Yoga for jet lag:​ The benefits of Meghan Markle's post-flight yoga session

If it works for the Duchess of Sussex, it's good enough for us
Meghan Markle's post-flight yoga

According to reports, Meghan Markle surprised fellow yogis on a recent trip to New York by attending a public hot yoga class.

The Duchess of Sussex is understood to have signed up for the class at New York’s Modo Yoga with a friend, on a trip to watch Serena Williams in the US Open.

Based in the West Village in Manhattan, the studio is eco-conscious and focuses on a system of forty yoga postures and breathing techniques practised in a warm room.

Markle’s love of yoga has been well documented; her mother, Doria Ragland, teaches yoga in LA and before marrying Prince Harry, Markle said in an interview with Best Health, "Yoga is my thing. My mom is a yoga instructor, and I started doing mommy-and-me yoga with her when I was seven. I was very resistant as a kid, but she said, 'Flower, you will find your practice – just give it time.' In college, I started doing it more regularly."

She went on to say, "I’ll do yoga a couple times a week – hot yoga, specifically" and during a royal tour to Australia, the pregnant Duchess said she was getting up at 4.30am to practise yoga to help combat her jet lag.

So is Meghan Markle onto something? Can yoga help minimise the effects of jet lag – and if so, which are the best postures to focus on when you unroll your mat in a new time zone?

Ex-actress and yoga teacher Cloudia Hill told Get Sweat Go, “When I was touring the US we passed different time zones and would fly in the morning and be on stage by the evening. My practice helped me to firstly get in with the time zone. No getting off the flight and hanging in the hotel bar. If you get into the rhythm of the city or place you are visiting then it helps with jet lag. The practice energises and focuses you.” Hill now teaches yoga at the Power Yoga Company in South West London.

Can yoga help with jet lag?

Research has shown that disruption to the body’s circadian rhythm, plus the airline cabin pressure and atmosphere, can all cause jet lag disorder, with symptoms including disturbed sleep, difficulty concentrating, stomach problems and a general feeling of being unwell.

Those who cross more time zones during a flight, plus frequent flyers and older adults, are thought to suffer more. Travelling east is also thought to be harder than travelling west, as you gain daylight hours rather than losing them.

Is Meghan Markle onto something, can yoga help jet lag?

Exercise is thought to reduce symptoms of jet lag, as by raising your heart rate and respiration, it boosts the body’s circadian rhythm, which can prevent the body from winding down too early in the day when it’s in a new time zone.

One study measured the effects of this by studying hamsters, who were exercised early or late at night (which corresponds to early in the morning or in the evening for humans, as hamsters are nocturnal). The study showed that in the hamsters that exercised, jet lag was reduced to 1.6 days, compared to 5.4 days in the hamsters who didn’t exercise.

Another study, conducted on flight attendants travelling from Tokyo to LA (which has an eight-hour time difference), found that exercising outdoors cut jet lag recovery time from four days to three.

While experts haven’t recommended one particular type of exercise for those suffering from jet lag, flights can often leave the body dehydrated, so light to moderate exercise, such as yoga, is thought to be better than high intensity workouts.

Exercising outdoors can be useful, as the daylight can help the body release the endorphins dopamine and serotonin, so if you have time, try to go for a brisk 30-minute walk before unrolling your mat in your hotel room.

Is Meghan Markle onto something, can yoga help jet lag?

Which are the best yoga postures to focus on?

To find out more, we also spoke to yoga teacher Catherine Annis, who has been practising yoga for 35 years and teaches at Triyoga Soho. Here, Annis and Hill talks us through the restorative yoga postures to practise after a long haul flight.

Effortless rest

Why: Annis explains, "for me, the best way to settle myself into a new country is to spend time literally feeling the ground, connecting with the earth and focusing on a sense of landing."

How: Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor approximately hip distance apart. Use a pillow or towel to support the head if this is more comfortable. Focus on the breath and the sense of the ground coming up to meet you. Take some time to settle and imagine the body dropping into the earth in your new destination. Gradually, start to hold your breath before exhaling – this stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system and encourages rest and relaxation.

Spinal curl ups

Why: No matter how often you try and get up during a flight, chances are you’ll have been sat down for a good few hours by the time you land. Annis recommends "taking the spine into the opposite movement pattern" by practising some spinal curl ups.

How: Lie on your back, tilt your pelvis under and peel your spine off the floor, beginning at the tail, articulating through the vertebrae and working up your lower and middle back until you are resting on your shoulders. Pause here for a moment, then gradually curl back down to the floor. Repeat this a few times.

Supine leg stretches

Why: Although these aren’t traditional yoga moves, supine leg stretches will help stimulate blood flow and reduce fluid retention after sitting down on a flight for a long time. The stretches work your lower back, hamstrings, calves and ankles.

How: Lie on your back and raise on leg up and gently bring the thigh towards the chest. Hold the back of the thigh or the calf and ease open the knee as far as it will comfortably go, gradually stretching the back of the leg.

Continue to bend and stretch each leg a few times, moving slowly until the movement feels easier and more elastic. Annis adds, "at the very top of the movement, you could experiment with flexing the toes to bring them towards your face to mobilise the ankle".

Downward facing dog

Why: A good all-rounder, downward dog pose stretches the spine, while also stretching the hips, hamstrings and calves. All good things to focus on after long periods of sitting down.

How: Gradually unfold from child’s pose (below) into downward dog. Plant your hands into the ground and reach your sitting bones up to the sky behind you until you’re resting on your hands and feet in an inverted V-shape position. If stretching feels good, imagine moving like a cat, reaching through your spine, all the way from your sitting bones to the crown of your head.

Include a conscious stretch all the way through your arms, into the heels of the hands and back through your body into your feet, ankles and heels. You can also walk the dog, reaching each heel down to the ground alternately to stretch the backs of the ankles and the soles of the feet.

Is Meghan Markle onto something, can yoga help jet lag?

Legs up against the wall

Why: "This is a wonderful pose for tired or swollen legs when coming off a flight" Annis explains. Elevating the legs promotes lymphatic drainage from excess fluid build-up which can happen after long periods of sitting with your feet on the floor during a flight.

How: Raise your hips on a pillow as close to the wall as possible, then slowly start walking your feet up the wall until your body is in an L-shaped position. Organise your legs into a comfortable position – they can be slightly bent if that feels good. Focus on your breath, Annis adds: "try elongating your breath, taking a deep, slow inhale through your nose and deep, slow exhale through the nose". Try to stay in the pose for five minutes.

Child’s pose

Why: According to Annis, connecting the body to the ground and returning to child’s pose during a post-flight yoga practice can help the mind become more familiar with its new surroundings. This pose can also help stretch the hips, thighs and ankles, which might all feel tight after sitting on the plane.

How: Kneel with your knees apart and bend your body forwards over your thighs. You can stretch the arms out in front of you, or rest your hands under your forehead if it is more comfortable. Sink the front of your body onto your legs and allow the back of your body to soften and melt. Stay here for a few simple breaths.

Is Meghan Markle onto something, can yoga help jet lag?

Savasana

Why: One of the most restorative poses you can do, Annis recommends spending some time in savasana, or ‘corpse pose’ after getting off a flight as, "it continues to help you connect to the ground and is great to help re-centre the mind and the body after the altitude and high speed of a flight."

How: Lie flat on your back on the floor, facing the ceiling with your palms open and facing upwards by the side of your body. Shift your hips from side to side until your weight is equally balanced and you have a slight natural curve in your spine.

If your hotel room is cold, put a blanket over your body, and make sure you feel comfortable before closing the eyes and resting here for at least five minutes.

Crescent Lunge

Why: Hill adds that "I always suggest for those who fly to lunge! Crescent lunge stretches the legs, groin and hip flexors and also gets increased blood flow to the hips and arms."

How: Begin in downward dog pose and step your right foot between your hands. Bend your front knee to 90 degrees and come onto the ball of your back foot – your feet should be hip distance apart. Lift your back leg strongly, drawing your knee and quads to the ceiling and straighten your back leg completely.

Keeping the back leg strong, square your hips and sweep your arms overhead, opening your arms with your palms facing and raising your gaze to the ceiling. Do 10 lunges on each side.

Main image credit (inset): Albert Nieboer / Pond5

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