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If you are an avid reader of obscure news you may have heard about the 70-year-old Korean man who was arrested for doing yoga. Normally, yoga is not something you get arrested for. But, one aspect of a stretch routine is choosing the appropriate time and place for your routine, or the appropriate routine for your time and place. This gentleman was on a United Flight from Hawaii to Japan when he chose to do yoga at the back of the plane. It was only just a bit awkward at first, but things escalated when he would not return to his seat during the scheduled meal time.

The man’s stretch routine was termed as ‘disruptive’ and apparently prompted the United Flight attendants and a few Marines, to attempt to return the man to his seat. Things became rather violent and the severe interruption that followed resulted in the return of the flight to Hawaii where the man was taken into custody.  

The moral of this story is not hard to grasp. Yoga on a crowded international flight is probably not the most socially acceptable way to find relief from those long hours seated in an uncomfortable and cramped airline seat. However, in a world where sitting is labeled as the new smoking, these exercises and stretches can also translate to other prolonged sitting, such as in a car on a road trip. A 12-hour seated flight with minimal allowance for movement seems unhealthy, counterproductive, and uncomfortable. We agree with this, and many of our patients ask us regularly how they can rid themselves of the discomfort associated with a lengthy flight. The following is our list of some socially acceptable (and hopefully airline approved) stretch demonstrations that won’t “rock the boat,” errr… I mean “aircraft.”

Most of these stretches can be performed while seated in your chair with minimal disruption. A few require you to move about or stand, but we suggest doing so only when it is appropriate with minimal disruption. If a flight attendant asks you to return to a seated position it might be wise to comply.

Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds and repeat as often as you need to throughout your flight.

1.  The knee to chest  

Begin by “sitting tall” in your chair and then drawing one knee towards your chest using both hands and then repeating with the other leg, as shown below.

2. Knee to opposite shoulder

Begin by “sitting tall” in your chair and then raise your right knee towards your left shoulder. Wrap your left arm around your right knee so that the crook of your arm catches your knee and holds it tightly in place. You should feel a stretch in the outside of your right hip. Repeat with the other leg, as shown below.

Jeremiah Schulze, Hosmer Chiropractic Health


3. Lacrosse ball

The lacrosse ball can be used as deep tissue self massage tool the entire flight to release any tense, or tender areas of your body.

Upper back/ parascapular

Place the ball just inside the shoulder blade and lay your body back against it and the chair. Use the “pitiful” recline feature to gain a slight gravitational advantage and put more pressure into your muscle tissue. Move the ball from place to place (using a sock if needed to help direct placement of the ball) spending 30 seconds in each position and moving your arm “carefully” around your immediate area to see if you can isolate areas that need particular relief. We call this the “Search and Destroy” method of self massage
Jeremiah Schulze, Hosmer Chiropractic Health

Jeremiah Schulze, Hosmer Chiropractic Health4. Seated figure 4

Begin seated and bring your left ankle on top of your left knee. Put pressure with your hands on your right knee to stretch your right hip, while trying to sit as tall as possible. Repeat with the left leg.

Jeremiah Schulze, Hosmer Chiropractic Health5. Standing stretch

Stand up as much as possible, and when you do reach up overhead as high as you can elevating your shoulders, then lean side to side to get the maximum amount of length in your midsection as possible.

standing stretch airplane exercise

6. Seated toe touch

This one is simple, hinge forward in your seat as if you were attempting to tie your shoes. You can do this with both a rounded back and a flat back to stretch the lower back and hips, or the hamstrings.

Jeremiah Schulze, Hosmer Chiropractic Health

7. Seated spine twist

Take your right hand and place it on the outside your left knee. Then gently pull on your knee to rotate your torso to the left, running your spine through full rotation. Repeat other side.

Jeremiah Schulze, Hosmer Chiropractic Health

8. Calf stretch

This is one of those stretches that can take up some room, so make sure you decide to do this one when you have the space, such as waiting to use the restrooms, or while in the restroom. Place both hands against the wall, and get in a runners stance. Gently press into the wall and push your heel towards the ground to stretch the calf of the back leg.

Jeremiah Schulze, Hosmer Chiropractic Health

9. Pro tip: Move neck pillow to different spots

Play around with the position of your neck pillow. Place it in different positions on your neck to keep your neck muscles from stiffening up. Or move it off of your neck completely for a while and use it as a lumbar support.

Jeremiah Schulze, hosmer chiropractic health

Pro tip: Get up and walk every 30 minutes

This one doesn’t require much explanation. If it is possible to get up and move regularly for any reason at all, then do so. Just don’t stand around for an extended period of time, get up move around to get your muscles moving and blood flowing,  and then return safely to your seat without disturbing the other passengers.

Pro tip: Stay hydrated!

And last but definitely not least, drink an appropriate amount of fluids before during and after your flight. When you are adequately hydrated the water inside and outside the cells of your contracting muscles help to provide adequate nutrients and remove waste more efficiently. Water is also essential for lubricating joints. If you don’t get enough water, you can bet it will contribute to an uncomfortable plane ride.   

Don’t forget to perform all these stretches and movements with the utmost consideration for your fellow passengers. And follow the general rules of riding on an international flight. If you get into a violent altercation with the flight staff over your ‘right to stretch on a flight’ you are probably doing something wrong.

Bon voyage!

Jeremiah Schulze, Hosmer Chiropractic Health