These 6 Preflight Stretches Are The Secret To Ache-Free Travel

Photo: @livefreewarrior

Airport travel is a big "hurry up and wait" event. You spend a lot of time and energy packing, rush to the airport to get there hours before your flight, then end up having to kill time at the gate before boarding anyway.

One way to put those in-between moments to good use? Get stretching. I logged over 50,000 air miles last year alone and have seen the benefits of stretching before and after flying firsthand. Doing so has saved my back and hips from short- and long-term pain and injury time and time again.

Here are six of my favorite yoga poses that don't require any props—except a carry-on bag. For the first five poses, be sure your luggage has its handle fully extended and bag upright.

1. Side bend.

Place your right hand on the top of the handle standing side by side with your carry-on. Using the luggage as resistance and for support, reach your left arm up overhead to fully extend the left side of the body. With each inhale, lift up through your right ribs, pressing gently down to the bag handle to elevate your ribs and side body.

Hold for 5 breaths, then switch sides.

2. Standing pigeon.

One of my favorites for stretching the hips! Facing the bottom side of your bag, use your carry-on just like you would a wall (or chair). Place both hands on its top handle. Shift weight to your left foot, and cross your right ankle just above your left knee. Keeping your right foot flexed, bend your standing leg to ease in to the right hip. Drop as low as you wish, or stay up high. Keep both hands on your carry-on for support, ensuring you don’t fall!

Hold for 5 breaths, then switch sides.

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3. Standing split.

Continue on to stretch the hamstrings, which often take a beating during long flights. Face your bag, hands placed on the top of the handle. Scoot your right foot between the handle "arms," placing the heel on the top of your bag. Using the handle as support, with the right foot flexed begin to fold over your leg, just like you would in a half-split on a mat.

If you’re brave and have very open hamstrings (and a heavy carry-on bag), you can play around with putting your foot on the top of the handle and folding. It's a fun variation, but I’ve definitely had my bag scoot out from under me a time or two (makes for good laughs, at least).

Hold and repeat, switching sides.

4. Standing downward dog.

Face your bag, just like you did in standing pigeon. Put both hands on top of the handle. Ensure there’s room between your arms for your head to go. Now, imagine a downward-facing down was inverted 90 degrees, clockwise. You want your head to snuggle between your upper arm bones, keeping your arms straight, and allow your chest and shoulders to open. Keep breathing, and hold for as long as you’d like in this one.

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5. Standing twist.

This is the last range of motion we need to work in this mixture. Twisting is beautiful for cleansing and rinsing out your organs, which can get clogged when you're sitting for hours. Using the same setup from the standing split, instead of both hands placed on the handle, extend your opposite arm behind you. Both arms will be out wide, like in a T-position. Lift upward from your breastbone, and keep a neutral, low back as you extend through the arms and twist out your midsection.

Hold for at least 5 breaths before switching sides to repeat.

6. Supported savasana.

What’s a yoga practice without a savasana!? Perhaps one of the most beneficial poses of this sequence, particularly if you’re feeling fatigued or stressed, the supported savasana gives you a moment to breathe, let go, and go with the travel flow.

Important to note: This pose works best if you have a soft carry-on bag (like the one shown in the photos), because you’ll be lying on top of it. If you don’t want to use your bag, lay down a scarf or sweater instead.

Lie down on your carry-on like you would use a bolster in a yoga practice. Target your upper back for placement of the bag or clothing, allowing your neck to decompress, upper back to relax, chest to open, and legs to relax on the ground for support. Hold as long as you wish or as long as you have until boarding.

Travel, in itself, is a practice of yoga. There are so many variables and events that can occur that are way beyond our control. Next time you’re stuck waiting for your flight, put your time to good use with these poses—all TSA-approved!

Watch Sara walk through the full range of stretches here, and check out her favorite poses for when you land at your destination.

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