Model: Jenn Collatta // Photo Credit: Eric Rosso
Did you know that we in Hawaii, live in one of the most isolated population centers on Earth? The closest land-mass is California, roughly 2,400 miles —at least a five-hour plane ride away. In essence, each time we attempt to leave the isles, we subject our bodies to long airplane rides. The body gets crammed into a tight space for hours. Unless you’re traveling first class, we practically fold our bodies in half, hinged at the lower back, and most likely shift from one unnatural position to another. I jokingly call this “airplane asana,” and unlike the yoga poses we’re accustomed to, this one doesn’t do the body any good.
In fact, this “slump-and-dump” posture, as I like to describe it, is a crisis for the human body. In our daily lives alone, sitting for more than six to eight hours a day may shorten our life span. According to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, prolonged sitting can greatly increase your odds of an untimely death, from all causes, including heart disease and cancer. Immobility also decreases blood circulation, which can lead to muscle stiffness and cramping. Severe cases of poor circulation, especially on long flights, can even lead to deep vein thrombosis, a serious condition when blood clots form in extremities such as the legs.
Now that should get us up and moving!
So, what exactly is “airplane asana?” I describe it as a long hold of “non-ideal body mechanics” due to limiting the body to cramped spaces. The tailbone is typically tucked inward, resulting in a flattened lower back; the chest dumps down and the neck moves forward. Starting with your commute to the airport, pre-board waiting time, transit on the aircraft, and commute to the actual destination, you can imagine how much of your waking hours are spent in uncomfortable positions. So what is a yogi to do?
To undo the effects of airplane asana, think about taking your body “in reverse.” For every tuck and curl the body has taken, there’s a counter pose to help undo the discomfort. Here are some exercises designed to unravel and restore your body during travel:
Spend about 30 seconds to one minute in each exercise. It is helpful to find a less crowded area that has a wall and a floor.
TRY THESE MOVES A FEW TIMES BEFORE YOUR FLIGHT:
1. Stabilize your mind and body first with a balanced breath exercise. Breathe in a one-to-one ratio; for instance inhale for five counts and exhale for five counts.
2. Maintain this breath for all exercises. Elongate your spine with down dog at the wall. Place your hands in line with your shoulders and walk your feet back while dropping your chest towards the floor. Keep the heels under your hips and knees partially bent. Guide the tailbone and inner thighs back while firming the lower belly. Send full, wide breaths towards the back of your shoulder blades and rib cage.
3. Ease knee stiffness and tension with this standing thigh stretch. Standing in mountain pose with toes pointing straight ahead, bend the right knee and hold the right ankle with the right hand. Keep the knees together and contract the right buttock slightly. Repeat on the other side.
4. Quiet your mind with this standing forward bend. Stand hip-width distance apart, with toes pointing straight ahead. Bend the knees and hinge at your hip while bringing your chest towards your thighs. If you feel any strain in the hamstrings, lower back or neck, keep the knees bent. Otherwise, begin to straighten the legs. Keep a slight tone to the low belly while releasing your head and neck.
5. Improve your breath with this chest and shoulder opener: Interlace your hands behind your back and lift your sternum up. The shoulders should roll back towards the spine. Align the openings of your ears over the tops of the shoulders.
TRY THESE MOVES A FEW TIMES DURING YOUR FLIGHT:
1. Place a pillow behind the lower back to counter a slouched posture.
2. Soothe your nervous system with two-to-one breathing. Inhale through the nostrils while noticing how your belly expands. Favor your exhale (a little longer) while noticing how your belly relaxes. It is helpful to count your breath; for instance, if you inhale for a count of three, exhale for a count of six. Repeat five times.
3. Keep the circulation flowing with feet, wrist, shoulder and neck circling. There’s nothing complicated here—simply rotate these areas. But be mindful, go slow, and stay with the breath.
4. Keep your spine flexible with cat and cow poses. Exhale as you round your spine by tucking your tailbone under, rounding your shoulders, and drawing your navel to spine. Inhale and arch your spine by swinging your tailbone back, lifting your chest up and squeezing your shoulders together. Repeat four to five times.
5. Wake up your hip flexors with knee hugs. Sitting tall, inhale and lift your right knee up while interlacing hands around your right shin. Exhale and pull your knee in towards your chest. Move knee in and out four to five times, then repeat on the other leg.
6. Stretch your glutes with seated pigeon pose. Sitting tall, inhale and place your right ankle over the left thigh. Exhale and hinge at the hip and lift your chest (do not slump into your lower back). Hold for five breaths, and then repeat on the other side.
7. Unwind your spine with a seated spinal twist. Position your feet under your knees. Inhale and lift your side body, exhale and lightly draw your navel inward as you turn your torso to the right. Lift the sternum and broaden your chest. Hold for five breaths and then repeat on the other side.
8. Open the shoulders with eagle arms. Extend your arms forward and parallel to floor. Cross the right arm on top of the left arm then bend your elbows. Press the backs of the hands towards each other or wrap your left palm to meet your right palm. Lift the elbows to the height of your shoulders and stretch your fingers to the ceiling. Hold for five breaths, and then repeat on the other side.
9. If possible, get up from your seat and repeat some or all of the “pre-boarding” exercise above.
Jennifer has been certified in the health and fitness industry since 1995, and in 2000 she moved exclusively towards yoga. She is currently a senior student of Dr. Paul Muller-Ortega’s yoga, tantric and meditation-based studies. Jennifer has been offering RYT teacher training on Oahu since 2008. Her signature class includes a blend of philosophy, mantra, flow, and alignment.