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7 Tips for Practicing Yoga on a Long-Haul Flight

Judy Freedman
by Judy Freedman

July 09, 2019

6 minute read

You’re on a long-haul flight to Europe. The pilot says “Welcome, we’ll touch down in Rome in eight to nine hours.” You hope you’ll get some sleep and watch some movies. Perhaps you’ll read a book or magazine. Then what? There are about four hours left. How about some yoga? Practicing yoga on a flight is a great way to pass time and stay healthy. Here are some tips to keeping your body moving on your way across the pond.

1. Keep the body moving on a long-haul flight

It’s important for your health to keep the body moving on a long-haul flight, on top of combatting the inevitable restlessness. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “you can take steps to help prevent blood clots in the legs (also known as DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis) that can be caused by sitting for a long time, such as during an international trip.” The CDC recommends walking around the plane occasionally to increase blood flow, exercise your legs, and stretching your calf muscles while sitting. 

2. Practice gentle yoga

Try practicing gentle yoga to increase blood flow and flexibility, while relaxing the mind. There are several yoga poses that can be done in a seat (even in a cramped one) or while standing in the aisle (even in a narrow one).

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3. Focus on your breath

As a yoga instructor, I tell my students to begin by focusing on your breath. Start by closing your eyes and breathing in and out through your nose. Take slow deep inhales and even slower exhales. You can inhale to a count of 3 and exhale to a count of 5 to slow things down. 

4. Warm up your joints

Next, I like to do joint-freeing poses to warm up the neck, shoulders, wrists, and ankles. You can do these poses with your eyes open or closed. Sit up tall in your seat and move your spine away from the back of your seat. If you have your earbuds, consider playing soothing instrumental music while you exercise. Target joints in specific areas of the body by following these tips:


Neck: Inhale with your head erect. On the exhale twist your head to the right. Inhale back to center. Exhale twist your head to the left. Repeat three times on each side.

The next time your head comes to center, inhale again and as you exhale, let your head bow slowly forward. Inhale back to center and on the exhale let your head gently extend backward (not too far back as you don’t want to hyper-extend your neck). Inhale back to center. Repeat three times in each direction.

Shoulders: Inhale and roll the shoulders up toward your ears. Exhale and roll your shoulders back and down, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Repeat three times in each direction, first rolling your shoulders up and back and then up and forward.

Wrists: Make a fist with each hand. Inhale as you rotate your fists up and exhale as your wrists go down. Rotate your wrists clockwise and then counterclockwise. Repeat three times in each direction, moving both hands at the same time.

Open up the palms and extend your arms out straight in front of you. (Hopefully you won’t touch the back of your neighbour’s seat.) Inhale and pull your hand up so your palms face away from you. Exhale and pull your hand down so your palms face toward the body. Repeat three times in each direction.


Ankles: Lift your right foot slightly off the ground with the knee bent. Start to rotate your ankle clockwise and then counterclockwise. Inhale as the toes point up and exhale as the toes point down. Repeat three times in each direction.

Point and flex your foot. (A flexed foot is when the toes are reaching toward the body.) Inhale on the point and exhale on the flex. Repeat three times in each direction. Repeat on the left side. This pose also stretches the calves.

 dog and cat

5. Take care of your spine

If you practice yoga, you’ve likely heard of cat and dog poses which help keep the spine flexible. You can do cat and dog in your seat. Sit up tall and place your palms face down on your knees.

For dog: As you inhale, bring the spine slowly forward (belly moving towards your thighs), pressing down on your palms and bending your elbows in close to the body and squeezing your shoulder blades together.

For cat: As you exhale, contract your abdomen, round your back, and let your head hang down. You should feel a good stretch in your upper back as it opens the space between your shoulder blades.

Move from dog to cat as you inhale and exhale. Repeat three times in each direction.

Twisting the spine is another way to maintain flexibility and massage your internal organs. To twist to the right, placing your left palm on your right knee and your right palm behind you near the base of your spine. On the inhale lengthen the spine and on the exhale twist right and look over your right shoulder. Stay twisted for three breaths. Then come back to center and twist the other way, with your right palm in front and your left palm in back.

These poses can be done standing as well with your palms on your thighs for cat and dog and palms on your hips for twists.

6. Move your legs

For those who are more adventurous, there are a few standing poses you can do on a plane:

Warrior II: Stretch your legs out vertically in the aisle and do a Warrior II stance with your left foot facing the front of the plane, your torso facing the windows, and your arms raised shoulder level and parallel to the ground. (Note: You can flip this pose to do both sides, flip your right foot horizontal and your left foot pointing towards the back of the plane.) This pose opens the hips.

Marching Warrior: Bend one knee at a time and march in place or up and down the aisle. You can add arm raises too, such as raise the right knee and the left arm, and repeat with opposite sides. All are good ways to move your body.

7. End with Savasana -- final relaxation

Like any yoga class, you can end your practice with final relaxation, or as we say in yoga, savasana. Sit back, close your eyes, breathe, and rest. Maybe from all the movement you’ll finally be ready for a snooze.

Happy and safe travels.




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