How to survive long flights

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The Secret For How to Survive Long Flights

Yoga on Economy Flights

The age old question of how to survive long flights gets asked time and time again. With so many tips and gadgets around to help people cope with this problem, I thought I would share my one secret that always works.  

Imagine you just walked on-board your flight. You make your way down the aisle past the spacious seats of Business and First Class and into the cramped Economy section.

The significantly cheaper price was worth it, but now that you get settled in for the long haul, you are reminded of why you hate economy seats. Wedged between two other people, your knees brush the back of the seat in front of you, and you start to feel the early onset of that dreaded lower back pain. You still have 12 hours until you reach your destination and you don’t know how you’re going to cope.

Some health specialists are saying that sitting is the new smoking. If that’s the case, then there’s nothing worse you could do than sit trapped in a seated position on an airplane for hours on end. 

So how do you keep getting the cheaper flights so you have more money to spend at your destination, but also deal with the tiny seating situation?

The secret is Yoga

I picked up yoga more seriously in late 2018 and I can’t say how much it helps with everything – especially flying. As a teenager, I suffered from chronic lower-back pain. If standing for more than an hour or two without a break was agonising, then you can imagine what sitting on a long flight felt like. But since practising yoga more regularly, I’ve found that my back pain has vanished, and flights are now far more comfortable. The savings of Economy seats no longer have to be painful, and you can get in on this too!

Airplane Yoga

Yoga may have been invented in ancient India, but these days it is practised all over the world in a modern context. You might assume this mystical practise is reserved for the yoga studios populated by activewear-dressed hipsters, but the reality is that anyone can do it anywhere – even at 30,000 feet.

The health benefits of airplane yoga are numerous: it helps avoid deep vein thrombosis and improves blood circulation, decreases Cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases flexibility in the body allowing you to sit and sleep easier.

Get Grounded Before Take-off

To avoid aches and pains during the flight, try hitting the mat a day or two before your flight and loosen up your body. Yin yoga is an especially useful type of yoga for this as its aim is to increase circulation in the joints and improve flexibility through deep stretches.

Economy seating means slumping for the lumbar spine and cramped sitting for the legs, so focusing especially on the hip flexors and lower back will do wonders.

But it’s not just about moving the body. It’s also about preparing yourself mentally for the flight and close-quarters that you’ll be sharing with strangers. Yoga will help chill you out into a Zen-mode, reduce the anxiety of flying, and prepare you to take on even the most irritable flying situations.

yoga before flying

Asana in the Aisle

Blood clots form when you sit for more than a few hours, as can swelling as a result of your lymphatic system being unable to properly drain fluids throughout your body, leading to swelling or worse. That’s why it’s important to get up every few hours to keep the blood and fluids in your body circulating. Of course, be sure to drink lots of water as well. 

Some simple ways you can move:

  •  Walking up and down the aisle
  •  Neck bends (slow and deep)
  •  Lunges (take one large step forward and try to get your back knee as close to the ground as possible)
  •  Twisting in your chair
  •  Standing forward bends (try getting your head as close to your knees without bending them)
  •  Reverse shoulder stretch (interlace fingers from behind and stretch the arms whilst bending your back downwards)

Try holding the stretches for at least 30 seconds as it takes muscles that long to get the massage and feel relaxed. Remember to always bring back the focus to your breath to remain present and reduce stress.

Post-Flight Inversion

So, you finally made it off the plane. Your calves and ankles are swollen, you’re tired, and all you want to do is to have a proper nap. Resist that temptation! Instead, do an inversion exercise to decompress your body, relieve fatigue and help get blood moving to the parts that need it most.

One of the most relaxing inversions you can do after flying is the simple Legs Up The Wall pose where you lie down and put your legs up against a wall. This pose gently stretches the legs and lower back, which is perfect after a day of sitting. Laying down with your legs up like this is also the perfect way to calm the body and mind down before trying to fall asleep in a new time zone. The best thing is, this can be done anywhere there is a wall.

The great thing about this pose is that it has multiple benefits, without the effort. Legs Up The Wall Pose (Viparita Karani) reduces stagnant fluids in the legs and feat, relieves tired leg muscles, calms the nervous system, and evokes a meditative state with deep breathing.

  • Practice Tip: Play some meditation music, close your eyes, relax your upper body and take deep breaths through the nose and out the mouth. Relax here as long as you’d like.
Legs up the wall yoga pose
Legs Up The Wall is the perfect yoga pose after your flight
Yoga Bridge Pose
Bridge pose is a particularly rejuvenating pose after a flight given it revitalises the legs and helps to stretch out the shoulders
Yoga Wheel Pose

Other Useful Yoga Poses

To energise yourself, try the Bridge pose (advanced modification: Wheel pose). Lie down with your legs bent and walk your feet backwards closer to your fingertips. On an inhale, lift your hips up high toward the ceiling and interlace your fingers on the ground, burrowing down into the mat with your forearms. Press your shoulders down underneath you for even more lift in the hips and hold. Breath slowly and deeply.

Bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana) is a particularly rejuvenating pose after a flight given it revitalises the legs and helps to stretch out the shoulders. Meanwhile, the advanced modification fo Wheel pose, (Chakrasana) stretches the hip flexors, opens up the accessory muscles used in breathing and strengthens the shoulders. Completing this pose will also make you fee accomplished and provide a burst of positivity. 

  • Practice Tips: Lift the chest to meet the chin (not the other way around since this causes neck strain). Also, ensure your legs are hip-width apart during Bridge, and a little further apart for Wheel pose.  

And that’s all there is to the secret of how to survive long flights!  Whilst these tups may not resolve all your travel-related pains, they  can make significant (and noticeable) difference in how you feel before, during and after your long flight. To me, that’s worth it enough to give it a go.

I hope you try this before your next flight and report back to. me. I would love to hear your experience!

Namaste, travel yogis. 

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This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Everyone who has experienced these issues enroute a long flight feel miserable during the time they are in the flight, but forget about the trauma immediately after getting off and do nothing about it. These are some really good tips which no one would have thought of and are worth practicing. Thanks for sharing this Ry.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Rohit.

      Well said! If we can shift to looking at this issue (and anything else) from a proactive standpoint, we drastically reduce the risk of complications down the track.

      I recently had a flight to Indonesia and felt 0 uncomfortability the entire flight. The only variable that’s changed for me is doing yoga regularly the past few months, and actively remembering to stretch during my flight. Total bliss.

  2. Hey, Thanks for share with us.

    1. My pleasure Mamun, glad you found it useful.

  3. I do not like long flights at all. But I live so far from home so it is inevitable. I will try yoga onboard, I am often so sore so it could be my solution.

  4. I usually do stretching but yoga didn’t cross my mind. I also usually do some short walks around the plane or sometimes just watch a movie. It helps!

    1. Making the effort to just get up walk around is the simplest thing we can do to feel better on a plane, that is for sure!

  5. I’ve heard about long flights not being good for circulation and potentially contributing to bloodclots. These are great suggestions I can see being done in a larger cabin area.

    1. Correct. Follow these steps and you will feel the difference.

  6. I’m going to try this next time I fly! Thanks for sharing your tips!

    1. My pleasure, Brandy.

  7. I would have never thought of pre-flight yoga, or in-flight yoga, for that matter. It all makes total sense to me. These are some great tips!

    1. Don’t forget post-flight inversions! 😉

  8. Very interesting ideas! I fly long hours in coach all the time and never thought of trying yoga on an airplane. Will have to implement some of these ideas on my next trip!

    1. It’s very easy if you follow these basic steps. I wonder why more people don’t do it as it’s so beneficial, but I suppose we just haven’t been educated about it.

  9. Yeeessssssss! Yoga never goes wrong when it’s practised diligently. I started out on it last year and it’s doing wonders for me.

    1. That is great to hear. The benefits are amazing. The more we make it part of our daily life, like brushing our teeth or taking a shower, the stronger and happier we will become.

  10. I am anxious of flying in general. Yoga is beneficial for that as well. I should really take it up…

    1. Ok, in this case for you it will be important to do yoga beforehand for sure. Also, combine it with breathing exercises. Google “Wim Hof breathing method” and do it after yoga before your flight. You’re going to feel amazing and relaxed, I assure you.

  11. Great ideas to stay comfortable (or as comfortable as possible) on a long flight. As someone with chronic pain I’ll be doing a lot of these things if I’m ever on a long flight.

    1. That’s exactly it – noone wants to be on a flight for too long, but if we can mitigate the issues easily with yoga, it is a no brainer!

  12. This is great information. I have never thought about using airplane yoga to combat some of the symptoms of long air flights.

  13. Thank you for this!! I always get so much pain when I am on an airplane ride. So, I will need to try this next time to see if it helps. Especially with my hips and knees.

    1. Please do and let me know. Best of luck, Ashley.

  14. Yoga is my life-saver as well! It just has so many health benefits – although I´m into aerial yoga lately, you use a swing and it gets even more creative and acrobatic!

    1. I’m glad you have also had this experience. I’ve tried Aerial and it’s an incredible workout and super fun. I’m not shy of being the only guy in the class haha.

  15. I haven’t had to fly in a long time. But I get flight anxiety and I am so glad to have read this. I think it will help next time I need to fly 😊. Appreciate your advice so much ♡

    1. My pleasure. You will be alright, Sara, I know this!

  16. Great tips for surviving lone flights. Thank you!

    1. Happy to help.

  17. I really enjoy this Man….. I found it helpful as well. 🙂

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