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9 Travel Hacks to Help You Find More Zen (Really!) on Your Next Flight

Traveling can make you feel cranky and stiff—the opposite of how you feel after a yoga class. But it doesn’t have to. Here’s how to beat the tiny-seat, stiff-leg, jet lag blues.

Everyone knows how we feel after a flight: cramped, cranky, and stiff from the stress of being herded through security lines and sitting for too many hours at a time in a too-small seat. That feeling can sometimes even mess with the first couple of hours at your destination, as you struggle to shake off that “flight hangover.” But what if you could find some subtle, simple ways to change your flight into a restful, peaceful, Zen-filled time? It is possible—with these expert tips.

To figure out how the heck we could hack our flight routines and actually feel good during and after air travel, we turned to world-traveling yoga teachers Jennifer Ursillo (aka @TribeVinyasa) and Toni Rosenwald. Here are their best tips to help you step off your next flight feeling like you just stepped out of the yoga studio.

See also 14 Beach Yoga Retreats in Paradise

Travel Hack No. 1: Sneak in a yoga practice, run, or workout the morning of your flight.

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Alexander Grabchilev

Moving before you take off helps balance your body and mind and loosens you up, says Ursillo. “If your flight is extra early and you can’t work out, consider taking more stairs, longer walks, and doing stretches before boarding.” 

See also 12-Minute Core Strength Sequence (for Real People)

Travel Hack No. 2: Give yourself a tennis ball massage en route.

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It’s actually quite easy to DIY massage by placing two tennis or lacrosse balls under your hamstrings, glutes, or behind your shoulder blades in your airplane seat, says Ursillo. “They take up little to no space in a carry-on bag, plus you can use a wall or a floor once you get to your destination to massage even deeper.”

See also Fascia Fitness: A Yoga Sequence for Fascial-Release

Travel Hack No. 3: Make your jacket do double-duty.

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Maintaining good posture on a long flight can make a big difference when it comes to how good (or not) your body feels when you get off the plane. “Roll up your jacket or a small blanket and place it behind your pelvis to keep you more upright, bring it higher up along your back to keep you from slumping, or place it behind your upper back to open up your chest,” says Ursillo. 

Travel Hack No. 4: Stretch your neck.

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Maintaining some movement in your neck can help a great deal when it comes to preventing soreness and stiffness once you de-plane. “During your inhale, move your right ear to your right shoulder and hold for 6 seconds,” says Rosenwald. “On an exhale, return your head to center. Repeat this slowly, on both your right and left sides, every two hours or so if you’re awake.”

See also A Healing Yoga Sequence to Ease Neck + Shoulder Pain

Travel Hack No. 5: Rotate your ankles and wrists.

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It’s easy to prevent stiffness in your ankles and wrists by moving those joints in circular motions in both directions. “Rotate your wrist in clockwise and counterclockwise directions 8 times in each direction, then roll your ankles around 8 times in each direction,” says Rosenwald. “These are key prana points,” she says, which means movement here will keep your energy up overall. What’s more, this movement will also boost overall body circulation—even without getting up or moving around the plane, she adds.

See also 4 Poses to Keep Your Ankles Healthy

Travel Hack No. 6: Practice in your chair.

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“Seated twists, seated Pigeon, or seated Cat/Cows are three great options to move through while you stay put in your seat,” says Ursillo. On a long-haul flight? Take a walk to an area where there’s a bit of space, usually near the bulkhead seats or at the back of the plane, and hang out for a minute in your favorite standing forward bend variation. Rosenwald also recommends doing Eagle arms using only your upper body while seated.

See also The Office Yoga Sequence to Restore and Rejuvenate

Travel Hack No. 7: Practice Pranayama on the plane.

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“One of my favorite and simple pranayama techniques is to inhale for a count of three, hold for a count of three, and exhale for a count of three,” says Ursillo, who recommends avoiding intense yogic breathing techniques, such as Bhastrika or Kapalabhati, due to the pressure in the cabin—and the strange looks you’ll probably get from your neighbors. Another great option: alternate nostril breathing: “This breathing technique is very good for anxiety, shortness of breath, and nervousness—most of which I experience on planes,” says Rosenwald. To do this breath, touch your right nostril with your thumb gently and inhale slowly through the left nostril. As you release your breath, simultaneously close your left nostril with your pinky and exhale through your right nostril. Repeat this pattern of breath anywhere from 1-5 minutes.

See also Beginner’s Guide to Pranayama

Travel Hack No. 8: Meditate on that crowded flight.

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“You don’t need to be sitting on a meditation cushion, cross-legged in Lotus Pose, to meditate,” says Rosenwald. Sure, you may not be used to meditating in front of a bunch of strangers who aren’t doing the same thing. But think of it this way: Mid-flight is the perfect opportunity to meditate, because you’re already sitting silent, and there’s nowhere to go and very little to do. Why not take 10 minutes to calm and center your mind? To start, sit with your spine tall, feet flat on the ground, and eyes closed. Take deep mindful breaths as you silently repeat a mantra or simply watch the thoughts in your mind without attaching to them. “There’s no need to feel self-conscious, either—because everyone will think you’re asleep,” adds Ursillo.

See also 7 Meditations for the Relationship Issues We’ve All Had

Travel Hack No. 9: Set an intention for your trip.

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For Rosenwald, air travel is a perfect time to write down her goals and intentions for the trip she’s about to take. “I make a list so that when I’m on my trip, I can cross off the items as I do them.” You might also set an intention for how you want to feel while you’re away, or make a commitment to staying off your devices, for example. Not only can giving yourself this time on the plane help start your journey off on the right note, but it can also help you happily pass the time and take your mind off the more uncomfortable aspects of traveling to your destination.

See also Live Purposefully: Intention-Setting Sequences for Morning + Night