Whether you’ve ever struck a yoga pose or not, you know that stretching after being cooped up in a flying metal tube for hours can feel absolutely amazing. As a yoga instructor who travels frequently, I’ve distilled a small number of yoga poses that are potent, beneficial, and simple to do at the gate, on a layover, or waiting in baggage claim.
You'll feel so much better afterwards that maybe you’ll learn to forgive whomever decided that that amount of leg room was acceptable. And don’t be worried about looking weird. People love yoga. Maybe you’ll inspire someone to stretch and feel good at the airport, too.
Half Lord of the Fishes
I cannot tell you how beneficial twists are for your low back, hips, and IT bands. Stabilizing your seat and moving your spine in a twist restores spinal mobility and enhances range of motion. Because of this, what’s connected to your spine gets these same benefits and guess what? Everything is connected to the spine.
To do it: Sit on the ground or in a chair, extend your right leg forward, cross your left foot over your right knee, and place on the floor next to it (or as pictured). Place your left hand on the floor slightly behind you and lift your right arm overhead as you inhale. As you exhale, twist and put your right elbow outside your left knee. Continue to lift your sternum up, sitting tall, while you continue to deepen the twist on each exhale. If you’re doing this in a chair, make sure your booty is all the way at the back of your seat. After about five breaths, switch sides.
This inversion is also a great deep stretch for your hamstrings because it requires you to flex your hamstring and glutes while lifting your leg, an engagement that helps keep your legs feeling long and strong even after cramped travel.
To do it: Use your luggage for this one, especially if you don’t want to put your hands on the ground. Put your luggage flat, stand in front of it, bend over and rest your hands palms face down on the bag. Lift one leg up behind you and attempt to keep that knee as straight as possible. Lift as high as possible. Pull your face toward your standing knee and take some deep breaths. Switch sides after about five to seven long breaths.
Extended Side Angle
This is a combination of so many stretches at once. Since your front leg is in external rotation while your back leg is anchored at neutral, your inner thighs and outer hips get a much-needed stretch. Your back and shoulders will also get a wonderful flushing out, especially if you really reach that top hand forward and lean back.
To do it: Keeping your right foot pointed straight ahead (at 12 o’clock) take a big step back with your left foot—about 3.5 to 4 feet. Point your left foot out to 9 o’clock. Ensure that your right foot bisects the arch of your left foot. Bend your right knee so that it’s right on top of your right heel. Lean forward and rest your right elbow on your right thigh. If you want to go deeper, put your right fingertips on the ground by the inside of your right ankle. Stretch your left arm forward, toward the direction your right toes are pointing, palm face down and arm pointing slightly up. Roll your right rib cage underneath you while you spin the left side of your chest up to the ceiling and press back through your left outer heel. Switch sides after five to seven long breaths.
Thread the Needle and Savanasa
If you’re not afraid to get on the ground, do these poses—you can always shower later—to release your outer hips and legs, and relieve your low back. Savasana allows you to lie flat and not use any muscles to keep holding yourself up at all, which is the ultimate reset.
To do it: Lie on your back, and bend your left knee. Cross your right ankle over your left knee, and pick up your left leg, holding it with both hands (pro-tip: thread your right arm through the gap between your legs and your left arm outside your left leg to do so). Rest your head on the ground as you pull your legs in deep, pushing your right knee up and away from you to deepen the stretch. Switch sides after a million or two breaths — you’ll love this one. When you’re done with both sides, lie flat on your back, palms face up, for savasana.