Travel can take a serious toll on the body’s ability to function at optimal health levels. International flights, road trips, or day-long train rides force us to cramp our bodies into a small seat for numerous hours at a time in dehydrating circumstances. When traveling on an intercontinental flight, the combination of plane travel stress, time zone/sleep pattern changes and altered eating schedules can disturb your mind/body balance – combating the resulting jet lag after long haul travel can make you feel exhausted. By practicing a few simple yoga moves (both in transit and afterwards), you can reset your internal body clock and maintain a positive perspective with regard to your new surroundings – and help you stay well refreshed whilst on the road. These yoga moves will help to improve your vitality and energise the nervous system, enabling you to stay focused and alert – especially when you have meetings to attend or fun to be had soon after landing. These poses help to maintain a healthy digestive system if you’ve been sitting for long periods of time; as well as provide ways to help you relax, unwind and aid in a restful night sleep. Yoga is a positive lifestyle choice for people of all ages and backgrounds – and it can be hard to stay positive and motivated with all of the difficulties that airline travel can throw at you! You can practice the following simple set of movements anywhere while you are in transit. Yoga can be tailored to safely suit any individual’s current state of health, so anyone can do these.
I recommend these poses to clients in order to help their bodies feel normal again, both during and after traveling. Breathe deeply in and out through the nose during all of these movements.
Supine (Reclining) Twist pose (Supta Matsyendrasana)
This helps to “wring out” our internal organs for detoxification purposes while relieving any lower back pain.
Lie on your back with knees hugged to the chest. Place your arms out to the sides, pressing firmly through the shoulders. As you exhale, lower the knees to the right. Keep your head centred or gaze left. If the left shoulder lifts then move the knees away from the shoulder. Hold for one to two minutes. Engage the abdominals to bring knees to centre. Switch sides.
Cat Cow pose (Marjaiasana)
Combine the Cat and Cow poses to gently stretch your neck and spine after a long flight. It helps to relieve stress and tension, two things that can make your jet lag even worse. Balance on your hands and knees on a cushioned yoga mat. Your knees should be directly under your hips, while your wrists should be directly under your shoulders. Keep your head in a neutral position. On the inhale breath, lift your butt and chest toward the ceiling, while letting your belly drop toward the floor — this is the Cow pose. On the exhale, round your spine up toward the ceiling, while releasing your chest, head and butt toward the ground — this is Cat pose. Repeat the sequence 5 to 10 times.
Downward Facing Dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward dog is perfect for stretching your back muscles and hamstrings after long hours of travel.
When you come into the posture, ensure that you feel the ground beneath your foundation in order to keep you firm and stable, both physically and mentally. Start on your hands and knees (from Cat Cow pose), then walk your knees back about a foot. Lift your hips into the air and press the chest and thighs back. If your back rounds bend your knees while still lifting the hips high into the air. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
Balancing Tree pose (Vriksasana)
This is the perfect pose to keep your feet firmly grounded. When we’re fully grounded and ‘in the moment’, this stability can give us the clarity to move forward into our next decision, without delay or undue haste. Begin at the top of your mat, with your feet together. Bring your weight onto your left side (foot, leg and torso). Inhale your right foot onto your left anklebone, knee out wide (to open your hip). Keep your eyes looking softly at one point ahead of you. You can breathe and hold here in this pose; alternatively, inhale your foot either below or above your kneecap (not on your knee). Press your inner foot into your inner thigh muscle to hold yourself into the pose; your hands can stay onto your hips, or inhale your arms up over your head into prayer. Exhale to release your foot and arms back down.
To challenge yourself further, you can take your gaze up to your thumbs or even close your eyes for inner balance and clarity.
Remember that yoga is a journey. It’s inspirational to know where you can travel to along this path. Hold your chosen variation for 5-10 breaths and repeat the same variation on the other side.
Pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
The hips can become very tight while sitting in transit for long hours. Hip opening poses also help us to release stress, which can be built up from your trip and stored in this part of the body. It’s also a great way to stretch the glutes and psoas (groin) muscles. From downward facing dog, bring the right knee behind the right wrist. Place the right foot in front of the left hip. Extend the left leg straight back behind the left hip. Keep the hips even and allow them to relax toward the floor. Lower onto the elbows and let the head rest on the backs of the hands. If lowering to the elbows is too deep, then keep the upper torso and head propped up.
Legs-Up-Wall pose (Viparita Karani)
This pose stretches hamstrings, drains stagnant fluid from the feet and ankles, and improves circulation. Given the amount of circulation issues that arise from long-haul plane flights, this is a great pose for reversing the effects. Sit sideways with your hips touching a wall and swing your legs up the wall, lying flat on your back. The arms can rest alongside the body or overhead. Hold 5-10 minutes. (And if you only have 10 minutes to do yoga, then this is the pose to do!) For a variation, try putting the soles of your feet together:
After flying, we want to re-lengthen the spine, create more openness in our hips (which are most likely very tight from sitting in a confined space) and help fight jet lag and the general tiredness traveling typically creates.
Here are a few additional tips to help the body adjust to the change in time zones and altitude while flying:
- Get up and walk around the plane every two hours to keep the circulation flowing and avoid blood clots.
- Drink plenty of water on the flight. Try to drink at least eight to twelve ounces of water for every hour in the air. If traveling domestically, pop a Cocobella coconut water in your carry-on.
- Adjust to the new time right away. Stay awake during the day and go to bed at a reasonable time.
- Exercise in fresh air if possible when you land. A long walk can help eliminate fatigue. Go barefoot on grass while you walk or exercise.