airplane yoga stretches that don’t look nuts

Sitting in a cramped airplane seat too long is not good for you. This post is part airplane yoga stretching tutorial and part airplane etiquette. Maybe I’m picky, but I don’t like people in my personal space during a flight. After you read what happened to me you may sympathize.

On a recent flight, I sat next to a lady in a Navajo print poncho and beautiful wild gray hair. She had this interesting smell of patchouli or sage or both. I figured she’d be a zen seat partner, better than a big, chatty guy.

An hour before the plane’s landing, I started my usual stretching exercises I do, so that I don’t have to hobble and limp off the plane. The Navajo poncho lady commented, “What a great idea!” She started doing all sorts of unusual bends in her seat. I stopped my stretches right in my tracks.

Dear, Lord, I hope no one thinks we are doing this stuff … together!

The crazy seat yoga stuff was just a warm up. Lunge poses and downward facing dogs continued in the aisle, blocking people from coming and going. At least 10 rows could hear her take giant deep breaths and long moany exhales, similar to breathing exercises during labor. Someone finally had the nerve to tell her to sit down.

This is a downward facing dog. Can you imagine this happening in an airplane aisle?
This is a downward facing dog. Can you imagine someone in this pose in an airplane aisle? Courtesy of Wikipedia

When Navajo poncho finally sat, she grabbed her leg, rested her foot on her shoulder and cradled it like a baby. Take a pause and visualize for maximum effect…

I stared at her in shock. She commented sweetly, “Rock the foot like a baby to sleep.” Yes, some weird hippy poncho lady’s bare foot was several inches from my nose, being rocked to sleep.

[bctt tweet=”Airplane yoga looks crazy & is invasive to neighbors. Where was the air marshal on my flight?”]

I love yoga, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t like yoga in a tight, crowded space. I like yoga even less when it’s being done to me by a lady in a Navajo print poncho.

I will share some good airplane yoga stretches you can do inflight without having your body parts in other people’s spaces. Let’s call it discreet airplane yoga, okay?

Why we should do discreet airplane yoga

The majority of the symptoms we experience during flying: stiffness, poor circulation and swollen feet are all because of lack of movement. It’s not the altitude, pressure or the canned air. Knowing this should make healthy flying easier. Do you need fancy constricting socks? Probably not. Drinking lots of water and moving every 2-3 hours is the most important tip. And if you’re drinking lots of water, you have solved both problems — you’ll need to get up and go to the bathroom regularly.

Keep blood from collecting at your lower extremities by figuring out how to elevate your legs and feet periodically, without being weird. Wiggle your toes. Shift positions. And do these 6 discreet airplane yoga stretches:

Etiquette tip: Do the first 3 stretches at the back of the plane. You’ll need space and a wall to lean on. Don’t do these in the aisle. Hanging on to someone’s seat back rocks the seat and is annoying to the person sitting there.

1quadw1. the quad stretch

This is my personal favorite. You get a good stretch in your shoulder, your upper leg, calf and ankle while elevating your foot and getting the blood moving, all at the same time. Hang on to a wall. Grab your ankle and bring your heel as close to your butt as possible. When you are there, rotate your ankle in a circular motion. Do this as long as you feel like it and then switch arms and legs.

1calf2. the calf stretch

This simple stretch targets your calf and hamstring muscles, as well as your ankles. Stand facing a wall. Place your hands at shoulder height on the wall for balance, elbows bent. Take one foot forward and rest it on its heel with your toe pointing up and resting on the wall. Lean forward until you feel a good stretch in your calf. Take 30 seconds per foot. You should be able to go deeper into the pose after a few breaths.

The next 4 stretches can be done in your seat. Or you can do them in the back of the plane, it’s up to you.

3. the upper body stretch

1upperbodThis stretch targets wrists, hands, arms, shoulders, back and upper body in general. Sit in your seat upright with feet firmly planted. Lift your arms up and interlace your fingers. Turn palms to face the ceiling. Relax the shoulders and your neck. Your arms should not be covering your ears. You can adjust that by moving your arms a few inches forward or back. If you are very tall and hit the flight attendant call button, order a rum and coke and bend your elbows. Bending your elbows shortens your arm length but still allows you to stretch your upper body. The rum and coke solves the flight attendant false alarm.

airplane yoga4. the neck stretch

Release neck tension and stiffness by stretching your neck from side to side. Don’t make circular motions, as these can cause neck and spine compression. I illustrate the neck stretch by holding your head to get a deeper stretch. You can be considerate of your neighbor when holding your head by pointing your elbow forward to hold your neck, instead of resting it on the passenger next to you.

1sidetwist5. the body twist

The twist is good for the back and spine. Yogis believe that twisting motions massage your internal organs. When twisting, hang on to the arm rest and sit as upright as possible, with your legs together and feet firmly planted. Don’t bounce into the pose. Don’t lift or move your rear off the seat. Make slow, fluid movements.

This pose may put you in a position to stare right at your neighbor’s ear. Sort of like the singers in the Abba music videos. If awkwardly staring at close proximity makes you feel like a jerk, look away and just smile. It will be over soon.

1seated_foward_bend6. the seated forward bend

I left the hardest one for last. The forward bend gives your back, neck and legs a good, deep stretch. Don’t worry about looking like your eating off the carpet. You probably aren’t that flexible and airplane food is not that great anyway.

Use these stretches next time you fly. They are also useful on road trips, in the office or whenever you need a break. Do you have any to add? Post in the comments.

airplane yoga stretches


  1. John Jackson

    Hi Cynthia! I like your blog. I like to lift my knee up and try to tuck it close to my chest. I usually fly first or business class so I don’t have the close proximity problem.

  2. Ellie

    Thank you for this!!! I had recently read a crazy article where you should do yoga poses in an airplane like the picture I uploaded. Yeah, I want to bend over in front and have the whole plane stare at my a-s while i watch them do so through my legs. WTF???

    1. Madeline Ferrer

      No!! Now you made me comment. I just normally lurk. Where is this article, please share? I would love to read the comments at the bottom.

  3. Robbie

    Sorry to hijack the convo. I just checked the story out, did you guys see this one? Take off your shoes and fly!

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