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Simple but Effective Pre-Flight Yoga Stretches Before You Board

I don’t want people to see me go into a Downward Dog pose at the airport and think I’m trying to grab their attention.

I assure you, most yogis are not thinking of grabbing attention when they’re stretching it out at the airport. Yep, in spite of my header photo above (which my friend actually helped me snap at an empty airport).

Yoga at the Airport, without attention & without a mat

Taking an early flight? Or a red-eye flight? No matter which hour, flying is a draining affair. These days, I’m the kind of traveller that finds it close to impossible to ever sleep on the plane. Add to the hours of sitting rigidly in cattle Economy class, I always arrive at the destination stiff-boned and feeling like crap.

| Need a mat? Check out these foldable yoga mats I pack in my luggage |

Recently, I’ve taken to stretching at the airport with these yoga pose modifications, and found they help a great deal in making me feel better! In fact, if I’m gonna take a super early or long-haul flight, I might even do a few sun salutations at home or attend a class at the yoga studio before heading to the airport.

Not sure about you but, unlike the popular yoga influencers, I’m extremely conscious about doing any yoga at the airport. It’s just really awkward. I hardly even practise yoga in front of family members. In public, I prefer to draw as little attention to myself as possible. But what happens if I really need the yoga stretches before boarding a plane?

Can a person actually do yoga discreetly at the airport? Well, yes!

Preflight Yoga Stretches to Practise Discreetly Before the Flight

Also, am actually leeching on the “yoga” word here, because I can’t really be sure if these are yoga poses, or simply physical stretches not tagged to the yoga label. But, I learned most of these at yoga classes. People who go for yoga classes regularly will find these familiar and even instinctive.

At the Boarding Gate – Seated Yoga Poses

First, neck-rotational warmups

Sit upright on a chair. Inhale, and as you exhale – tilt your chin down towards your chest. Slowly and gently rotate your head in one direction while keeping a smooth and steady breath. Do it for about 3 rounds, then switch direction.

Cow Face Pose but only with hands

This is a must-stretch pose for me before boarding, and even during my flight. Do for both sides. Don’t worry about the photo being a floor pose; you can do this seated on a chair. 

half Cow Face pose | How to Low-Key Practise Yoga At the Airport‘Humble-Warrior’ hands – Shoulder stretch

Bring your hands behind you. Interlace the fingers and clasp hands together, keeping elbows bent first. Then, try to straighten both hands back and down first (think of extending your hands to be long), before squeezing your shoulders even tighter in order to lift the hands higher, outstretched. Hold for a few breaths before gently releasing.

Be mindful of not over-pulling your shoulder muscles here.

squeeze shoulder blades | How to Low-Key Practise Yoga At the AirportPigeon Pose hip stretches / Figure-of-4 legs

Instead of the full Pigeon pose on the floor, I modify it with a Figure of 4 leg stretch. To put it simply, it’s the “guy’s way of crossing one leg“. This is great for stretching the hips.

Figure-4 legs | How to Low-Key Practise Yoga At the AirportSeated upright on a chair, spine long, lift your right leg up with the knee bent, flex that ankle (keep it flexed) and stack right ankle over your left leg, over the knee. Think of gently pushing the right knee downwards towards the direction of the floor.

For a deeper stretch, keeping your spine extended and legs the way they are, gently lean your upper torso forward over your legs. Think of keeping your chest lifted as you fold forward.

Breathe a few cycles, then do for the other side.

Spinal Twist

Seated on a chair, place your right hand on the left of your left thigh; left fingers behind you on the chair. Inhale and sit up tall so your spine gets extended. As you exhale, gently twist your upper body towards the left and back, looking over your left shoulder. Think about wanting to look behind you. With each inhalation, mindfully extend the spine taller, then exhale and twist a little bit deeper.

Do this for 2-3 breaths and turn back to face the front at the exhalation. Repeat for the other side.

If you’re going to be sitting on the floor, Lord of the Fishes pose (below) will be the full version of this.


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A post shared by Yoga • Kristine Li (@kristinedoesyoga) on

Standing Yoga Poses

I do these at the airport and even inside the airplane while waiting at the galley for an empty lavatory, away from strangers’ eyes.

Standing Wind-Removing Pose +
Tree / Half Bound Lotus Tree Pose

It’s called the Wind-Removing Pose in Bikram Yoga, but I adapt it to a standing version.

Standing upright and keeping my left leg firmly grounded, I’ll bend my right knee as I lift it. Using my arm or elbows to hug that knee towards the right side of my chest, then proceed to Tree Pose, by pushing my right sole to my left inner thigh.

I know, the shoe sole touching the pants isn’t the most hygienic if I’m still wearing shoes, so I often do another modification by placing my right foot on my left hip-flexor. This isn’t Tree Pose already, but the Half-Bound Lotus Tree Pose (also called Tadasana pose in the classic 26-pose yoga sequence).

Tadasana | How to Low-Key Practise Yoga At the Airport
Half-Bound Lotus Tree

Repeat for the opposite side.

Crescent Lunge without Hands

Us kids used to do this in school as warmups before running. You can simply hang the hands by the side of your hips for this modification, or place at the hips. Energetically try to straighten the back leg and tilt the back ankle over the ball of your foot. Keep your hips squared, facing the front.

Crescent Lunge legs | How to Low-Key Practise Yoga At the Airport

Deeper, Standing Yoga Poses Away from Eyes

This section is for the ones who want to remain low-profile yet in need of some good, deep stretches. I suggest doing this at a quiet corner of the airport where no one can see you, or even in the washroom 😉 Because you definitely need more space and privacy for these.

Ragdoll Pose + Half-Lift + Forward-Fold

Ragdoll pose // Standing, feet hip-width apart, bend your knees, then hinge at the hips to fold and drape your upper body downward. Use hands to hold opposite elbows. Simply hang here relaxedly for a bit. I like to keep my eyes closed or else I’ll get giddy. Gently swaying from side to side is very comfortable too.

To extend the spine, feel free to release your elbows to do a Half-Lift on your inhalation. A half-lift = hands placed on the shins or fingers on the floor as you inhale and lift your chin and upper torso straighter. Exhale and fold down.

‘Standing Downward-Dog’

It’s like a Downward Dog but standing version. With both palms placed on a wall, feet about hips-width apart, hinge at the hips and think of melting your chest to face the floor. Alternatively, you can place your elbows on the wall – this option will stretch the thoracic area (upper part of spine, near the shoulders) deeper. Do remember to do this stretch mindfully.

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A post shared by Yoga • Kristine Li (@kristinedoesyoga) on

After this, a simple forward-folding is recommended to counter the backbend.


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A post shared by Yoga • Kristine Li (@tineyyogi) on

Dancer Pose

One of my favorite poses to do but it kind of grabs too much attention. It’s great for stretching many areas at one time! Make sure you’re warmed up enough before going into this pose.

How to Low-Key Practise Yoga At the Airport

I hope this post gives you some ideas to stretch it out before getting on an airplane! Meanwhile, you can check out this post sharing about the foldable travel yoga mats I used on my travels.


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