Up (and down) in the air

Up (and down) in the air

Transoceanic-epical- 15-hour-non-stop flights are as much a pain in the derrière as the mouthful of adjectives we just affixed to them. And while the luckier ones get upgraded to Business or First Class along with the proverbial silver spoons in mouth, the rest of the herd just gets left behind in, well, “cattle class".

Okay, so that moniker had most of us up in arms in disgust, but anyone who has travelled Economy knows just how apt the term is. And being stuck in Economy for anything over 5 hours only adds insult to injury.

To minimize the stress of that impending business meeting, coupled with an overly cramped seat with meagre leg space, we got advice straight from the horse’s mouth...well, the airlines. Several airlines offer their own fitness programmes.

To ensure you don’t reach your destination as a puddle of misery, most in-flight exercise routines are designed to provide a safe way to stretch and initiate movement in certain muscle groups that often become stiff and cramp from long periods of sitting. Alleviate discomfort with foot pumps, leg lifts, stomach suction, foot flexes and shoulder and neck rolls, all done within 2-hour intervals.

Simple exercise routines for any journey over 5 hours, says Delhi-based general physician Deepak Bawa, “are effective ways to increase your body’s blood circulation and massage your muscles. Walk up and down the aisle, stretch your legs in your seat, do shoulder and neck rolls. And repeat sets of 10-15 every couple of hours." Of course, without inconveniencing your unsuspecting co-traveller.

Alakananda Banerjee, head, department of physiotherapy and rehabilitation, Max Hospital, Saket, suggests that apart from the usual ankle-foot movement routines, which prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT), “neck and shoulder girdle exercises or back stretches on your seat are also a good fix. Since it’s difficult to elevate your leg in Economy, elderly people and those prone to DVT can also try special elastic compression stockings that prevent painful calf muscle cramping."

Lufthansa’s nattily titled Fly Aerobics involves a “revitalizing foot massage" and a deep breathing routine, done with your hands on your belly (see panels).

Delhi-based fitness and yoga expert Nishi Singh, however, warns against one element of such exercises—the cabin air can cause your nasal and throat passage to dry up uncomfortably if you do “too much deep breathing". She recommends that one keep hydrated during long flights and stretch as much as possible.


Position yourself comfortably in your seat, lay your hands loosely on your belly and breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose.

To relax your eyes, rub your hands together to warm your palms, and then place them over your closed eyes to shut out all light. Try this for 3 minutes.

Give your face a special treat. With your fingertips, put light pressure on your forehead while tapping your skin softly. Enjoy the relaxing effect.

For a vitalizing foot massage, lift up one foot and place it on your seat, and move each toe individually. Then massage the whole foot by placing both thumbs on the back of your foot and slowly drawing your hands outward and upward. Repeat with other foot.


“While exercising, sit in an upright posture and most importantly, maintain the natural shape of your spine. Bring your shoulders down and back, and look in front."

—Robin Gogoi fitness consultant in group training, Fitness First, Connaught Place, New Delhi.


Pranayam (regulation of breath)

Sit erect. Place the right palm over the left palm and keep them on your thighs. Breathe in deeply through both the nostrils. Expand your chest and tuck in your abdomen. Retain for eight counts. Breathe out slowly and relax. Repeat five times. A simple hand gesture, or ‘mudra’, can also be practised while on flight.

Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses)

Recline your seat but not so that you inconvenience the passenger behind you. Breathe in and breathe out slowly for eight counts. Repeat several times. Doze off.

Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), Samadhi (total Awareness)

Sit erect. Close your eyes. Concentrate on the point between the eyebrows (Ajna Chakra). Meditate for 3 minutes. Open your eyes and relax.


“I feel this routine needs a very basic introduction to yogic breathing. While breathing in and out, remember (that) when you inhale your stomach goes out and when you exhale your stomach is sucked in. Opposite to what you do when breathing naturally. Also, in head-to-toe yoga, the back is a vital part. Certain spinal twists can be done from your seat to relax the back: Stretch your arms up and stretch your shoulders and upper back. Hold the sides of the seat and turn towards your back, sideways either way."

—Sonal Lath, yoga expert, Bharat Thakur Artistic Yoga, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi.


Hands: Grip the edge of your armrest with your hands, hold to a count of five, and relax. Repeat 10 times.

Legs: Starting with your feet on the floor, bring your legs slowly up towards your chest, as far as you can. Relax them slowly. Repeat three times.

Feet: Placing both feet on the floor, point your toes upwards as high as they will go. Then place them on the floor. Repeat this in a continuous movement five times.

Neck: Move your head slowly towards your right shoulder and hold. Then towards your left shoulder and hold. Move your chin slowly down towards your chest. Hold and relax. Repeat three times.

Arms: Starting with your arms outstretched, flex at the elbow and bring them slowly into your chest. Extend them again. Repeat five times.

Shoulders: Hunch up your shoulders, hold and slowly relax. Repeat five times.

Abdomen: Starting from a fully upright position, slide your hands down your legs as far as you can. Straighten up gradually. Repeat three times. Cross your arms across your chest and rotate as far as you can from right to left. Repeat three times.


“These basic exercises are mainly for circulation. You could also do arm stretches from your seat. Try shoulder stretches and arm stretches, where you put your arms across your chest, and stretch. This helps your sides and arms. Bend your body all the way down and interlock fingers, curve your back in and stretch your arms towards the seat in front of you."

—Vesna Pericevic Jacob, director, Vesna’s Wellness Clinic, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi.


Sit with your feet on the ground, back supported against your chair and hands and arms open and relaxed. Take a deep breath, raise your shoulders towards your ears and hold them for a few seconds. Then slowly breathe out and drop the shoulders. Repeat several times.

Place your left hand on your right shoulder and squeeze gently. Repeat down the right arm to the elbow. Repeat several times. Place your right hand on your left shoulder and repeat the exercise.

Place the fingers of both hands at the base of your skull. Apply slow circular pressures from there to the base of the neck.


“The first and third points are excellent to ease out tension in the back of your neck when you have been sitting for long periods of time in the plane."

—Nishi Singh, yoga instructor, Greater Kailash-I, New Delhi.

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