lumbar curve

Happy body = Fun Travel: Yoga and body movement for long plane, train, or car travel

Whenever, I have been on a train, in a plane, or in a car, for 2 hours or more, my body really starts to complain about the lack of movement. Six years ago, I became a certified yoga instructor and this last summer I completed a certification in Alexander Technique- see my other website for more info. I now add yoga poses to long layovers as well as practicing them every couple hours on a plane, train, or car. I've gotten quite creative, while seated in tiny economy seats, to access some useful yoga postures and body movement without driving everyone around me crazy. I use the following yoga poses regularly when I travel, so that when I arrive at my destination I'm not moving like the tin-man. 


*Please excuse the awkard pictures of me, trying to recreate yoga poses on public transportation


The above picture is a variation of a forward fold (Uttanasana) that nicely encourages the length and curve of the lumbar spine. I do this and then put the little travel pillow that they give you on international flights behind my back to keep encouraging the natural curves of the spine. The seats in planes and cars tend to take out the curves in our backs and can cause excess tension in the muscles. This variation of seated forward fold, also gently stretches the hamstring connections to the sit bones.

  • Use the seat in front of you to rest your arms, so that you can gently encourage the lumbar curve to lengthen, and the belly to elongate.

The above picture to the right is a deeper variation of the forward fold. This one adds a greater stretch in the lower muscles of the back. If you have any back pain, I recommend the first variation instead. The ability to do this pose depends on the space between seats (I can do this on some aircrafts and not others). If I'm unsure if there is enough space between the seats, I just do the first one- needless to say it would be very uncomfortable/embarrassing to get stuck like this.

  • Before folding into this forward fold, lengthen your spine to its fullest in the first variation and then fold, so that you do not not create any compression in your back.

The above picture is my seated, travel variation of wind liberating pose (Pavanamuktasana). As the name describes, it is good for the lower digestive track. I use it because it offers a nice stretch for the gluteus maximus and medius, as well as my hamstrings.

  • Bend your knee towards the right side of your chest, interlace the fingers just below the knee cap, and gently encourage the knee towards your right armpit.  

The seated figure four pose(pictured above) is a useful to not only stretch the gluteus and hamstrings, but also the piriformis.

  • Sit in the middle of the seat, roll to the back of your sit bones, elongate the spine, and then let the shoulder blades rest on the back of the chair. 
  • Cross your right ankle over the lowest part of the thigh, close to the knee, and lift the left shin up to gently rest on the seat in front of you. Repeat on the other side.
  • A variation is not to lift the leg to rest on the seat in front of you (as seen in the picture to the right).

After doing the figure four pose or the variation you can go into a gentle twist, which will add a stretch into the IT(Iliotibial) band. 

  •  Cross the leg over by bringing the right knee to the chest and letting the right foot come to the outside of the left leg. 
  • Hug the knee into the chest with the left forearm and right hand. Turn your nose (if you lead with the chin it shortens the cervical curve) to look to the right and let the spine sequence into the twist after that. Repeat on the other side.

Another posture you can do after the figure four pose, is "Rock the Baby". This will increase the piriformis stretch. 

  • Bring your right foot into the crook of the left elbow and knee into the crook of the right elbow and rock your leg gently right to left. Repeat on the other side.
  •  Stay on you sit bones and try not to fall back onto the coccyx (tailbone), as you continue to lengthen through the crown of your skull. 

When I travel, carrying suitcases and trying to sleep seated upright really take a toll on the happiness of my neck and shoulders. I use Eagle pose (Garudasana) arms to stretch out my rhomboids. 

  • Cross your arms in front of your chest, right elbow under left, bring your palms to touch or use your fingers to hook the other arm (like I'm doing in the picture to the left). Switch the elbow that is on top.
  • Move your elbows slowly up and down to find the best stretch for your shoulders.








  • A variation of Eagle arms is to hug yourself, like in the picture to the right (which feels sweet and may make you happy if you are experiencing frustrating travel delays). Cross your right elbow over the left and bring your palms to the opposite shoulder blade. Repeat with the left elbow crossed over the right.













As seen in the picture to the left, you can stretch out the many layers of the neck and upper arm muscles by doing this simple stretch. For me, it is useful to stretch my sternocleidomastoid, trapezius, and several of the layers of muscles under that. 

  1. Reach your right arm slightly to the side and down, turn your palm to face forward, and lengthen the crown of your head up (don't straighten your cervical curve, but elongate the curve) as the left ear drops towards the left shoulder.
  2. Move your chin up or down, to stretch different muscles in the neck. Repeat on the other side.



If you are traveling with someone you know and want a front of arm stretch ask them to assist you with this one. You can do it by yourself, but a friend can help you with a deeper stretch (your arm will be in their face anyways if you are sitting next to them). This stretches the arm muscles in the front of the body, the pectorals and the front of the deltoid.

  • Sit with your weight in the middle of your sit bones, bring your arm to the side, elbow in line with your shoulder, palm facing forward, and bend the elbow to a 90 degree angle. Don't engage the muscles in between the shoulder blades.
  • Your buddy can gently press your elbow back towards the seat behind you, until you feel a stretch in your upper chest. 

I am not liable for any discomfort or injuries you may experience as a result of trying any of these postures. Please respect your body and never do something if it feels painful.

Post by: Darci Balkcom

When you reach your destination hopefully your body is happy and free of tension!!! Then you can do more fun yoga and travel with ease! Did you give these poses a try on your most recent trip?