BY DEBBY SIEGEL, MSA, RYT
PHOTOS BY JQ WILLIAMS, E-RYT
Cramped in an economy seat for nearly 19 hours this week — roundtrip destination Wanderlust Oahu — the skies opened up to me and it became clear that it’s time… time for Sir Isaac Newton to meet Pantajali. Newton’s laws interpreted by a couple of brothers gifted us the ability to spread wings and travel to virtually anywhere in the world. But just what is happening in our bodies when confined in these pressurized tubes moving at more than 500 mph above the clouds?
In addition to your body being subjected to much higher levels of cosmic radiation in the thinner atmosphere at 30,000 feet, flying can do a number on your breathing. Airline passengers can experience minor oxygen deprivation in airplanes’ pressurized air. Hmmm…. limited breathing and radiation? Combine this with time zone changes, lengthy inactivity, tiny spaces and cabin pressure affecting blood circulation, and you might agree with me… it’s time. (insert astounding, announcing ringtone) Yoga to the rescue.
So here’s your plan, should you choose to accept:
You’ve done it. You boarded. Done standing in line and lugging that bag that just barely permitted the overhead compartment to close, you’re ducking into your 24 square inches of space allotted you with that ticket you bought by googling your destination and the words “cheap flight.” So now it’s time to begin the awkward neighbor love and start with some deeper breathing.
With your feet hip width on the floor (it’ll help if your carry-on truly does fit under the seat in front of you), hands on your lap (tops of thighs), on an inhale squeeze the shoulder blades together as you lift and open the chest toward the flight attendant call button. As you do this, focus on lifting the sternum and smiling across your collar bones. Root into that seat/floatation device while telescoping your spine upward. For more lift, press your forearms into the arm rests. (If you have access.) Remember to draw your elbow wingtips together behind you as you lift and inhale. Exhale and come back to a neutral spine and even flexing your spine while drawing your chin to your chest and naval in and up. Practice this at least once per hour for 10 deep breaths.
Save Your Own Neck:
You’ve got seat 27A’s attention now. So just go with it. Let’s get the crick out of your neck.
Keeping your gaze level and the cervical spine elongated, turn your head slowly as far as you can to one side keeping your torso facing forward, pause, breathe several times and smile. Then look the other way too (don’t want anyone asking to be relocated just yet). Bring your face to center and slowly roll your head forward and down, chin to chest, and then lift it up with your chin up, smile up. Breathe multiples here too.
Drop the ear to its shoulder, then the other, without raising either shoulder. If you’ve got an appropriate wing span (this girl is out), reach the right hand over the head so that it rests on the left ear, and gently guide the head toward the right shoulder. Use the left hand to massage the left side of your neck. Repeat this on the opposite side.
Tap it Out:
Oh, now you’ve got your neighbors noting how wise you are and possibly joining along. Let’s get this party started. Wake up your chi with some sweet body taps.
Wake up each part of your body and charge your Qi (or chi, you decide the spelling) with some light tapping: Using your closed fists, alternately and quickly begin tapping the knuckle/heel side down the sides of your thigh and back up the front of the thigh, add in the front and back of the lower leg as well. Then repeat this with the other leg. You can also keep your legs together Missy, and just try double tapping with your legs together. (Not to be confused with liking on Instagram. This is just involving both legs at once.)
Next, try tapping down each arm and even beat your chest while seated. Open your hands, face your palms toward you and using all your fingertips, tap beneath the collarbone near the sternum while breathing deep into your belly. Then cross your arms on your chest and begin tapping down your arms as you come all the way to your wrists and go back. (Tell your new friends, you read it on YoGoGirls!)
Not That Swell:
Many long haul passengers experience swelling in the feet, ankles and lower legs due to blood pooling there. (Ask Big Shark founder, Mike Weiss about this phenomena.) To limit swelling, wear support socks, and stand your weight onto your feet occasionally. You may now lift up on that buckle, stand up and move about the cabin. (You were paying attention during the preflight lesson weren’t you?) Try to get up and move around every 30 minutes. If you’re in a window seat and the guy hogging your armrest is stone-cold drooling while snoring with headphones on, try these seated movements for improving your lower extremities’ circulation:
With the feet parallel to one another and flat on the floor, lift and tap the just the heels on the floor. Then lift and tap the toes. Next, alternately roll the feet from heel to toe. While doing so, contract your calf muscles and spread your toes to circulate blood upwards, which will also boost oxygen levels and fight feelings of fatigue.
Lower the heels to the floor about eight inches apart, turn the toes out and in; then lift the feet again and make circular movements around the ankles in each direction. If it helps, put on some headphones and do this to music. I suggest Adventure of a Lifetime by Cold Play.
There’s more. Grasp the right knee with both hands and raise it toward the chest. Inhale and squeeze the knee as close as possible to the chest while lifting the sternum; exhale and release. (Smile and wave at anyone now glaring at you!)
If you’re able, place both heels on the front edge of your seat, grasp your knees and pull them toward your armpits. Hold while breathing deeply, then release. It’s like one of those rolled up in a ball hugs we practice on our backs in yoga class! (I ask my students to kiss their knees at this point, but that’s up to you.)
And for Heaven’s sake, when you’ve landed get your feet onto some of the surface of our planet as soon as you’re able. Earthing, or grounding, involves placing your feet directly on the ground without shoes or socks as a barrier. Dozens of studies confirm the physiological benefits of grounding, which include anything from anti-aging and heart health benefits to improved sleep and more. Many folks report earthing helps them cope with jet lag as well. Anyway you look at it, reconnecting to our Earth’s current is vital to resetting your body after it’s been thousands of miles away from the Earth’s ionosphere.
The Earth, behaves like a gigantic electric circuit, pulsing with a gentle flowing energy that harmonizes all of the life on Earth, including you. Google it: The Schumann Resonance has been the accepted term used scientifically when one is looking to describe or measure the pulse or heartbeat of the Earth. Earthing brings you back into synch with this energy and back into electrical balance.
By standing or walking barefoot on sand, grass, dirt, concrete, or ceramic tile, you connect to the Earth’s electron flow and complete the circuit. Try to plant your soles as soon after flying as possible and get 20-30 minutes of barefoot time in contact with Earth.
Whether you fly a lot for your job or are planning a vacation requiring you to board a plane, understanding the physiological effects of flying and knowing how to reset your body will improve your time away. Plus, those peanuts. You’ve always got the nuts to rely on. See you flying the friendly skies soon my friend. If you’d like to find me at a Wanderlust, I’ll be guiding Yoga Outside the Lines in Stratton, VT June 21-24. Hit me up for a discounted ticket.
Debby Siegel, MSA, RYT: A plant-fueled daydream believer who calls herself the Yoga Evangelist, Debby attempts to inspire joy and crush fear while leading yogis through mindful practices all over the U.S. Her fresh ideas engage people’s imaginations as students are whisked away from routine and carried along on magical yoga journeys with Debby’s creatively woven classes, workshops, and events. On YoGoGirls.com blog, readers share in stories she and her friends write about a variety of active, healthy, conscious-living experiences. Debby is a dedicated mom to 2 teens and a doting girlfriend to her musician/chef/special needs teacher partner. Find Debby teaching kids mindfulness through puppetry, creating kinetic art with her body, and bending and balancing on a paddleboard, while arriving everywhere via one of her trusty two-wheeled steeds. With no shortage of causes she champions, find this yogini living her mantra – I possess infinite potential – daily.