Flying, particularly on a long haul flight, can be really hard on the body and mind. Sitting for hours in cramped conditions can leave you feeling stiff, achy and exhausted. On a flight I was taking recently I decided to try some yoga, partly to improve how I was feeling but also hoping I might relax enough to drift off to sleep once I’d finished the meditation part of the practice. Even though space was limited I did find enough room for some seated twists, side bends, knees-to-chest pose and seated cat/cow pose. After the short active practice I decided to round it all off with five minutes of quiet ujjayi breathing and a 20 minute listening meditation. Unfortunately I didn’t fall asleep after the meditation but I did feel more relaxed and a lot more comfortable for the rest of the flight. Here’s a description of the practice I used on the flight, adapting some common yoga postures so that they can be done sitting down in quite a small space.
Place your right hand on your left knee and hold the side of your seat with your left hand. Relax your shoulder blades down as your exhale. On an inhale lengthen through your back so you are sitting tall. As you exhale press gently into your left knee and twist to the left. With each successive inhalation lift slightly taller through the spine, and with each exhalation gently twist further to the left. Repeat for five to ten breaths before swapping sides.
Place your right hand on the right arm of your seat. Reach your left arm above your head and gently side bend to the right as you exhale, on an inhale come back to sitting upright. Repeat five to ten times maybe bending to the side slightly more each time but make sure to maintain a comfortable stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Sit tall in your seat and on an inhale bring your shoulders up towards your ears, as you exhale lower them back down to their original position. Repeat a few time tensing the shoulders upwards on an inhale and releasing on an exhale. Follow by rolling the shoulders, working the joint through it’s whole range of movement, up, forward, down and back. Repeat a few times before reversing and repeating.
Sit tall in your seat and as you exhale roll your lower back and mid-back towards the back of the chair and curl your upper back forwards bringing your chin to your chest. In your head picture a cat arching its back and try and replicate this movement with your own body. On an inhale through your whole spine so that your sitting tall in your seat with your crown pointing up towards the sky. Repeat this movement from the beginning curling the spine into the arch of the cat as exhale and sitting up straight and tall on an inhale. Do this a few more times finishing by sitting tall and letting your breath settle.
Single knee to chest
Sit tall in your seat and as you exhale bend your right leg at the knee and hug your leg in towards your body. Hold for five to ten breaths, continuing to sit upright, keeping your shoulders back and down, focusing on your breath and a feeling of opening in the chest. Release your leg on an exhale and repeat on the left side.
The gentle ocean sound made during Ujjayi breathing is fairly well obscured by the noise of the aeroplane engines and it’s a great breathing practice to help you become calm and relaxed. If you’re new to Ujjayi breathing then follow this link for a really helpful explanation from Adriene Mischler on her Yoga with Adriene Youtube channel. I spent about five minutes practicing Ujjayi breathing but you can take as long as you need. Another great breathing practice to try is square breathing which I’ve written about in a previous blog post.
Start by taking a few breaths focusing on the feeling of the breath as it enters and leaves your body. Allow your body to relax but keep your spine long so you’re sitting upright. When you notice your mind has wandered just gently guide it back to your breathing. Now let your attention drift outwards becoming aware of the sounds coming from your surroundings. Listen to the sounds without judging them or naming them. When your attention drifts away and becomes distracted by your thoughts tune back into your environment, listening to all of the sounds you can hear. Practice for five to twenty minutes.