Yoga for airplane travel

Written by on March 23, 2012 in Guest Posts, Travel Tips - 13 Comments

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Willow Withy.

When visitors first reach a destination, eyes are captive with a new view and a mind ruminating with the trip’s itinerary. Also upon arrival, when people check into his or her body, chance are they are sore and exhausted – especially for those who have taken long-haul trips.

With an adrenaline kick, the traveler has managed to lug those suitcases through a sea of people, sit still in cramped quarters and navigate through unfamiliar territory. Travel is not easy on the mind or body. Without wellness, a journey can feel like a long, painful detour from home.

Fortunately, there are some stretches which can be squeezed into a trek that will restore the body from stress, fatigue, neck, back and hip pain.

It’s all about you

Most pain can be avoided through the awareness of posture and body mechanics. Before every day’s journey be aware of alignment.  The basis for good posture is maintaining a “neutral spine.” A neutral spine retains three natural curves: a small hollow at the base of the neck, a small roundness at the middle back, and a small hollow in the low back. A neutral spine is neither rounded forward nor arched back too much while seated or standing.

That is ideal, but in reality we all know you’re slouching when your reach the terminal because you have one bag on your shoulder and a carry on is trailing behind. You slide down in your chair to get comfortable – completely wiping out all hollows in the spine.  Your neck is out of alignment while checking your phone/magazine/laptop/book/stalker from the next seat over.  Generally, your mind is probably not on your alignment until it starts to ache.

Basic poses to relieve aches

Cat Pose (Marjaryasana)

Draw your wrists directly below the shoulders and your knees directly below your hips.  On an exhalation contract your pelvis and the front of your rib cage towards each other, simultaneously expanding the back of your rib cage.

For a seated variation of Cat Pose begin with your legs parallel and your shoulders above your hips.  Then, hold onto your knees and contract your pelvis toward the front of the ribcage and expand the back of the rib cage while rounding the neck and lower back into a long curve.

Try pairing Cat Pose with Cow Pose …

Cow Pose (Bitilasana)

Begin in the same neutral position as Cat Pose – hands and knees below shoulders and hips.  On an inhalation, expand the front of the rib cage, arching the back, lifting the gaze and the sit bones upward.


Do the same motion in a seated modification.  (Maybe consciously add this stretch while checking if the seatbelt light is illuminated.)


Those suffering from tight hips and lower back pain caused from sitting for prolonged periods of time can be released in this dynamic king pigeon pose.

King Pigeon (Rajakapotasana)

This is a leg-option-only of the full pose. The benefits of this pose include a stretch to the thighs, groins, psoas, abdomen, chest, shoulders and neck.

Starting on all fours or in downward dog, slide your shin forward parallel to the front of the mat.  Let your sit bones slide down and extend the back leg.  Be mindful of keeping the shoulders and hips in alignment and try to avoid twisting to the path of least resistance.

The seated variation is my favorite “sneaky stretch” as you can easily use reading material in the hands as you hinge forward from the hip.

Half Lord of the Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

This twist energizes the spine and gives the digestive system a boost (we know the nutritional value of food on the road will put you in a calorie-induced coma).

This sounds complicated, but stay with me, it is easy and so rewarding.

From a neutral seated position (both sit bones rooted to the floor, shoulders lifted above the hips), place your left foot to the outside of your right thigh; the left knee will point to the sky.  If your sit bones can stay level try bending the right leg and pull the heel toward the left sit bone.  Reach your right arm over the shoulder then place the elbow on the outside of the left knee. On an inhalation lift or “grow” the spine upward.  On an exhalation twist deeper over the left shoulder.


In the seated modification, place one foot just above your bent knee.  Try twisting gently in both directions holding onto the foot or opposing knee for stability in the twist.

Refresh your body

These  traveling yoga tips will refresh your body and your mind and allow a yogic view of your new destination – experiencing everyday things as if for the first time in which nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.  Maybe the journey of movement within your own body will offer a fresh perspective.  While sneaking in a stretch maybe you’ll find another destination along the way, as Martin Buber says, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

And if by chance your path leads you to Las Vegas I hope our paths will cross.

About the Author: Said to be one of the best instructors in Las Vegas, Willow Withy teaches private sessions and classes on and off The Strip. Willow brings an extensive knowledge of movement and body mechanics to her yoga teaching which allows her students to achieve a wide variety of goals ranging from therapeutic recovery and improved daily functioning to achieving higher levels of fitness and performance. Guests of any hotel can book private sessions with Willow. She teaches poolside classes, weather permitting, at the Four Seasons Hotel and at the Mirage Hotel. An especially unique yoga experience is available in the Dolphin Habitat booked through the Spa at the Mirage Friday – Sunday mornings at 8:30 a.m. She is a studio instructor at Sherry Goldstien’s Yoga Sanctuary and hosts a popular Happy Hour Vinyasa Groove on Friday nights. If you still can’t catch her she also teaches a few classes at Life Time Fitness in Summerlin and 24 Hour Fitness. Book a session or connect online. Stay updated with special events and daily inspiration on Facebook.


About the Author

Diana Edelman is an avid traveler who recently spent four years living as an expat. Most notably, Diana spent nearly three years in Chiang Mai, Thailand where she worked with Save Elephant Foundation to raise awareness about the realities of elephant tourism. Currently based in Las Vegas, Diana works in many industries as a publicist, social media expert, content creator and journalist. The founder of Vegans, Baby, you can normally find her hanging out at vegan restaurants around town, exploring the beauty of the desert southwest or camped out at a coffee shop banging on a keyboard. The co-founder of the Responsible Travel & Tourism Collective, Diana has spoken at conferences about travel blogging and responsible tourism.

13 Comments on " Yoga for airplane travel "

  1. Bobbi Lee Hitchon March 25, 2012 at 6:18 pm · Reply

    Such a helpful post! Hope anyone on a long haul flight gets a chance to read this and use the poses.

    • Diana March 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm · Reply

      I’m taking a long haul in a month or so … can’t wait to try these out.

  2. Christy March 25, 2012 at 8:04 pm · Reply

    Pigeon and Cat and the Cow are two of my favorite poses. I definitely need a back and hip stretch after a long flight!

    • Diana March 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm · Reply

      Me, too!!! Love them.

  3. Ali March 26, 2012 at 4:47 am · Reply

    Wow, I am NOT flexible enough for yoga! But this does look helpful!

    • Diana March 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm · Reply

      You’d be surprised! I didn’t think I was flexible enough, but after practicing, I’ve gotten much better!

  4. Ayngelina March 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm · Reply

    I did hot yoga 4 days a week before I left to travel and then only 4 times in the 18 months I was away. I finally started doing it again and realize how necessary it is for travelers – especially backpackers.

    Pigeon is my favourite too.

    • Diana March 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm · Reply

      I love yoga! Pigeon is my favorite! I can’t wait to get on an airplane again now that I know some airplane yoga moves. 🙂

  5. Erica March 27, 2012 at 11:22 am · Reply

    I still have never done a yoga class EVER (I know SHOCKING!). Although it is interesting to know that some of my stretches are yoga.

    • Diana March 27, 2012 at 5:03 pm · Reply

      Mmmm. I LOVE yoga.

  6. Wanderplex March 29, 2012 at 11:25 am · Reply

    Not sure if I’m flexible enough to do some of these poses but I do like the idea 🙂

    • Diana March 29, 2012 at 9:35 pm · Reply

      Try! You’d be surprised. Cow and Cat, and Pigeon are AMAZING and feel incredible.

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