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In the 36 years I have been on this planet, I am lucky enough to have visited to 27 countries. That equals a lot of time spent sitting on planes—and sitting in airports waiting for those planes.
Sitting for long periods is hard for most people, but this is especially true for yogis. Of course, we are not referring to long sits in a comfortable meditation posture. In fact, many believe the whole purpose of our physical yoga practice (asana) is so that we can sit to meditate. However, sitting in a comfortable seat on a bolster in your living room is very different than sitting in an uncomfortable airport waiting area for hours until your connecting trans-Atlantic flight arrives.
That being said, just as our asana practice can prepare us to sit to meditate, it can similarly prepare us to sit while traveling. Remember, our yoga practice doesn’t have to be confined to a mat or a studio. It can travel with us and is there when we need it the most—especially at gate 50C!
The following sequence perfect to practice during a layover has become as essential to my travel as my toiletries. The length of time between flights will determine how long you can remain in each pose. I recommend 10 breaths for shorter layovers and 30 breaths for longer ones. If your flight gets delayed, try running through the sequence a second (or third!) time.
So, go find a quiet corner at your gate, put on your noise-cancelling ear phones, and try this 5-pose sequence while you wait to embark on your next adventure:
Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I), variation
This variation of Warrior I is a complete counter-pose to the act of sitting on an airplane seat and fighting for your arm rest. Place your right foot on a chair or ledge, aligning your knee above your ankle. Keep your left foot slightly turned out for stability. (Having your front leg elevated accentuates the hip flexor release in your back thigh.) Place your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers, drawing your front shoulders back to open your chest. If it is comfortable on your neck, take your head back and look up. Stay here for 10 breaths, then switch sides.
Dolphin Pose, variation
Continue to stretch your upper back and shoulders, while adding a release for your hamstrings. This hands-free version of dolphin helps you to get into your upper back, which stiffens from the physical and mental effects of travel. It also keeps your hands clean! Find a ledge for your elbows that is of similar height to your hips; the back of the chairs at most airport gates work great. Bend your elbows, palms together, and rest your upper arms on the chair ledge. Walk your feet back until your hips are aligned over your heels. Use your inhalations to reach your chest forward toward your head, keeping your front ribs gently lifted. Use your exhalations to press your top thighs back, which will release your hamstrings. Together, this chest and leg work will help you release tension in your upper back and lengthen your spine. Stay here for 10 breaths or longer.
Wide-Legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana)
One of the key features of this layover sequence is helping you avoid having to touch the floor with your hands. So, in this version of the forward bend, you’ll clasp your elbows. Step your feet about three feet apart. I recommend taking a shorter stance than you usually take, which will not only deepen your hamstring release but also ensure your head doesn’t touch the ground. On an exhalation, fold forward at your hips, clasp your forearms, and stay here for 10 breaths. After 5 breaths, feel free to switch the clasp while you hang, so your other arm is in front. Or, come upright and then fold again, switching your clasp the opposite way for a second round.
Garland Pose (Malasana), variation
This posture is a big hip-opener and helps to stretch the inner thighs, too. Start seated and take your legs wider than your hips, with your feet and thighs turned out. On an inhalation, lift your chest; on an exhalation, fold at your hips. To avoid putting your hands on the floor, you may hold your ankles or reach your arms toward your carry-on luggage in front of you (which will give you an added spine stretch). Keep your head down as you practice this pose to keep it even more calming. Stay here for 10 breaths or longer.
Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana)
Some people are not comfortable sitting on the floor of an airport, so feel free to use a bag or scarf under your bum if that’s the case. Otherwise, sit on the floor and separate your legs into a wide V-shape, keeping your spine long. If it is hard to sit upright without rounding your spine, try bending your knees slightly. On an exhalation, fold forward, reaching your arms out in front of you. You can hold your ankles or bend your elbows in front of you and isometrically draw your elbows back toward you, which lengthens the spine even more. (I personally love the latter version, as it creates the perfect shape to do some work on my computer while I wait for my flight.) Stay here for 10 breaths or longer.
About the Author
Sarah Ezrin is a yoga teacher in San Francisco. Learn more at sarahezrinyoga.com.