These pictures are “Airport Yoga” which is pretty easy to do as long as you don’t leave your yoga mat in the overhead bin, something I am going to try really hard not to do. These are the first pics of “Where’s Waldo” type photos, but it’s “Where’s ‘On the Mat, On the Road.” Notice the hat!
But this is about “Airplane Yoga.”
As I was sitting on the airplane, I realized that I was a bit constricted, like I would be practicing yoga in a robe. If I came up with an airplane sequence, it would easy to do the same with the nuns sitting on the floor. So that’s what I did, and I’ll share it with you, since many of us find ourselves on airplanes or in small places where a full practice isn’t possible.
Sit with your legs crossed if you’re a nun in the monastery and with your feet firmly on the floor if you’re in an airplane. Settle in and close your eyes. Come into your breath. Breathe in and breathe out, expanding the ribs, filling the lungs, and slowly feeling them contract as you exhale. Continue to breathe, noticing any sensations in your body. Areas of tension, tightness, discomfort, and breathe into them. Become the observer of your experience as you feel your body and mind begin to still. Continue breathing, following your breath, and when you notice your mind distracted, by sounds, thoughts of what’s to come next, just come back to the movement of your breath, the sensations in your body.
Wow. If we all did this when we sat on an airplane, sometimes cramped by the person sitting next to us, sometimes irritated by a baby crying or someone talking too loudly, and just settled into our yoga practice. What would that be like?
If the seat next to you is free, then you can do this, if not, skip to next. Inhale your arms up and bring them back to heart center. Inhale again and bring back to Anjali mudra. One more time, and settle into a silent Om. Bring your thumb knuckles to your third eye center and set your intention for the plane ride, for the day, for your life. Or send a little extra love and care to a person in your life who might just need it. Breathe it in and send it into the Universe, letting go of the attachment to the outcome. Since you’re flying above the Earth, you might be a little closer to that universal energy force.
I once read that setting an intention can be about bringing in a state of being. What would you like your state of being to be, as you move into a practice or a 2 minute break from your day, when you close your eyes, sit quietly and breathe? We can do this when there is a lull in our day, rather than picking up our phones. Let me re-phrase that. I must remember that I can take those moments to become aware of my breath.
Take your right hand on top of your head, lower your left shoulder, and let your head tilt to the right and breathe. Always breathing. That’s the practice. Gently feel into the side of the neck being careful not to strain. With your hand still on your head nod forward and breathe. Again, when this feels complete, when you’ve felt a shift, move to the other side. This is your airplane yoga. There is no timetable, especially if it’s a long flight.
And there’s really no time table to a yoga practice, especially if you’re doing it on your own. If you say I’m going to spend 30 minutes on my mat, you don’t have to determine the poses ahead of time. You can just feel into the areas of the body that need the most attention. The key is to move from the thinking mind to the feeling body.
Take your left hand on your right thigh and twist to the right. Pin your left sitzbone into the seat so that the twist is coming from your spine, not your hips. Put your right arm at a right angle like Goddess Pose and breathe. As you inhale lengthen the spine, and as you exhale twist. Close your eyes and settle in. What do you notice? Where is the sensation? Breathe deeply. When you feel complete, repeat on the other side.
How often do you breathe to your full capacity? As I was sitting on the airplane, I realized that I don’t fill my lungs, especially in twists. So as I inhaled, I thought fill the lungs, then exhale and twist. I usually envision lengthening the spine, but before we do that, I think we should fill the lungs. Deep breathing, to capacity, gives more nurturing and healing to the cellular body, as well as the muscles and the organs.
Eagle your arms and press your forearms to the tray table in front of you, drop your shoulders and breathe your arms up and exhale round the spine and lower. Close your eyes as you breathe in and out, feeling into the tightness of the shoulder blades. As you move your arms up and down, with breath and movement, it’s as if you are giving yourself a physical massage. Breathe the prana into the places you feel any tightness or tension. Other side when you’re ready.
As I continue the practice, I realize there are so many poses you can do in your seat. Airplane pigeon for one. Pigeon is my favorite pose, and it’s not just because it feels good to open the hips. It’s the physical and emotional effect on the cellular body. I’ve never quite understood why, but we carry so many memories, emotions, minor and major traumas as far back as when we were babies. It’s all there, imprinted in the cells, and in pigeon we can release stuck energy. We don’t even need to know what’s stuck, we can just breathe into it, envisioning the breath, prana, oxygen moving into the cells and shaking things up a bit. The longer we stay in the pose, the more the body relaxes and lets go. It’s why I try to practice pigeon every day and include a version of it in every class.
Cross your right leg with your ankle on your left thigh and fold forward, feeling into the right hip. And breathe. Always breathe. Envision the prana moving right into the cells, moving around in nucleus, shaking things up, so whatever no longer serves can release. And breathe. When the sensation dissipates, move into the pose a little further. Fold a little further. Press the right knee down toward the seat. Inhale and exhale. And let go. Then switch sides.
As you can see, we could continue with different poses that can be modified for the airplane seat. Some I’ll share when on another flight… but for now Savasana. If the plane is relatively quiet, you can practice in silence. Our brain needs the silence to integrate, to rejuvenate, to synthesize and remember. If there’s a lot of distracting noice, find some classical music and put your headphones on, or better yet if you have your favorite yoga songs with you, play one of those. If you have Internet access, you could play Rest in Natural Great Peace.
Close your eyes, rest your head back, and surrender into the seat. Come into deep rest. And if you’ve been trying to fall asleep and couldn’t until now, I bet it will be easier after a little “Airplane Yoga.”