Credit: Maria Revelj
I wrote this article on my flight back from Bali a few weeks ago, in answer to a question from Daniel Roth:
"I find myself traveling in a car or plane more often than I'd like to admit and when I’m not traveling, I’m sitting at a desk. I have the Office Yoga and Travel Yoga routines. What I’m looking for is a yoga routine/yoga poses to do in the car or plane to stretch my neck, back and shoulders to release tension, relieve pain and prepare me for my next shredding on the MTB."
Having spent most of the last 6 years living in Mexico and now planning an imminent move from one tropical jungle to another in Bali, I spend a fair amount of time on long-haul flights. I’m no expert but here is my guide to mitigating against the ill-effects of flying – from jet lag to achey muscles, stiff joints and anxiety.
On the plane
Ideally you should try to stand as much as possible during your flight but if you’re sitting, try to maintain a good posture and resist slumping into your chair. I also have it on good authority that compression socks are the way to go.
I’m pretty small so I try to switch up my body position – squatting, kneeling, bending one knee at a time – but I realise that won’t be possible for many of you.
If you’re not sleeping, set an alarm to go off every 30 minutes to remind you to get up and move about. I set the Idle Alert on my Jawbone but you can also use the timer on your phone. Getting up and stretching your legs promotes blood flow and inhibits swelling.
Aside from that, here are a couple of movement sequences you can do in your seat to keep the juices flowing.
1. Joint mobility (5 minutes)
To stop your joints getting stiff and encourage the blood and nutrients to circulate through your body, take as many of your joints as you can through full range of motion for 30 reps. You can do these exercises sitting or standing.
- Fingers: Clench your fists and flick your fingers out.
- Wrists: Circle your wrists one way, then the other.
- Elbows: Circle your elbows one way, then the other.
- Shoulders: Circle your shoulders one way, then the other.
- Neck: Do half circles from right to left and back again. Be super gentle with your neck and take these slowly.
- Ankles: Make circles with your ankles one way, then the other.
2. Seated static stretches (7 minutes)
Stretching tight muscles feels good and helps you to stay in good postural alignment during the flight. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds, or longer if it feels really good.
- Fingers and Inner Forearms: Bend your wrist so that your fingers are pointing up and away from you and use your right hand to press back all your fingers on your left hand. Switch hands.
- Wrists and Upper Forearms: Bend your wrist the other way so that your fingers point down and press your right hand against the top of your left hand. This is easiest if you bend your left arm to 90 degrees across your body. Switch sides.
- Triceps: Bend your right arm and bring your right hand in between your shoulder blades, palm flat to your back. Apply gentle pressure to your top elbow. Switch sides.
- Upper Back and Shoulder Blades: Bend your elbows and bring your right elbow on top of the left. Wrap your forearms and try to bring your palms together. Lift your elbows and point your fingers straight up. If that’s uncomfortable, you can bring the backs of your hands together. Reverse the pose.
- Neck: Drop your right ear to your right shoulder, bring your right hand to the left side of your head and pull down gently. Switch to the other side. Then bring both hands behind your head to stretch the back of your neck. Finally, look up to the sky and bring your bottom jaw forward to feel a stretch in your throat and the front of your neck.
- Twist: Take hold of your right arm rest and twist to the right. Inhale as you lengthen your spine and exhale to twist. Try to keep as much space as possible between your shoulder and chin. Switch to the other side.
3. Standing static stretches (6 minutes)
If you can find a space near the galley or emergency exit, hold these standing stretches for 30 seconds or longer.
- Sidebends: Inhale, bring your arms up overhead, take hold of your left wrist with your right hand and stretch your spine long. Exhale, bend to the right. Hold the stretch. Inhale, come back to centre, switch hands, reach up. Exhale, bend to the left.
- Shoulders: Bring your left arm across your body, palm facing towards you and hug it in towards your body with your right arm. Switch sides.
- Quads: Bend your right knee and take hold of your right ankle behind you. Tilt you pelvis up to feel the stretch in your quads, Switch sides.
- Hips: Hug your right knee into your chest. Then the left.
- Chest: Find a wall or door frame, bend your right arm at right angles with your handing pointing up and press gently against your inner forearm to open up your chest. Switch sides.
- Lower back: Hang in Rag Doll for a minute, swaying gently from side to side. Bend your knees as much you need to.
Healthy flying tips
- Only drink water and drink lots of it – bring a refillable bottle and top it up on board if you can
- Don’t drink any alcohol and avoid the bad coffee and sugary drinks.
- Set your clock to the time of your destination when you board to get into the rhythm of your new time zone as soon as possible.
- Don’t feel you have to eat any or all of your meal, depending on who you’re flying with.
This is best-case scenario. If you feel like starting the celebrations early or holding onto the holiday vibe, then feel free to throw caution to the wind and drink and eat to your heart’s delight.
If your flight is overnight (at your destination time zone), the best thing you can do to mitigate jet lag is to sleep but that’s not always easy on a plane. Here are some sleeping essentials:
- Eye mask
- Lavender oil
- Natural Calm Magnesium
- Try to avoid looking at your phone or the entertainment screen
Another great way to help you sleep, is to do a therapeutic breathing exercise. Here are the instructions for 4-7-8 Breath:
If you want to take a break from looking at a screen and you don’t have a book with you, I recommend you listen to a podcast. Here are 10 of my favourites:
- The Tim Ferriss Show
- The Art Of Charm
- The School Of Greatness
- Question Of The Day
- Inside Quest
- Aubrey Marcus Podcast
- Spartan Up!
- The Psychology Podcast
- The Virgin Podcast
- Freakonomics Radio
When you get home
Make sure to get straight on the yoga to help ease jet lag and reduce the aches and pains, especially in your neck, shoulders and lower back, from travelling.
Here are 5 restorative poses to do before bed:
1. Legs Up The Wall
Credit: Sean Reagan
- Rest your feet up against the wall at the head of your bed.
- Bring your arms by your sides, palms facing up.
- Close your eyes and relax into the pose for 5-10 deep breaths. Notice as your belly expands on your inhalation and contracts as you exhale.
2. Seated Twist
- Sit cross-legged in the middle of your bed.
- Place your left hand on your right knee and your right fingertips a few inches behind you.
- Inhale, sit up tall. Exhale, twist to the right from the base of your spine–looking over your right shoulder.
- Stay in the pose for 5 deep breaths–inhaling to lengthen and exhaling to twist a little deeper.
- Come back to centre on your last exhalation and switch your legs for the other side.
3. Folded Butterfly
- Bring the soles of your feet together in the shape of a diamond and let your legs fall open. Inhale, sit up tall. Exhale, fold forward and completely relax your upper body–arms, neck and head.
- Close your eyes and relax into the pose for 5-10 deep breaths–breathing deep into your abdomen.
- To come out of the pose, take a deep breath in. Exhale, gently come back up to sitting, bring your legs out in front of you and give them a shake.
4. Child's Pose
- Come to all fours, touch your big toes together, sit back on your heels and rest your forehead on the bed. Bring your arms by your sides, palms facing up and let go of any tension across your upper back and shoulders.
- Stay in the pose for 5-10 breaths.
- To come out of the pose, take a deep breath in, bring your palms to the bed and press up to kneeling on an exhalation.
5. Happy Baby
- Lie on your back, take hold of the outsides of your feet, bring your ankles out over your knees, flex your feet and gently pull them towards you.
- Press your lower back into the bed.
- Close your eyes and stay in the pose for 5-10 breaths, rocking gently from side to side
Here is a link to the Relaxation series for 15 x 15-minute restorative routines to follow for the next few days while you recover fully from jet lag: