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Yoga against jet lag!

Harnessing the power of yoga to combat the effects of jet lag.   2013-07-17

You've arrived at your destination, the lure of the city beckons, meetings await you, the sun and the sea are tantalizingly close, however it all fades into the background as that overwhelming urge to just sleep and sleep envelops your whole body.

With rates of frequent travel continuously on the rise, including long haul travel, the need for techniques to combat jetlag has never been so timely.

What is jetlag?

Jetlag is a feeling of tiredness, stiffness and confusion after a long aircraft journey.

It is the result of the body’s internal clock having to re-adjust after travelling through several time zones. Jetlag can disturb one’s sleep patterns and make one feel drowsy, tired, irritable, lethargic and slightly disoriented. The more time zones that are crossed, the more severe the jetlag symptoms can become.

What causes jetlag?

The world is divided into 24 different time zones. The body’s natural 24 hour clock (circadian rhythm) is disrupted after crossing time zones. Your body clock controls your sleeping and waking pattern. It also affects your hunger, digestion, bowel habits, urine production, body temperature and blood pressure. Your body clock is set to local time so that you feel hungry in the morning and sleepy in the evening. However, if you travel across time zones, your body clock can take a while to adjust to a new daily routine.

Jetlag has to have an east-west or west-east movement for jetlag to occur. Jetlag does not usually occur if one has crossed just one or two time zones.

Experts have noted that there is a link between environmental levels of oxygen and susceptibility to jetlag. An airplane’s cabin air pressure is much lower than it is at sea level, meaning that the amount of oxygen reaching the brain may be lower when most people are flying. This may make us slightly lethargic, resulting in a higher risk of more severe jetlag symptoms.

How can yoga help?

Studies have shown that people who are physically fit, rest properly and eat a well balanced diet tend to have fewer and lighter symptoms of jetlag than other individuals. Yoga postures and breathing have both a rejuvenating and calming effect on body and mind, helping to re-balance, and reduce any stress relating to the flight. Yoga can also help counter the effects of long hours sitting with your limbs restricted.

Doing yoga postures increases circulation as well as the flow of prana (life force) through the body and mind, which contributes to health and well being. Equally, by channelling the breath and doing postures to move the prana, it helps to remove sluggishness caused by jetlag. The increase in blood-flow and oxygen flushes all of your cells and balances your endocrine system. Increasing your cardiovascular strength through yoga will affect your overall metabolic rate and help to reset your biological sleep clock.

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It is recommended to do 30 minutes of gentle yoga practice before the flight.

  • Start with five minutes of full yoga breathing, this helps to prepare psychologically for the flight.
  • Sit on a cushion in Easy Pose (crossed legs), or just sit on a chair, with your back straight.
  • Breathe deeply and fully, using every part of your lungs, your abdomen expanding as you breathe in, contracting (falling) as you exhale.

This practice has an instantly calming and rejuvenating effect and will help centre you. You can practice this at any time during the flight.

Next, you can come into Downward Facing Dog pose.

  • Place your hands on the seat of a chair whose back is against a wall (for stability).
  • Step back until your feet are further from your hands than your hips.
  • Straighten your legs completely as you draw your side body and shoulder blades toward your buttocks.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then step forward and come up.
  • If you are stiff, repeat with the chair.
  • If you are more flexible, repeat with your hands on the floor, pressing the hands firmly down and extending your spine back towards the legs. Raise the heels as necessary to straighten the legs.
  • Take five long deep breaths and feel the stretch in the spine, arms and legs.
  • Rest in Childs Pose (knees bent and body curved forward with arms out straight in front) and return to Dog, repeating this sequence four or five times.

This pose helps to calm the brain and gently stimulate the nervous system, in addition to stretching the back and legs. It also helps relieve headaches, rests and rejuvenates the heart, and boosts circulation, which will help relieve swollen legs and ankles after long flights.

After this, come into Tree pose, which is good for balancing and rooting.

  • Stand tall on one leg, placing the other foot on the standing calf, or thigh, arms reaching to the sky. Breathe long and slow.

A great restorative pose is the Reclining Bound Angle which helps to open your chest, abdomen, and pelvic area.

  • Lie on your back, place the soles of your feet together and relax your knees open, lowering them towards the floor.
  • Rest your hands at your sides, palms up to the ceiling.
  • Close your eyes and relax, concentrating on the rhythm of your breath.
  • Remain in the pose for at least 3-5 minutes.

This pose helps the body oxygenate by opening the lungs and encouraging deeper breathing. It regulates blood pressure and increases circulation in the abdominal area.

If you know other yoga poses, round off the practice with the Shoulder Stand or the Corpse pose. You can hold it for as little a few seconds or as much as five minutes. It will calm you and help induce sleep for the journey.

Post flight

After the flight it is recommended to do a further 30 minutes of practice.

Starting with a few minutes of yogic breathing to calm and centre yourself and stretch yourself out. This can also be performed at any time in-flight, when you feel in need of a stretch.

  • While still in a seated cross legged position, lightly clasp your hands and stretch your arms up to the ceiling, breathing deeply.
  • Feel the stretch in your wrists, shoulders and arms.

If you are more familiar with yoga you can follow this with seven or eight rounds of sun salutations, this will energize your body, raise your heartbeat and kick-start your circulation.

Next, try a few forward bends - great for calming nerves and stretching the muscles of the spine and legs.

  • Spend a few minutes in a deep seated Forward Bend - sit on the floor, legs straight out in front of you, and pivot forward slowly, taking care to fold from the hips with a flat back.
  • Hold your feet, or ankles, and breathe slowly and deeply, relaxing the head and neck.

Balance the pose with the following back bend - the cobra gives the cervical spine a good stretch. Lie, face down on the floor.

  • Place your hands flat beside you, close into your shoulders, elbows pointing to the ceiling.
  • On an inhale, using the strength of your back muscles rather than your arms, curl your upper body from the floor, looking gently up.
  • Stay here for 30 seconds, or as long as is comfortable.

A good ending pose is to lie on your back with your legs up against the wall which helps to ease any congestion in the veins, swelling in the ankles and relieves tired feet.

If you know it, finish with five or ten minutes of Corpse Pose, relaxing completely. Drink plenty of water, to rehydrate after the flight and practice.

Spending time in the sun will help encourage your inner clock to reset.

An additional easy to do any time of the day pose, is the Stable and Balanced Posture which is excellent for instantly energizing you and helping you to stay awake until bedtime.

  •    Stand with your feet parallel and your arms at your sides.
  •    Inhale, lift your toes, and sweep your arms forward and up.
  •    Hold the breath for 3 seconds, keeping your chest expanded.
  •    Exhale, tighten your belly, and lower your heels and arms.

Repeat this sequence 4 times.

Trying these yoga exercises will have a calming and rejuvenating effect on your body and mind and can be successfully used to counteract jetlag, leaving you to enjoy your travel and make the best of your time either side of the trip.