How to Do Yoga on a Plane

Let yoga make your next flight more comfortable

It's no secret that travel is stressful and airplane seats are tiny. Yoga can help reduce your stress, but how are you supposed to stretch when you're squashed into the middle seat? Actually, there are quite a few ways to relieve your tension and cramped muscles that don't require you to get up in your neighbor's personal space. 


Yoga Breathing (Pranayama)

Woman Airplane Passenger
Juanmonino / Getty Images

The first and perhaps most important thing you can do after you get settled into your seat is take a few deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Breathing like this has the power to relax your body and help reduce anxiety. Close your eyes and just focus intently on your breath, letting all external stimuli like noises and smells fade into the background. Deep breathing exercises are very effective and also have the advantage of being very discreet. 


Neck Rolls

Yoga Neck Roll
Neck Roll. John Freeman/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Begin your movements with simple neck rolls. These are great for relieving travel stress because so much tension is stored in your neck and you don't need much room to do them. First, let your chin drop towards your chest. Try to relax and let the head hang heavy. Begin to circle your head to the right side, then to the back, then to the left side. Continue slowly circling for five rotations and then switch directions and circle the other way five times.


Eagle Arms

Eagle Arms Yoga Pose
Eagle Arms. Ann Pizer

Next, you can do the arm position from eagle pose. This gives you a nice stretch across your upper back and shoulders. Bring your arms out in front of you and wrap the right upper arm underneath the left one. Bring your palms to touch and raise the upper arms while lowering your shoulders. Take five breaths before releasing and wrapping the left arm under the right. 


Shoulder Stretch

Shoulder Stretch
Shoulder Stretch. Philip Haynes / Getty Images

If you have a long flight, you'll probably start to feel a lot of strain in your shoulders, back, and neck. This shoulder stretch will help. First, scoot up to the edge of your seat. Clasp your hands behind your back and straighten your arms as much as you can behind you. Hug your shoulder blades together on your back. You can also let your head drop forward or start to forward bend your torso over your legs.


Cow Pose

Cow Pose in a Chair
Seated Cow Pose. Ann Pizer

From here, take yourself into to a little cat-cow stretch. First, the cow. Stay on the front edge of your seat if you can with both feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your knees and straighten your arms as much as you can. On an inhale, arch your back, lift your chest, and look up toward the ceiling.


Cat Pose

Seated Cat Yoga Pose
Seated Cat Pose. Ann Pizer

On the next exhale, round your spine and let your head drop forward. Pay special attention to expanding the space between your shoulder blades. Repeat the cat-cow movements on each inhale and exhale for five breaths.

Now relax and enjoy the rest of your flight. Order some water or juice from the drinks cart to keep yourself hydrated and repeat your stretches as necessary.


Standing Forward Bend

Yoga forward bend with hands interlaced behind the back
Standing Forward Bend. Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Now for some stretches you can do while waiting in the terminal for your connecting flight or when you arrive at your destination. Obviously, you can do just about any yoga position you chose now that you have room to stand up, but here are a few recommendations for poses that can be done unobtrusively but give you great bang for your buck. Don't forget to check if your airport has a yoga room. This will allow you space to really stretch out. 

Start with a standing forward bend with hands interlaced behind your back. This is a fuller expression of the shoulder stretch you did while seated on the plane, with the much-needed addition of a hamstring stretch. Hug your shoulder blades onto your back and let your head hand heavy toward the floor.  


Standing Pelvic Tilts

Position for a Pelvic Tilt at the Wall
Position for a Pelvic Tilt at the Wall. Jasper Cole / Getty Images

Find yourself a wall for this standing version of pelvic tilts. These will give your low back some relief from carrying all that luggage. 

Bend your knees slightly and make sure your lower back is making contact with the wall. Relax your arms by your sides. On your inhales, arch your back. On your exhales, curve your pelvis forward and press your On your inhales, arch your back. On your exhales, curve your pelvis forward and press your mid-spine into the wall. Repeat this motion 5 to 10 times. 


Chair Twist

Spinal Twist in a Chair
Spinal Twist in a Chair. Ann Pizer

This chair variation of ardha matsyendrasana is a twist that will help release tension from your spine. You don't have to sit sideways on the chair if you're in a row waiting at your gate. Just twist to the side and place your hands on the armrests for a little resistance.


Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog - Adho Muhka Svanasana
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Muhka Svanasana. Ann Pizer

You can never go wrong with the full-body stretch of a downward facing dog. You just need a little floor space. You'll be working your hamstrings and shoulders in particular. Pedal your legs by bending one knee at a time, releasing your opposite heel toward the floor. Shake your head yes and no to get the kinks out of your neck.


Legs Up the Wall - Viparita Karani

Legs Up the Wall
Legs Up the Wall - Viparita Karani. PeopleImages/E+/Getty Images

If your flight is delayed or you are feeling extra tired and stressed, throw caution to the wind and indulge in legs up the wall. This pose is so relaxing and is great for reducing swelling in the legs, which ​can be a problem during air travel. Slip a lavender-scented eye pillow into your carry-on and you can almost forget you're in a crowded airport. Bon voyage!

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.