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Our 53rd Year

Posing in the Sky — Yoga for the Weary Traveler

Are you all bent out of shape after a flight?

Airline travel is no picnic these days due to a host of inconveniences, but what about what it does to your body, scrunched for hours in minimal space? Each year it seems economy airplane seats have gotten smaller, while people haven’t! These days the typical seat has a width of 17 or 18 inches, not to mention the shrinking sliver of space between your knees and the seat in front of you. No wonder extra legroom seats, though not affordable for most people, are cash cows for the airlines.

To keep you feeling supple in the air, Cyndi Lee, a top yoga teacher and founder of “no baloney” Om Yoga, has some poses you can do in your seat or in the aisle. Many of these can be performed by yoga novices; others are for more seasoned practitioners. “A lot of what you’re doing with these stretches is just increasing circulation,” Ms. Lee says, explaining that fluids “such as water and lymph can tend to pool in lower regions” on an airplane, making fliers “feel sluggish and thick” and pretty wrung out upon arrival.

For Beginners

Frequent twist. While in your seat, plant your feet on the floor and twist to the right (you can put your left hand on the outside of your right knee to deepen the twist). Always include your head and neck in the twist. Switch sides.

Ankle-to-knee (with one leg). If you have enough room and flexibility, from your seat place your ankle on top of the opposite knee. For most people, simply being in this position is a significant stretch. “That will open your hip and give you a really good stretch around your butt and your hip,” Ms. Lee says. To deepen the stretch, lean forward a little and place your forearms on top of your legs. Then switch legs. To improve circulation while in that position, flex and point your raised foot, and squeeze and spread your toes. If you’re on the aisle, watch out for the drinks cart!

Hug. This can be done sitting or standing and is especially good if you’re feeling stressed. Just wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze, aiming to touch your shoulder blades with your fingertips. From there you can stretch your neck by pressing your right ear to your right shoulder; repeat on the other side. Then release and switch arms, this time placing the arm that was on top on the bottom, as you reach across your back.

Modified eagle (normally done standing). Put your hands in front of you as if you were about to play peek-a-boo, but instead of covering your face with your hands, cross your forearms and wind your wrists until your palms touch. Move your palms away from your face for a stretch.

Shoulder stretch.When you take a bathroom break, in the space near the lavatory, you can counteract rounded shoulders and relieve a tight upper back. Reach behind you with both arms outstretched until your hands meet, then interlace your fingers, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Look up and lift your chest. Depending on your level of comfort, you can lift your arms up and away from your back a bit. “You’re curving your spine in the opposite direction of the seat,” Ms. Lee explains, “which is good.” Alexandria Crow, another yoga teacher at YogaWorks in California, suggests putting your palms on either side of the aisle wall near the lavatory and leaning forward, as if stretching your chest through an open doorway.

Hanging forward. Sitting or standing, fold at the hips and grab each elbow with the opposite hand.

Feet raise. This keeps ankles from swelling during long flights. Every now and then put your feet on the bulkhead wall, the back of the seat in front of you or the back edge of the armrest in front of her. Fellow passengers may not appreciate this, but it’s important to not keep your feet always on the ground.

For More Seasoned Yogis

Tree pose. This is the classic standing pose in which you place the sole of one foot against the inner thigh of your other leg and raise your arms to your chest or over your head. (You can use a wall by the bathroom for balance.) This pose can open up tight hips and relieve lower back pain. A small price to pay for the possible weird looks you might get from another passenger.

Downward dog. Stand at your seat and put your hands on the seat back in front of you (not when your neighbor is occupying the seat). Then step back and lean forward, bending in half. (You’re making a 90-degree angle, so your upper body and arms should be parallel to the floor.) If there’s no room for that (and chances are there isn’t unless you are rather petite), adjust by placing your forearms on the seat and do the same thing.

Modified cat and cow. Do while standing instead of on hands and knees. Just bend your knees and place your hands slightly above your knees. Then alternate between rounding your spine like a dome (cat) and curving it like an arch (cow), looking down when you do cat and looking up when you do cow.

Breathe! This helps maintain calm. Ms. Lee suggests sama vritti, equal breathing in and out. She inhales for a count of 4, 5 or 6, then exhales for the same amount of time. She also recommends lion pose, scrunching up your face and then, as you exhale, sticking out your tongue and looking up at the space between your eyebrows, then try to touch your chin with your tongue. (This might be best done in the lavatory or when it’s dark in the cabin, so people don’t think you’re completely bongers!)

Source: New York Times