2 Essential Pilates Moves at 30,000 Feet

2 Essential Pilates Moves at 30,000 FeetThe good news

I flew direct from San Diego to Baltimore.

The bad news

I flew direct from San Diego to Baltimore.

5 hours of sitting BADLY…

When I fly I have a great empathy for both the tall and the ample. At 5'2″ I have barely enough room for myself and an iPhone. The flight to Baltimore was an early one so I slept through nearly all of it. Later that afternoon during my Mat workout I realized just how long I'd been sleeping (read this as ‘slumping').

2 Essential Pilates Moves at 30,000 Feet

Jus' sayin'.

Stay classy, San Diego

My return flight was interminable as I was awake for all of it. Awake and fidgety. A fellow San Diegan, a young woman also in perpetual motion, sat to my right. She spent the flight playing an action game, steering her virtual motorcycle by moving her iPad wildly in the air in front of her. Her travel companion, a terrier sporting pink highlights and a ponytail, rustled inside a bag (also pink) at her feet. I did my best to remain calm despite a mild allergy to dogs and often full-on hypochondria on airplanes. Hold on, I just taught a Pilates workshop this weekend. I'm invincible…Nam myoho renge kyo…

I live in a city where it's just fine to paint your dog pink.

The woman to my left in the aisle seat explained that she took a Xanex and would be asleep throughout the flight. Should we need to use the lavatory we were just to give her a poke to get out into the aisle. Okay…

Slumping and reading Game of Thrones for 5 hours I fantasized about Pilates exercises I would do if I had opportunity. I stood awaiting the dog owner's return from the loo and eyed the darkened aisle.

The Hundred is definitely possible.

Couple things though:

  1. The ‘ick' factor
  2. The ‘freakshow' factor

Let's be reasonable, shall we?

1. In-seat Spine Stretch Forward


“I'm not ill, I'm returning to life!”

You may be able to upgrade this one to an In-seat Roll Up if it's possible to extend your arms straight out in front of you. However, for myself, not so much.

Reaching down toward your carry-on bag is expected activity though so you may not even look weird, although the flight attendant may hand you an air-sickness bag…

  1. Pull your stomach in until you feel your back firmly into the back of the seat. Inhale.
  2. Plant your feet on the floor as wide as the space will allow. Mine got to be about hip-width apart. Push your heels into the floor and squeeze the bottom.
  3. Scoop in and reach toward your carry-on bag and keep your stomach and ribs as far away from your legs as you can. Exhale. Repeat 5x every hour or so.

Reach from way down in the low back as you stretch the back way over the stomach pulling in. You're trying to lengthen that slumpy part, which should feel good. Come back up with a book or some ear buds and no one will be the wiser.

 2. Water Closet Wall

Take a moment of quiet time for yourself in the most spacious place you'll find on the airplane. Seriously, you may be able to extend your arms in front of you, but I dare you to circle them. So for the Wall exercise, I didn't have room for the Circles. I thought about the Roll Down, but I'd already covered that with the Spine Stretch in my seat. Given the confined quarters and the proximity of your head to the plumbing, well I stuck with the most appropriate part of the Wall for the space, Skiing, or Squats.

  1. Use the lavatory door as the Wall. Walk the feet forward and hip-width apart until you can feel your entire back on the Wall.
  2. Reach the arms forward and up as you slide down the Wall. Keep your hips above your knees and pull your stomach deeply in and up as you reach toward  the ceiling with the fingertips.
  3. Push the wall away with your stomach as you slide up the Wall. Imagine you are pressing the air down as the arm press down and return to your sides.

It's really the same lengthening and lifting of your back that you were doing in Spine Stretch: stomach in and back stretching long.

And if it skeeves you out to slide up and down the door of an airplane lavatory you may want to rethink the whole flying thing in general…maybe I shouldn't have spelled it out like that.

At the very least you'll arrive home hungry for the Reformer. Your carriage awaits…

2 Essential Pilates Moves at 30,000 Feet

Serendipitous Bonus (for those of you who do speak yoga)

Share your travel survival tips in a comment below. Anyone manage to do the Teaser in-flight?

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  1. You are truly a crazy wizard. 😉 I thought you were going to say you put the seat down and did a mini, short box “tree” for your legs.

    • OMG I completely forgot about the flotation cushion under the seat! What was I thinking?! I love the way you think that I could get the Tree in there somewhere…perhaps in first class I could sit up straight and actually extend my leg in front of me – ha ha… British Airways here I come… Thank you so much for reading and sharing your comment, it totally made my day Gina 🙂

  2. Thought I was innovative with my mat routine at the airport between flights! Your ideas for Pilates while flying is inspirational! Thanks!

    • Okay, Bob, that sounds fantastic! we need to talk – where are you doing the mat in the airport between flights? That is so exciting…I have a great fantasy of stretching lounges throughout the airports… please advise.

  3. Hey
    Long haul London to LA – have always attempted the balance position of rolling like a ball in my seat – never enough room to extend legs for a teaser. sigh.

    • Ooh, balancing like rolling like a ball…I must add that one to my repertoire – thanks! Safe journey to you my friend 🙂 San Diego to London will be a long flight, so now I’ve got 3 moves, excellent.

  4. Stretching lounges in every airport – fabulous idea! I just find as quiet and ick-less an area as I can – I even have some special secret places at airports that I return to again and again! There’s a top secret bit of private space at JFK! But I feel so much better after a little Pilates that I don’t care anymore how crowded it is or how nutty it might look!

    • Bob, that is excellent! Thank you for sharing this – I would love to have a serendipitous occurrence of travel where we meet in an airport and there is a kind of Pilates flash mob where we all workout together and then go our separate ways – I want to put that in my mantra 🙂

  5. Those are great exercise ideas. If I may add one more: the wall pushups will work a little of that upper body without having to extend the arms fully, or touch the wall with anything but your hands – which you can then wash again!
    Stand with feet in Pilates. Place hands just below shoulder height flat on lavatory door. Point elbows down toward land ; ) and keep shoulder blades down into back. Rise on half toe and slowly bend arms keeping body in a very lengthened plank. Stretch up through the top of the head and down through the spine to the balls of the feet. don’t forget to breathe into your back stretching the intercostals. In on the bend and out on the straighten.
    Bend only halfway and straighten till you are upright. Finish by putting heels down, bending knees and stretching arms toward ceiling.

    Happy flying!

    • Okay this just gets better and better – now I’ve got 4 moves total for my flight to UK in September…thank you so much for sharing this Emory – no telling how long I may spend in lavatory at this rate – ha ha. I am thinking by the time we are finished sharing in-flight stretches for ourselves I may be doing the entire may in some way or another!

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