Flying is taxing on the whole being. Between jet lag, bad airplane food, getting your immune system assaulted by travelers from all over the world who are sick, and bad posture from narrow airplane seats, you run many risks of getting ill.
During a weekend trip to San Francisco, I had my wife take a few pictures of me doing some asanas that are possible on a long plane ride. These postures combat some of the ills of sitting for five hours.
This is Gulphasana (a variation of Uttanasana where you put your hands around your Gulpha, or the Marma point around your ankles). I like this variation because it gives the spine more traction and the ankles give you leverage to pull against. If you are stiffer, you can simply hold the elbows in Uttanasana. You can do this pose by in the area for the loo queue.
Lolasana (Earing Pose). This pose does many things whilst traveling. If you think about your internal organs of digestion, they are sitting heavy for many hours on the plane. This arm balance, which is easy with the chair configuration extends the internal organs and gives them a “rest” from being sedentary. It also stretches the arms and gets the heart rate going. You cannot see, but the calves are crossed at the shins to form an”X”. Also note this is not the final stage of the pose where you bring your knees to the chest. Again, this stage is presented just to give the internal organs a nice stretch.
Simhasana I variation (Lion pose). From Lolasana, bring all the weight on to your calves that are still in the shape of an “X.” One of the great dangers of flying is deep vein thrombosis, where you can get a blood clot in your legs from a combination of sedentariness and change in pressure from altitude. By sitting on your calves, you squeeze the lymph nodes and promote circulation. The spine also gets a nice reprieve by naturally stacking up straight when sitting on the calves. One warning is that this pose can be very painful if you have stiff calf muscles. My mentoring teacher would often tell me that the stiff calf muscles go hand and hand with poor digestion. As flying can make one constipated, this pose may give you aid in moving things along. Don’t do this if you have knee problems. The classic posture is with the tongue sticking and the eyes looking up toward the tip of the nose. Because of stricter air policies, I would use caution as it may be draw unwanted attention from the air marshall.
Supta Vajrasana (reclined lightning bolt pose). This is a variation of Supta Virasana where I sit on my heels and recline the chair back. This provides tremendous relief for the spine and digestive system. It provides an assertive stretch on the front thigh muscles (quadriceps). I would try to build time up to five minutes in this pose. Be careful on getting out of the posture and use the lolasana technique of lifting yourself with your arms and extend one leg out at a time to avoid injuring the knees. If you have knee problems omit this pose.
When you get to your destination, I would recommend that you do inversions to offset the invitation of deep vein thrombosis. Viparita Karani as seen above is always nice to restore yourself.
Simple legs up the wall (Urdvha Prasarita Padasana) would work too if you don’t have props handy. If are menstruating or cannot do inversions, Supta Baddha Bonasana will also provide some benefits for digestion and restoration.
Some airports now feature yoga rooms where you can do these poses during your layover. If your airport does not provide them you can just find an empty gate area and find a wall. Bon Voyage!