Whether your flight is a short hop or a long haul, your body might have a few kinks once your plane hits the tarmac at your final destination. Courtney Love, a Boulder, Colo.-based yoga teacher, offers tips for preventative stretches for the hips, hamstrings and spine to do before, during and after the flight.
Before a Flight
Sleeping Pigeon: Any pose that will open up your hips is ideal before a plane ride. Start on all fours with your hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Bring your right knee to your right hand on the floor, and aim to rest the shin on the floor parallel and in line with your hands. Extend the left leg straight back while lowering your hips square to the floor. If your hips are tight, hold yourself up with your arm strength. Press the top of your back foot into the floor, and take a few deep breaths in this challenging pose. Release, and repeat on the other side.
Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose: Sitting on your bottom with both legs out in front, keep your right leg extended, and bend your left knee to move the sole of your foot toward the right inner thigh,while keeping the leg parallel to the ground. First, gently twist toward the bent left knee, while flexing and engaging the extended leg . From this twist, arch up and over to drop your right shoulder to your right knee for a side body stretch.
Reach the left arm overhead. “If the arm overhead doesn’t feel good because you can’t touch, or it’s floating and feels awkward, try cradling your head,” Love says. “I love to use the hand to actually manually lift the neck, and take the head away from the shoulders.” Last, release the twist, and stretch to come back up, with your hips and shoulders square, to fold forward from the hips for a hamstring stretch. Release and repeat on the other side.
Side Body Stretch: This simple stretch will help lengthen the side of your body. Standing with feet together, stretch your arms up and overhead. Grab the right wrist in the left hand, and gently stretch overhead and sideways while keeping your chest open and your shoulders down. Release, shake it out, and repeat on the other side.
During a Flight
Seated Figure Four: To keep the hips open and your spine mobile during a long flight, practice this stretch with a gentle twist. While seated, bring your right ankle over the top of your left thigh, then place your left hand on your right knee, and twist slowly clockwise from your core. Release to switch legs, and twist on the other side.
Shoulder, Neck and Chest Stretch: Interlace your hands at your low back while seated — you might have to scoot forward in your seat to have enough room. Bring them over to your left hip, then squeeze your elbows together, and drop your head to the right while keeping your right shoulder down. “You should feel a nice stretch through your neck, chest and shoulders,” Love says. “It’s natural for you to flare out through the belly and the chest, so you want to draw back in, and soften your tailbone down to not arch the spine. There will be a little bit of a heart opener in the chest, but the more you can be engaged drawing the belly and the ribs in, that will help stretch the shoulders and neck.” Unclasp your hands, shake out then repeat on the other side.
After You Land
Forward Fold: “This move will help stretch out your hamstrings and also lengthen your spine, something your body will need after hours in a small seat,” according to Love. Start with your feet about hip-distance apart, then bend forward from the hips as far as your hamstrings allow, without hinging your butt and hips out.
With the arms, fold and capture opposite elbows to dangle your arms, shoulders and head forward in ragdoll pose, or slide your hands, palm-up, underneath your feet for gorilla pose. Each variation lengthens the spine, wakes up the hamstrings, and gets you inverted with your head below your heart — this is helpful for blood circulation and re-energizing the body. You can also take a wide-legged forward fold with feet about a leg’s length distance apart.
Downward Facing Dog: Start in a tabletop position on your hands and knees, with your hips directly above your knees and your hands slightly in front of your shoulders, fingers spread wide. Lift up your hips, moving them away from the floor, while straightening your knees as much as is comfortable and extending your heels toward the ground. Push into your hands and shoulders to make a triangle shape with your body, with your head between your arms.
Cat-Cow Pose: If you have shoulder issues and downward facing dog isn’t an option, Love recommends staying in tabletop and doing a few “cat-cow” poses. You are still able to invert while lengthening the spine and side bodies, but the pressure isn’t on the shoulders. In tabletop, move into cow pose by dropping your belly towards the floor and reaching your head and shoulders up to create a stretch in the spine and sides.
Next, take the opposite cat pose and suck your belly into your spine while rounding it up and away from the ground and dropping your head. Inhale and exhale between these two movements a few times to get the blood flowing back into your spine and head.
Hold each of these poses on both sides for a few breaths to feel comfortable and relaxed during your travels.