5 Yoga Techniques to Combat Jet Lag

For years, I’ve seen that people do yoga to alleviate jet lag symptoms, and some airlines even feature select asanas in their flight magazines and video programming.

I’ve always done a few poses in my hotel room when arriving after a long flight, or a little Yoga Nidra before going to sleep, but never a specific sequence. 

About two years ago I started looking for a more formal practice to manage my jet lag, but couldn’t find anything. Finally, I realized something: perhaps it was my calling to create a “Yoga for Jet Lag” sequence. I’ve traveled independently for 25 years, practiced yoga for 19 years (not counting the poses I did with my grandmother when I was young), and taught yoga for 12 years. My dad is a pilot, and spent his career designing airplanes for Boeing. Who better qualified than me to create a special "Yoga for Jet Lag" sequence?

I spoke with my dad extensively about the stresses flying puts on one’s body, consulted my yoga anatomy books and researched current medical trends. With this information, and a lot of field testing, I developed a special class called Jet Lag Rx that incorporates three types of yoga: Pranayama, Asana and Nidra.  

I have condensed the practice into five yoga techniques. I recommend holding each asana five to eight breaths. 

5 Yoga Techniques to Combat Jet Lag

1. Breath Retention

Until the creation on the Dreamliner, which is made of composite carbon fiber materials, airplanes were made of aluminum. To keep their fuselages from rupturing, cabin pressure was kept low. The result: when flying, people experience a five to 20 percent drop in the amount of oxygen in their blood. This depends on the person, the plane and the length of the flight. A long-haul flight on anything but a Dreamliner typically results in blood oxygen levels dropping close to the 20 percent number.

Pranayama is the best way to naturally re-oxygenate one’s blood.

For breath retention, inhale deeply using a three part breath (belly, ribs, upper chest). Hold your breath until the body prompts you, then exhale slowly. Again breath in and this time, retain your breath slightly longer. Exhale slowly and repeat a third time. This last time, when you retain your breath, drop your chin to your chest to lock your throat. Hold a bit longer and then slowly exhale. Sit a few moments and allow your breathing to return to normal.

2. Cobra Pose

This pose is excellent to relieve bloating. It is also energizing, and reduces fatigue and stress. It opens the heart and lungs- again helping to rejuvenate the blood. 

Remember: keep your legs together and your toes stretched behind you, tops of your feet on the floor. Look towards the ceiling before you begin to roll up. Keep minimum pressure in your hands and your belly button on the floor (unless you have a very advanced practice). When rolling back down, your forehead should be the last thing to touch the mat.

3. Spinal Twist

Have you ever carried a bottle of water with you on a plane and noticed how it contracts and expands during the flight? This same thing happens to your body. It’s the reason you feel bloated and crampy when you get off the plane, especially if you’ve been wearing skinny jeans instead of your usual yoga pants.

A spinal twist helps to relieve the bloating, opens the chest (again more oxygen to the lungs) and releases tension in the arms, shoulders, upper back and neck (a frequent result of sitting in those uncomfortable airplane seats).

Remember: Start the twist from your lower abdomen, and keep both sits bones on the floor. Every time you inhale sit up straight and every time you exhale, twist a little more. Don’t forget to repeat on the opposite side.

4. Shoulder Stand or Legs Up the Wall

One of the biggest health risks on long-haul flights is the lack of circulation in your legs. That’s the reason people at risk of blood clots are recommended to wear compression stockings. Shoulder Stand helps flush the legs of toxins, encourages venous return and stimulates your immune system (important if someone on the plane was sick since you were breathing re-circulated air). It also ensures more efficient oxygen-to-blood exchange and helps with bloating.

Remember: Always look at your feet or navel when in shoulder stand, never to the side.
5. Yoga Nidra

Jet lag occurs because your circadian rhythms are disrupted. Melatonin, a hormone secreted by your pineal gland, helps control circadian rhythms. Yoga Nidra stimulates the pineal gland, which stimulates melatonin production. Nidra is best done in savasana, but I also like to do it on the airplane. It helps me relax and de-stress, plus my brain gets a jump-start on melatonin production. I download my nidra in MP3 form before I fly. Even if the plane and your hotel room have wifi, nothing is more upsetting to a Nidra practice than interruptions to your live stream.

Remember: If you don’t have a Nidra MP3 you like, or are looking for something new, my yoga app for frequent travelers, The Flying Carpet- will have a number of them specially designed to combat jet lag and flight anxiety. 

We will start teaching Jet Lag Rx, and a candlelight Nidra class, at my new yoga school The Flying Carpet in March. For a short version of this class, you can try it for free. If you’d like a Nidra created just for you, consider a contribution to The Flying Carpet’s Indiegogo campaign.

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Mary Clare Bland, the founder of The Flying Carpet, first started practicing yoga when she was a child, with her grandmother. She has had a formal yoga practice for 19 years, and trained under some of the great Yoga Masters including Shri Pattabhi Jois, the Enlightened Master Shri Mahayogi Paramahansa and Yogi Amrit Desai. She received her teacher training from Yogi Amrit Desai and Master Dunca...READ MORE