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You made it—the end of your air travel. Despite long lines, annoying baggage fees, not-so-tasty airport food, and dueling wailing infants on either side of the aisle, you have arrived.
Once the aircraft has landed and the fasten seatbelt sign dings off, you stand up to prepare to disembark and notice how stiff your body is from the flight. Your upper back and neck are tight from carrying all of your bags. Your legs feel double their size and sore, despite so many hours of not moving. Your tummy hurts from not being able to stand up after your meal, and your bum feels numb from sitting for so long. Then, there’s possible jet-lag and pent-up stress to contend with.
Being sedentary under any circumstance isn’t great for your body, and being still while cramped on an airplane is even worse. After all, you’re breathing recirculated air and dealing with dehydration at 30,000-plus feet above sea level. Plus, the effects of stress (read: decreased immunity and digestive issues) make matters worse.
While there are some movements you can do in your seat to combat all of this, getting on the ground and moving wisely can make a big difference when it comes to countering the toll travel can take. Just as you unroll your yoga mat to open it up, this sequence will help you unravel your body to open yourself back up after flying. You can practice these poses while you are waiting for your luggage at baggage claim or looking for your Uber at the pick-up curb. Because each pose is a standing pose, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have much space or if your travel mat is still in your suitcase.
Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana)
What is the very first thing you want to do when the fasten seat-belt sign dings off? Stand up! Yet if you don’t pop up immediately to claim some aisle space, this likely means you spend the next 10 to 15 minutes hunched over, trying to take up some space underneath the overhead compartments. This is what makes this first pose a necessary and delicious beginning to our post-plane sequence.
How-to: Start with your feet together or hip-width distance apart, beginning in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Press the four corners of your feet into the ground and take a few moments here to simply feel solid ground beneath you. Raise your arms overhead, interlacing every finger but your index fingers. On an inhalation, reach up through your entire body, taking your chest to the sky. On an exhalation, arch backward, creating a mild backbend. Press your inner thighs gently back as your tailbone releases to the floor, lengthening your spine. Draw your low belly in and up to support your low back and press your shoulder blades into your front body, helping to open your heart and lift your chest. If it feels OK on your neck, look up. Stay here for 10 to 15 long breaths. On an inhalation, bring your spine back to “neutral” (meaning your natural spinal curves) by bringing your front ribs to your hip bones. On an exhalation, release your arms to your sides.
Standing Side Bend (Crescent Pose)
We focus a lot on the front and back of the body in yoga (what is called the Sagittal plane) because that is generally how we move in the world. How often do you sidestep your way to the grocery store? But your side body is actually just as essential to deep breathing, which is key to calming your nerves after traveling.
How-to: Start in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your feet hip-width distance apart. On an inhalation, reach both of your arms overhead and clasp your left forearm (just between your elbow and wrist) with your right hand. On an exhalation, release your front ribs downward to find a neutral spine. This will help to isolate the movement in your side body. On an inhalation, lengthen through your left waist, using the gentle pull of your left arm with your right hand; on an exhalation, lean right to side bend. Keep your gaze forward, taking your right ear to your right shoulder. (If it feels OK on your neck, look under your left arm.) Take 10 to 15 breaths into your left rib cage, imagining each inhalation fanning your ribs open like an accordion. On an inhalation, come back upright and reach both of your arms overhead before repeating on the other side.
King Dancer (Natarajasana), prep
When the body has been in one position for a prolonged period of time, it’s helpful to do a pose that is the opposite shape. Since sitting is a forward bend, a standing backbend like this one is the perfect counter-pose to a long flight.
How-to: Begin standing in Tadasana with your feet together. Bend your left knee and draw your left heel toward your bum. You may use a wall with your right hand for balance or take your right hand into a half prayer position at your chest. Pull your left thigh back in line with your right thigh as you reach both your sit bones toward the floor. Draw your front ribs in toward one another as you inhale into your chest, lifting your heart skyward. Keep your eyes fixed on a point directly in front of you, ideally on something not moving. Stay here for 10 to 15 breaths, then release and repeat with your right leg.
Parsvottanasana (Pyramid pose), variation
An often-overlooked area of the body that gets tight from sitting is the calves. If you think about it, there aren’t many yoga postures that specifically target your calf muscles. This pose will help release the entire backside of your leg.
How-to: Find a ledge somewhere, whether in the terminal or outside, and place your right foot onto the ledge with your toes pointed forward. Keep your back foot pointing forward as much as you can and place your hands on your hips. On an exhalation, fold half way. You can keep your hands here, or bring them into prayer at your chest. Continue to ground into your back left heel, which will release your back calf, press your left thigh straight back. Pull your front hip back and wrap your back hip forward. This helps create width in your lower back. Use your inhalations to reach your chest forward and deepen the release of your front hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your thigh). Maintain a long neck by gazing straight down. Stay here for 10 to 15 breaths, then switch sides.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
You know how good it feels when you arrive home and get into your own, comfy bed after some time away? That is how good it feels to do this pose after flying.
How-to: Start with your feet hip-width distance apart and interlace your hands behind your back. (If it’s not possible to fully clasp your hands, get creative and use the sleeve of your shirt, a towel, or belt.) On an inhalation, reach your chest up to the sky. On an exhalation, fold forward at your hips. Keep all four corners of your feet firmly rooted and draw your knee caps upward to firm your legs. If your spine is rounded, bend your knees slightly. (If your spine is long, your low belly will naturally lift from your belly button with each exhale, enabling you to fold more deeply.) Think about taking your upper arms overhead, rather than your hands, which will help to isolate the stretch in your chest. Keep your neck long and stay here for 10 to 20 breaths. On an inhalation, come up slowly. Once upright, release your arms by your sides and take a moment to ground. You have arrived.