Yoga can benefit us both mentally and physically when travelling. Our new columnist, yoga teacher Sara Quiriconi (aka @livefreewarrior) gives her complete guide to the ways in which yoga can counteract the effects of flying.
Firstly, let’s talk about plane seats and posture. When we’re seated for long periods of time in the same, small, cramped position, our muscles get tight, short and lose their flexibility. We need this flexibility in order to stay healthy and mobile in our daily lives and normal movement, and in order to prevent injury and increase our longevity. Combined with dehydration in the air, being sedentary for so long sets us up for injury, low energy and poor performance when we land. However, moving our bodies in stretches gets the energy and fluids moving more effectively throughout your body, reopening those tight, still muscles once again.
Say yes to post-flight Yoga
For long haul flights, jumping time zones throws off our natural circadian rhythms, or, our internal clocks. When we stretch, do yoga, breathe and move in sync, this can help us reconnect to our bodies and our natural cycles again. If you’re looking to wind down when you reach your destination and you can find a practice, it will help you to sleep better, and calm your nerves. Alternatively, if you’ve just landed and need a boost of energy, I would recommend having a video sequence ready to go that will revive you.
When travelling I would recommend staying away from heated yoga, or Bikram. You’re already dehydrated from your flight and it’s better to recoup and keep those liquids in your body to balance and restore your system. If you’re incredibly low on energy, check in with your body first to discover what it really needs to feel good again. Maybe opt for a 60 minute flow rather than the 90-minute power vinyasa. Yoga is about self-awareness and connecting your mind and body, not over working it.
In addition to doing yoga, every hour you’re flying, drink a glass of water. This will help to counter the dehydration you experience from dry, circulated air in planes.
While you don’t necessarily need a yoga mat in order to practice when you travel, it can become very handy for an airport floor or local studio and you know it’s relatively clean.
If you’re seeking a travel mat that does it all, I highly recommend you invest in the Manduka Pro Travel Yoga Mat $71.71. This mat is foldable to fit in your carry-on and grippy enough to hold you in a downward facing dog. Weight tops in at a light 1.1 kg but it still has a 2.5 mm thickness to protect your knees in a lunge.
Here are five Yoga postures to do post flight that can help you feel vaguely normal again.
Downward Facing Dog
This pose helps to extend your spine after a cramped flight and improves posture in the upper back (your thoracic spine). Simultaneously, downward facing dog awakens and stretches the entire back side of your body, including the hamstrings which may have become tight having been so sedentary for so long.
Placing your hands shoulder’s distance apart on your mat, making an upside-down “V” with your body, and add a slight bend in your knees if it helps to lengthen your entire spine. Focus on extending your spine, and pedal the legs out one side at a time , synchronizing with your breath.
Lunges are a backbend, and help to open up the hip flexors, which lie at the front of our legs, connecting to our hip joints. These muscles, the hip flexors, become very short and tight from being seated for long hours. In addition, as mentioned earlier in this article, our upper backs suffer from the poor posture in airplanes. Lunges help to counter both of those problem areas.
Step your right foot forward, placing the knee over the ankle. Lower the left knee down gently to the floor. Reach your arms up overhead, lifting the chest bone higher towards the ceiling with each inhale. Gaze directly out in front of you, or slightly up if it feels OK on your cervical spine. Breathe, 5-10 breaths, then, switch legs and repeat.
Happy Baby Pose
Happy baby opens up your inner hips and releases your spine back to its natural positioning. In addition, it’s a playful and relaxing pose, so it can bring a smile if you find yourself feeling stressed by travelling or when you really need that emotional release.
Lie on your back and bend your knees, keeping your shoulders and head relaxed and connected to the ground beneath you. Place your hands to the back of your legs or, grab the soles of your feet with your hands so that your feet are directly above you. Rock, gently, back and forth, releasing the inner hips. Keep your feet flexed, which stretches your calves simultaneously.
Reclining Hamstring stretch
The main focus is our hamstrings in this posture, which get cramped and tight from being shortened when we sit in a bent knee position. Stretching your hamstrings and calves is crucial for circulation in the ankles and legs, which get severely compromised with air travel.
Lie on your back place the soles of both feet towards the floor with knees bent. One leg at a time, grab the back of the right quad while extending the right foot towards the sky. Depending on your flexibility, you may be able to extend your leg all the way, or if you are very bendy you could grab the sole of your foot with your hands.
The important aspect here is to keep the spine and head connected to the mat, without straining the neck, and stretching the hamstring. Hold and breathe for 5-10 breaths, then switch sides. If you are flexible, stretch the bottom leg out along the floor instead of keeping it bent.
Reclining Spinal Twist
Neutralizing the spine with twisting is a beautiful follow up to the reclining hamstring stretch. Twists can help to reset the spine and realign, releasing all of the muscles that run up and down the support of our spinal column.
Lie down and extend both legs out in front of you. Draw your right knee in towards your chest, take an inhale, and on the exhale bring your knee across your body to the left side. The knee does not have to touch the floor, but it is important to keep the shoulders connected to the mat. Extend your right arm towards the right side, and look up or over towards the right fingertips with your gaze. Breathe, 5-10 breathes, then switch sides.
Follow Sara @livefreewarrior