Sitting in the increasingly cramped quarters known as an airline seat for any duration of time is the antithesis of our belief as yogis in the value and virtue of movement.
People become understandably stiff. The severely impeded range of motion (lest we knock our neighbor’s drink on the floor) also gives us the sense of being stifled and even imprisoned. We won’t even talk about those of us who experience claustrophobia.
Beyond these inconveniences, which ultimately make it a miserable way to spend a few hours, there is a deeper danger to this type of constricted movement. And unfortunately, it is one that we may not be aware of—even when it may be happening to us.
When blood flow is impeded, we run the risk of experiencing a blood clot. The medical term is deep vein thrombosis. This phenomena can come without warning and if the proper steps are not taken to limit its impact, it can be fatal. According to the American Society of Hematology, the longer the flight the more at risk you are for developing a clot—and, with ‘flights lasting 8-10 hours or longer’ posing the greatest risk. There have been dozens of cases of this reported every year. There was even one incident of a young girl, a bride to be, who disembarked the plane after a lengthy flight and collapsed at baggage claim—ultimately, losing her life.
The good news is that according to the American Society of Hematology, any adverse consequences from these blood clots are ‘highly preventable.’
Please keep this in mind as you head to Bali or Phuket for a yoga retreat.
And, while we wish it would be possible to unfurl a yoga mat inside the airplane (a KharmaKhare yoga mat or otherwise) and lunge into downward dog at 30,000 feet—there just isn’t any room for that. However, there are a handful of motions and positions that one can do that will help increase blood flow and decrease muscle stiffness.
We will warn you—with some of these movements, your neighbors and flight attendants may give you a wayward look or two. We suggest that the best remedy for that would be to encourage them to follow your lead and do precisely as you are doing.
Just keep critiquing them until you think they’ve got it right.
Here are a few suggestions:
1) Modified Threading of the Needle: Fold one leg over on your lap. With both hands grasping the thigh of the unfolded leg, pull the held leg toward your chest. You should feel the muscles that have the most contact with the seat stretching.
2) Alternating Toe and Heel: With your foot flat on the ground, alternate lifting your toe and heel with the opposite part of your foot still touching the ground (when you raise your toes, your heel is still on the floor; when you raise your heel, your toes are still on the floor.)
3) The 90 Degrees: No, it’s not a hot yoga pose. Think geometry. While placing your left hand on your right arm rest, turn your upper body to a 90 degree angle. If you are feeling ambitious, you can always strive for the ‘135 Degrees.’ However, when you turn to face all the people looking at you, try to remember to smile rather than grimace—even though this is not an easy movement to accomplish. While it may be tempting, we don’t advise attempting the ‘180 Degrees.’ As, we wouldn’t want the pilot to forcibly land the plane because you over-exerted yourself against our advice. Now, alternate using your right hand on your left side armrest.
4) Modified Child’s Pose: Pull your knees to your chest by hugging your bent legs. Resist the urge to rock back and forth, as that will certainly raise eyebrows.
5) The Full Body Search: Place both hands on the seat in front of you, spread apart. Equally spread apart your feet. Drop your head into the triangle created with your arms. You can roll your head or tilt it from side to side or bob it up and down. This is best down while wearing earphones so it seems like you are actually jamming to your music.
What other poses would you suggest? Let us know.
Aseem Giri is the CEO of KharmaKhare, Inc. His prior experience includes private equity investing, investment banking and managing companies. His passion for yoga was sparked recently and it gets fed every time he steps on a mat. His ambition is to be fluent in Ashtanga and the man at the center of a five-person AcroYoga pose.
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Ed: T. Lemieux/Kate Bartolotta