How to survive long flights

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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.

  • 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.

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.

  • Practice Tip: Lift the chest to meet the chin (not the other way around since this causes neck strain).

These inversions may not resolve all your travel-related pains, but they can make a noticeable difference in how you feel during your first days abroad. To me, that’s worth it enough to give it a go.

So, that’s the one, never-failing secret that solves the question of how to survive long flights. 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 2 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.

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