs so the ribs expand and finally fill up your chest with air, and then release it in the same order: chest, ribs, belly. Do this to a count of 6 (2 counts for each section of the torso). You should see a physical expansion and contraction in your stomach, ribs and chest. You will feel more calm and relaxed after just a couple of rounds.
If you want to deepen your breath you can practice Nadi Shodhana breathing. This technique is simply breathing through alternate nostrils and has calming effects, relieves anxiety and stimulates the ajna (third eye) charka. The calming rhythm brings our brain and heart into balance and helps with cardiovascular and nervous disorders – great for those stressful takeoffs and landings!
Close the right nostril with the thumb and take a deep yogic breath for three counts, close the left nostril with the index finger and release the right, exhale through the right for three breaths, then in again through the right, close the right and out through the left. This is one round, practice 5-10 rounds. The breaths should be equal and without strain.
Now you should be feeling more calm and relaxed, the mind at ease. So now let’s look at a few asanas (physical poses) that are easy to practice from the seat or isle of the plane. These poses will give you a well needed stretch, improve circulation, keep you limber and massage your internal organs. But most of all they will keep you calm and refreshed whilst flying.
1. Marjaryasana (Cat Cow)
This pose is normally done on hands and knees but with some alterations you can still feel the benefits from sitting.
Start by placing your feet firmly on the ground, hip distance apart and parallel, hands on the arm rests. Inhale while lifting the head and concaving the spine, expand your abdomen and fill your lungs. Hold the position and breathe for three counts. Exhale slowly while lowering your head and stretching the spine back towards the seat. At the end of the exhalation contract the abdomen and accentuate the curve of the upper spine. Again hold for three counts. This is one round, practice 5-10.
This will improve the flexibility of neck and spine and remove tension in the back; it will also massage internal organs and reduce cramping.
2. Ardha Matsyendrasana (half spinal twist)
Sit with your right leg crossed over your left, reach your left hand to the outside of your right knee and look over your right shoulder. You should feel a deep stretch though the spine. To increase the stretch, push the hand against the knee. Hold position for 30 seconds, breathe deeply. On the final exhale turn to face the front and swap sides. Repeat 3 times each side. Do not strain the back and if you feel any discomfort or pain stop immediately.
This is a great pose for flying due to it’s multitude of benefits. As well as giving you a deep stretch in your back muscles it tones the nerves of the spine, relieves lumbago and muscular spasms and reduces inflammation. When we fly, we very often get constipated and this pose also gives your internal abdominal organs a nice massage so everything should stay loose and relaxed.
3. Gomukhasana (Cow Face)
Fold your left arm behind your back and then take the right arm up and over your right shoulder. The back of the left hand and the palm of the right hand should rest against your spine. Try and clasp your fingers. The head should press against the inside of the raised arm. Stay in this position for up to two minutes and repeat on the other side.
This is the perfect flight asana, if done for an extended period of time (10minutes) it will induce relaxation, alleviate tiredness, tension and anxiety as well as relieving back ache from sitting on the plane. It will also improve your posture and open your chest, making you more comfortable for the duration of the flight.
4. Tadasana (Palm Tree/ Mountain)
Now if you still feel stiff and want a bit more movement you can take your asanas into the isle with Tadasana. This is a standing pose so be careful if the plane is unsteady.
Start with your feet hip distance apart, put your hands on your head, inhale and stretch the hands, shoulders and chest upwards and raise your heels so you are balancing on your toes. Hold this position and breathe for a few second. On the exhale lower down and bring your arms to the top of your head. This is one round, repeat 10 times.
This pose will help your physical and mental balance, the full body stretch will loosen up any tension in your body and clear up congestion of the spinal nerves.
5. Utthita Lolasana (swinging while standing)
The last asana is again a pose for the isle and is actually one of my favourites for loosening up and getting rid of any unwanted stress and tension. Stand with your feet as wide as the isle and take a deep breath in as you raise your arms above your head. On the exhale let everything go and swing your arms between your legs. Let your body naturally swing, think of a rag doll, and when the exhale is complete, inhale to come up and go again. Repeat as many times as you like. This will loosen up your entire body, neck, spine, hamstrings, hips and gives the visceral organs a good massage. I like to let out a big sigh as I swing down, and really enjoy letting my body just flop around in space. Control is important but it also feels really good to just let go. Let go of your stress, tension, anxiety, aches and pains! And just be! Be there in the space, hanging around, like a little rag doll.
So there you go; a full mind and body high flying workout. Relax, breathe, pose and travel safe.
‘Yoga is not an ancient myth buried in oblivion. It is the most valuable inheritance of the present. It is the essential need of today and the culture of tomorrow’
– Swani Satyananda Saraswati