How to not be shaped like a chair

Stretches for traveling

I'm super excited to finally be getting on a plane and going somewhere this weekend!! There was a period of time where it seemed like I was traveling constantly, and I got pretty good at my little airport routine: hit the bathroom, fill the water bottle, seek out healthy snacks, take a walk around, and stretch before boarding the plane.

 Identifying joint actions

Identifying joint actions

Not surprisingly, the stretches that are good for sitting in an airplane seat for however many hours, are also the stretches that will feel good if you sit at a desk all day - they are stretches that will basically keep you from being shaped like a chair. I'd say that for office stretching, you might want to add more chest openers and neck/shoulder stretches, as you may be craned towards a monitor much of the time.

The easiest way to think about this is consider what shapes (or joint actions) your joints are "stuck" in for the duration of your flight, and do the opposite. I like to work my way from the ground up. I'll also preface this with the thing I say before any stretch session: try not to dive into it cold. Take yourself for a little walk around the airport first, and keep in mind how warmed up your body is before you go yanking things around. No stretch needs to be the deepest you can possibly go to be effective.

Also, breathe.

 Ankle stretch

Ankle stretch

1. Ankle rolls - although you can feasibly do this while on the plane, it would probably feel good to loosen up your feet/ankles before you board. Perhaps focusing more on plantar flexion (pointing your toes forward) since that's where you'll be limited by the floor.

 Seated forward fold

Seated forward fold

2. Calf stretch - sit on the very edge of your seat and straighten your legs in front of you. Flex your toes towards your face, bringing only your heels to the floor. Lean over your legs, lengthening the spine (think: reach your heart towards your toes).

 Forward fold

Forward fold

3. Hamstring stretch - a good old forward fold. I try to back my booty up against a wall to avoid giving a free show in the airport. Press your feet into the ground, let your knees be a little bent, and drape your upper body over your lower body. This is a nice place to shake out your head and neck, too.

 Quad/psoas stretch

Quad/psoas stretch

4. Quad/Psoas - while it will feel good to stretch the quad, what I'm really going for here is the psoas. The psoas is the muscle that connects your upper body to your lower body, and it's shortened when your hips are in a 90-degree bend. So again, think opposite: instead of your hips folding backward, draw them forward as you hold one foot behind your butt. Keep your knees together to help square your hips, and lift your chest to lengthen your whole body (no crunching in the lower back!!).

5. Hips! - your hips will be stuck in neutral the whole time, so it will feel good to open them up a bit. You can do this by (1) taking a wide leg forward fold, (2) shifting your weight side-to-side in a wide leg forward fold, and (3) taking a seated squat, or a stretch I lovingly refer to as the "manspreading stretch," where you'll spread your knees wide and lean into the inside of your knees with your elbows. 

 Wide-leg forward fold

Wide-leg forward fold

 Shift side-to-side

Shift side-to-side

 Manspreading stretch

Manspreading stretch

 Seated pigeon

Seated pigeon

 6. More hips! - I can't do any stretch sesh without some version of pigeon pose. In this seated version, you simply stack one ankle over the opposite knee, flex that foot strongly (to protect your knee), and take a little lean forward. It's important here to keep your spine long, so don't round yourself down. Think about reaching your heart forward - you'll feel the difference in your IT band. (This can also be done standing, if you feel like playing with your balance).

7. Spine (and shoulders) - in yoga we begin many classes with a movement (or, really, a pairing of postures) called cat-cow. This is the standing version, with some added shoulder flexion & rotation. Interlace your hands in front of your chest and press your palms away from yourself. As you do so, pull your belly in and round your spine; exhale here. As you inhale, press your palms towards the ceiling and lift your chest, now arching your spine in the other direction. Repeat for 3-5 breath cycles.

 Exhale and round the spine.

Exhale and round the spine.

 Inhale and lift the chest.

Inhale and lift the chest.

 Eagle wrap

Eagle wrap

8. Shoulders - most of us carry tension in the space between our shoulderblades, so while this isn't really airplane-specific, I wanted to include it. You're gonna find what we call an "eagle wrap," which begins by reaching your arms out in front of your chest, stacking one elbow on top of the other, and then wrapping your arms the rest of the way up. If this isn't happening for you, you can just grab onto opposite shoulders - finding the same opening in the upper back. From here, lift your elbows up and away from your chest. And breathe. Repeat with the other arm on top.

9. Neck & shoulders - shoulder shrugs, big arm circles, and neck rolls. All done slowly (please don't whip your head or arms around), and with breath. Also note that when I do neck circles, I don't drop my head back; I just go ear-to-ear around the front as I don't think it's great for us to crunch the backs of our necks like that.

 Shoulder shrugs/circles

Shoulder shrugs/circles

 Arm circles

Arm circles

 Neck circles

Neck circles

10. Finally, a twist - you can take a seated twist on the plane, although you'll end up staring directly at your neighbor so it may be best to do it in the terminal and not make things weird for the entire flight. Cross one leg over the other (thigh over thigh, like a regular cross-leg seat) and lift up really tall in the spine. Keep that length as you begin to turn in the direction of your top leg (i.e. if your right thigh is on top of your left thigh, twist to your right). You might use your top knee or even the armrest of your chair to find a little leverage into your twist. Repeat on the other side, with the opposite leg on top - you'll get a little outer-hip stretch, too.

This might all sound like a lot, especially if you're like me and you like to cut it pretty close with getting to the airport on time. But if you can do at least a few of these, and hold for a few breaths, I promise you're gonna feel pretty okay before, during, and after your flight.

Once you're on the plane, use it as a time to practice breathing, relaxing, unplugging, and don't forget to hydrate!! Planes can be really drying, so I always bring my own water bottle and fill it up between security and the terminal so I don't have to rely on those tiny single-serving cups from the airline.

Happy travels!

xo.