I recently returned from an international flight that had me wedged between two people for 10 hours. I knew that being contorted into a pretzel for an extended period of time could worsen my blood circulation and increase my risk of blood clots. An easy mark, I was suckered into buying travel hacks that promised to improve blood circulation through a padded foot sling. Unfortunately, the foot sling proved too cumbersome for me to use the whole flight. What did end up working were the free guided yoga movements that the in-flight entertainment system provided for anxious flyers like myself.
When we are flying, many circumstances are out of our control. Often, we do not get to pick our seats or our seatmates. But no matter which seat you were assigned, staying zen and limber in a cramped space is possible. You do not need to do exhaustively complicated poses to relax and feel good. All it takes is a few simple flexes and stretches.
Here is how to do it without disturbing your neighbor:
1) Take a deep breath
First, you need to get into the right mindset to relax. Airplanes are a cacophony of unpleasant noises and smells. To let go of the crying baby three aisles away, move your attention inwards. Sit up straight, release the tension in your shoulders, and pay attention to your breathing. Slowly inhale and exhale through your nose. Stay present into what you are feeling in that moment. Deep breathing is our body’s internal stress reliever; the action tells our nervous system to calm down.
2) Roll your ankles, flex your toes
Sitting in a cramped chair for too long makes my feet tingle. Rotating my ankles to the left and to the right in circles gets my blood flowing. In an even smaller movement, you can alternate pushing your heels and toes into the ground to flex your calf muscles, as Healthline recommends.
3) Twist in your seat
To stretch your spine, twist your torso to the left and right. When we are still for too long, our stomachs pay the price. Twisting your body will get your circulation and digestive system flowing again. “You can put your left hand on the outside of your right knee to deepen the twist. Always include your head and neck in the twist,” the New York Times‘ yoga guide recommends.
4) Open your hips by tilting your legs
You can wake up your legs without needing to stand up through a pose that is designed to take pressure off of your knee joints. Tilt your left leg open so that your left ankle is on top of your right thigh. Inhale, exhale for a few breaths and feel the stretch in your hips as you gently press your left hand into your bent left leg. You can increase the stretch by tilting your body forward as you press your hand into your leg. “Even just coming forward an inch feels really good, gives you a nice hip stretch,” yoga instructor Sandy Pradas said.
Then repeat the movement by placing your right ankle on top of the opposite knee, and going through the process again. This pose is known to alleviate tension in your stiff lower back.
5) Hug yourself
This back-stretching pose is a versatile stretch that you can do standing or sitting. Cross your hands over your chest so that each hand is holding an opposite shoulder. You can increase the feeling of the stretch by moving your right ear to your right shoulder and then moving your left ear to your left shoulder.