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Yoga exercises on a Plane

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Your captain has turned on the yoga sign - yoga postures while flying

Natural Health,

Nov-Dec, 1998 by Sandra Uyterhoeven


IT HAPPENED ON A PACKED FLIGHT from Seattle to Boston as I sat wedged in my economy seat, feeling fatigued, stiff, and achy. "Wait a minute," I said to myself. "You're a yoga teacher. You are supposed to know how to prevent this stuff."

I sat up and tried a few simple yoga stretches in my seat and, not surprisingly, I felt much better. Although the man beside me pretended not to notice my raised arms, bent knees, and twisted torso, I felt obliged to explain. He acted interested, so I invited him to try the stretches. He did and then confessed that his formerly sore neck and shoulders felt revived. Encouraged, I jotted down what I had done.

Long airplane flights can wreak havoc on both body and mind, causing leg swelling, blood clots, tight muscles, stiff joints, dry skin, sagging energy, and edginess. Since 1990, researchers at Orly Airport near Paris have documented 41 cases in which airplane travelers collapsed from lung blood clots after sitting still for nine hours or more. Michel Clerel, chief doctor at the airport, theorizes that women taking oral contraceptives may be especially at risk for these clots, as the Pill can have a blood-clotting effect. He advises all passengers to stimulate their blood circulation with some movement--such as walking about the aircraft or moving their legs regularly--and he recommends that passengers frequently drink water.

Last summer I expanded and retested my in-flight routine when a friend and I sponsored a yoga and hiking tour in Switzerland's Engadine Valley. Many of the tour participants were my own yoga students, and I asked them to try the routine during our trip from Boston to Zurich. At touchdown we were refreshed and full of energy.

You can adapt this program to the length of your air time--and your level of shyness. For short flights, try the breathing exercises or some of the seated stretches. On long flights, consider following the entire program every hour or two, or before and after you sleep. The walking meditation can be done on a full stomach; for all others wait at least an hour after meals. In addition, don't forget to exercise on the day of the flight, drink lots of water, eat easy-to-digest foods, and avoid alcohol and caffeine.


Centers the mind and relieves tension

To begin this breathing technique, called nadi shodhana, sit in a comfortable, relaxed position and straighten your spine. Close your mouth. Using the thumb of your right hand, press the cartilage on the side of your right nostril to block the flow of air. Exhale deeply through the left nostril and then inhale deeply. Unblock your right nostril and press your left nostril with the index finger of your right hand. Exhale and inhale deeply through the right nostril. Continue this sequence, breathing deeply through alternate nostrils for two to five minutes. (If you're left-handed, use your thumb and index finger on your left hand instead.)


Calms the mind and boosts blood circulation

Ujjayi, or victorious breath, involves breathing through a restricted opening, which causes the diaphragm and muscles in the chest and abdomen to work harder and therefore increases circulation. Sit in the same position as above. Close your mouth, bend your head forward, and gently pull your chin toward your throat, which will contract your glottis (the opening between the vocal cords). Slowly draw air in through your nostrils. Exhale deeply through the nose. Do 10 to 20 repetitions consisting of one inhalation and one exhalation.


Increases circulation in the legs and releases lumbar muscles

Take off your shoes and sit in a comfortable position. Grasp your left shin with both hands and raise it toward your chest, lifting your sternum (breastbone) and dangling your left foot. As you exhale, squeeze the knee to your chest; release as you inhale. Repeat the squeezing and releasing at least three times before switching legs.


Loosens upper body muscles

While seated, inhale and raise your arms overhead. As you exhale, clasp your hands together, twist your wrists, and turn up your palms. Keep your hands in this position throughout the exercise. On the next inhalation, stretch your arms upward as far as you can reach; imagine that your arms originate from your waist rather than your shoulders. Press your palms toward the ceiling. Relax as you exhale.

On your next exhalation, stretch your arms up and to the left, bending sideways from the waist. Do this as if your torso were pressed between two panes of glass, so that you could only move sideways without turning your shoulders. Repeat the stretch to the right side.


Stimulates circulation in the legs

Sit in a comfortable position. Using your fists, pound the front of your left thigh as hard and for as long as it feels comfortable. Next, place your left heel on or near the edge of your seat. Pound the rest of your left leg--as much as you can reach. Repeat on the right leg. If this feels awkward, you can also massage your legs, but pounding works better to increase circulation.


Calms the mind and boosts circulation

If the coast is clear and the seat belt sign isn't on, you're ready for the next move. Your goal is simply to walk mindfully to the lavatory, as if you have no destination. Wear a thin smile--Mona Lisa-style--as you begin your slow walk. A smile sends a message of joy and relaxation to your brain and every cell in your body. Take small, deliberate strides. Be aware of your feet as they press firmly and evenly onto the floor. You may need to twist and turn as you navigate the narrow aisle. Do this, too, with mindful awareness. Breathe consciously, falling into a regular, comfortable pattern. For example, take two steps per inhalation and two per exhalation.


Eases tension in upper and lower back and opens chest cavity

Stand with your back to the wall and move your feet about a foot from the wall, hip width apart and parallel. Raise your arms overhead and place your palms against the wall higher than your head, fingers pointing down. Exhale and evenly arch your spine forward, pressing your hip bones forward and lifting your chest. Direct your gaze toward the ceiling. Hold for a few breaths and release on an exhalation.


Relaxes shoulder muscles and improves circulation and digestion

Stand with your entire backside against the wall and your feet about six inches apart. Press down through your feet and lift through your waist and the crown of your head, imagining yourself lengthening in both directions. Raise your arms overhead, clasp your hands together, twist your wrists, and turn the palms up. Exhale and stretch your arms upward and to the left, keeping your shoulders and hips against the wall. Feel the stretch along the entire right side of your body. Hold for two or three breaths. Straighten on an inhalation. Do this a few times, and then switch sides. In some aircraft the ceiling may be too low to stretch your arms up; in that case, do the side stretches with your hands on your hips.


Relaxes lumbar muscles, removes stiffness from the hips, and aids digestion

For a good counter stretch, follow the back-bend with a spinal twist. Stand facing the wall. Raise your arms, placing your lower arms against the wall with palms flattened and fingers spread and pointing up. Your upper arms should be parallel to the floor. Keep your hands and arms in place as you twist at the waist and move your entire lower body so it faces to the right. Bring your left knee up until your thigh is approximately parallel to the floor. Gently press the side of your thigh, your chest, and the joints just beneath your index and third fingers against the wall. Turn your head and gaze to the left. Remain in this pose for 20 seconds or more, breathing gently. Repeat on the other side.

Sandra Uyterhoeven is a yoga instructor in Cambridge, Mass.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Weider Publications

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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