People who do yoga in airports

Published on September 30, 2011 by      Print
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By Vanessa Fiola

I wish I had taken a picture of this woman, who looked like a very tall ferret, doing yoga at our gate just before we were to board a flight from JFK. I was trying to focus on a work call, so I missed the photojournalistic opportunity.

The very tall ferret held pyramid pose (admittedly, her alignment was lovely), while her husband looked the other direction. I would too, buddy. I would too.

I don’t have anything against yoga in airports, per se.  I have to admit that I’ve done yoga in airports. Traveling is uncomfortable and constricting and stressful.  Yoga’s good for all of those.  It’s just that when you’re IN THE MIDDLE OF AN AIRPORT, seriously practicing a standing posture, or handstand, or anything other than say, easy pose, you kind of look like an asshole. We get it. You do yoga. You’re spiritual. Yay for you.

And this is where it gets good.

So I board the plane, and there’s a guy in front of me blocking the aisle as he puts away his carry-on, which is not fitting into the overhead compartment. I’m waiting patiently. (In fairness, this is only because I’m distracted by my phone call. I can’t actually count patience among my virtues.) I feel a nudge on my arm. I turn around and see that it’s very tall ferret.  She glares down at me and shoos me forward.  Like in the way you would dismiss a pest.  I turn back around where suitcase guy is still blocking the aisle. I then turn back and look at her with confusion.

Very tall ferret towers over me, so she/it had to see that I couldn’t go around suitcase guy. “Did you want me to physically move him?” I asked sweetly. Her glare turned to scowl. Very tall ferret was good at non-verbal communication. Maybe she is mute? A surly, lanky polecat-type mute who also does yoga in airports.

Moments later, suitcase guy stepped aside and everyone went to their seats.  The very tall ferret sat down and continued her yoga practice with hand mudras.  And that’s when I contemplated my own hand mudra.

About Vanessa Fiola

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  1. NamaStacy says:

    Brilliantly hilarious. I think this should have come with a warning about the last line as it literally caused me to laugh/choke on my morning coffee. :-P In all seriousness though, thank you for the important reminder about yoga being more than just a pose and the importance of focusing on ourselves both on and off the mat. Cheers!

  2. matthew says:

    When I was married, my wife would do all sorts of poses in the airport and it was so embarrassing to me. I was the guy looking away….praying nobody saw me.
    Not surprising the flying yogini was also a judgmental jerk.

  3. Susan Smeltzer says:

    IDK, had she not done her poses, she might have been even angrier on the plane. Who knows what someone else is going through?

  4. Don says:

    It’s a good thing she does yoga or her eyeballs might have exploded out of her head and that would be messy.

  5. Chrissy says:

    *sigh*….I love this…gotta love the aggressive yogis…I have to add that if I started busting out the poses at the airport , though, my husband would ask me if I was high, tell me that I look like an asshole and laugh at me..which is why we have been happy together for so many years…I firmly believe in’ to love, honor and prevent the other from being a huge douche’…
    I agree with the reader above that we never know what others are going through..however, nothing makes one exempt from using their manners…that is a tired excuse for acting like a shit.

  6. Lisa Clibon says:

    Awesome!! You were the polite one for sure! When you asked “”“Did you want me to physically move him?”” and she didn’t give you an answer I would have not been as polite and pressed her for one.

  7. Yoga Playlist Egoist says:

    Ok, guilty!! I tried busting a move at the airport once, but that was before boarding a 14 hour flight and i went off to a hidden corner so nobody could see me…
    But yogi aggression… sorry to hear that. that would have been aggravating whether that woman was doing yoga or not. but, i think yogis are held to higher etiquette standards, especially by other yogis.
    let’s take this ‘trust the universe’ idea- maybe she was there so you can have really good material to write for RY, maybe she was there to test how you handle difficult people ( a learning experience, right? ~~ saying this tongue in cheek)

    • Yogini5 says:

      I go with the “trust the universe” idea.

      I blame the newspapers and those with cellphones/cameras for reinforcing the idea of PDY …

      If they didn’t have an audience, it’s likely they would not perform like trained dogs …

    • vanessafiola says:

      YPE: I’m glad you mentioned this. You kind of nailed it.

      In art, life, thought, etc I’ve always been drawn to paradox and juxtaposition. At the time, I didn’t see this particular situation as either inherently a blessing or a burden. But as soon as I started writing about it, the imagery of seeing her practice yoga in such an — I don’t know — pretentious(?) way, followed by our bizarre exchange, well the whole thing just seemed delightful and poetic. So in the end whether or not there was meaning behind it all, I had a lot of fun in the writing process. And for that I’m kinda lucky.

  8. Jenifer says:

    What I find so interesting about this is that there are actually private spots in the air ports designated for this sort of thing — there are chapels and prayer rooms throughout most airports. I think the only air port that i’ve been to without one was Mombasa, Kenya, which was about the size of my palm, and really just a little open-air building where they rifled through everyone’s bags. They were kind of pleasant about that, though.

    I do not fly all that often (unless it’s a short jaunt around NZ, and there’s no point in getting panties in a twist over a 1.5-2 hr flight. I mean, I can easily stretch when I land and get to the hostel and get dinner in the oven. Then back to my room and bust a few moves.

    But, when I take the long flights — Philly to San Fran, then a 10 hr layover there to do a 12 hr to NZ — I avail myself of the prayer room.

    Usually in the back corner, there’s enough space to not be disrupted or disruptive. The room is also usually helpfully labelled “Mecca” with the appropriate direction (NE, for example) in one corner, so you know that if you want to face east while practicing yoga. I don’t really care about this, but hey, it’s there for those who do. Unfortunately, there is not a calendar that shows the phase of the moon.

    Anyway, it’s possible to get in a good two-hour practice, usually entirely on your own, in a nice, clean and quite room, designated as a sacred space. Sometimes, if you hit the right time of day, you get to do yoga while many muslims come in to pray, and the ladies will usually chat with you at the end when you come out. You can introduce your children to each other so that they occupy themselves while you have tea and talk about your comings and goings.

    This is really about manners all around, isn’t it? Manners in the air port, manners in the plane, and manners all around with travel and so on. People are stressed, and I think etiquette is the answer under stress. Fall back on old rules: hold doors for people; if you can help, offer; smile a lot, saying please and thank you; use terms such as “excuse me” and ‘I’m sorry’ frequently, as you are putting up and pulling out your bags, or asking to get by to go to the toilet, etc; act in kindness and discretion at every turn — if you need to, PRETEND to be Emily Post.

    I find that this makes for SUCH a great trip, and the stewards take really good care of you. We got all kinds of first-class treats on our last trip, because we got bumped to first class, but gave it to the senior citizens in front of us as well as helped a single (and very, very overweight) woman get comfortable on her flight and basically took it upon ourselves to make sure she was as comfortable as possible, and also did a bit of babysitting so that other parents could sleep (since our little guy sleeps like a log in any conditions).

    If we take the time to really be kind to each other — as in, to really be kind to each other — then the travel becomes part of the adventure, and you make friends along the way.

  9. Robert says:

    Enjoyed the article. Gotta say, though, that I’ve practiced in an airport before. Worked for me.

  10. Vanessa says:

    YESS!!! Hahaha that’s so hilarious. Ferret lady is the reason this website exists lol

  11. Jamie says:

    Ferrets have been used for rodent control and extermination. Maybe she smelled your rat like attitude and was just acting within her nature. It’s a good thing she did her yoga before boarding the plane or she might have eliminated you completely. After this post, which couldn’t be more petty, you should change the tagline of this blog to the REFUSE of the spiritual disenfranchised as it would more accurately reflect the tone of this blog.

    Hey wait, can I write for your guys? I think this comment proves I have what it takes. You do see the humor in it, correct?

  12. jackie says:

    Gotta say, I have never seen anyone doing yoga in an airport, nor have I ever contemplated doing yoga in an airport myself. I would be divorced. It is the pretentiousness of the ferret that floors me. If you are going to act the part, act the part…that means in your dealings with aisle-hogging passengers and innocent by-standers alike.

  13. anna says:

    I will admit: I do a few poses when I travel. I won’t lie. I hate sitting for long periods of time, so when I can stand, I stretch a little. But like Jenifer, I find a quiet spot in the airport if I can.

    Oddly enough: my travel yoga allows me to meet really interesting folks. And I don’t mean that with sarcasm. It also keeps me from turning into a ferret when I have to catch a 5am flight en route to the East Coast.

  14. vanessafiola says:

    Hi guys, thanks for your comments! I’ve done/do yoga in airports too. (For that matter, I’ve done it tucked away on airplanes.) (Yoga, I mean.) Just usually not in the center of a gate area, or whatever.

    • Jenifer says:

      the gate area is way, way overcrowded for that business. Too much going on, too.

      that’s why i’m actually recommending the prayer room. i think that people don’t necessarily know that it is there, and that it’s ok to practice yoga there too. :)

      and, if there isn’t one close enough to your gate (eg, you’d have to pass through security a couple of times to get to it — which happens), then i look for an empty gate area, and then find a corner.

      but i was raised catholic, and we were told that jesus said you don’t wear sack cloth and ashes and pray on the street corner, but you go to the inner room and do it in silence — i presume wearing whatever you want. i feel very similar about yoga.

      don’t get me wrong, i love a class because it’s a fun group activity and learning environment, but when i’m out and about, if i’m not in a place where people normally practice, i go and hide.

      maybe i’m putting my light under the bushel basket? :)

      Btw, I thought you were nice to her for both asserting that you weren’t going to be rude to your fellow passenger AND for not giving her the special mudra.

      You were totally being emily post. :D

  15. Warriorsaint says:

    Hey Jenifer: As an ex-flight attendant I believe you may have been one of us…That said enjoyed your POV on the situation. Funny how life becomes so much less stressful when kindness reigns.

    • Jenifer says:

      In a past life, perhaps!? :)

      I think it just dawned on me at one point — this doesn’t have to be so stressful. It could be fun. I started to see not just arrival as important but journey, too. And the more fun I have on a journey, the better it is.

      It’s part of “trail magic” that something that happens when you meet someone for a short time, and learn from each other and enjoy each other’s company, and then perhaps never see each other again, or perhaps you do — you never know! But whatever it is, it’s the best souvenir!

  16. Honey says:

    Damn girl, you should stop traveling is trivial shit is ticking you off like this.

  17. John King says:

    You are hilarious, Sparky. “… contemplated my own hand mudra” — classic.

  18. Kathy says:

    Ok – I haven’t seen anyone doing yoga in the airport – but I’m not a frequent traveler. I’m am fairly new to yoga and just cant imagine busting into poses in public. However, given my irrational fear of flying- yoga poses may do more for me than the little “airplane pill” and bloody Mary I require at takeoff. Maybe I’ll give it a try. As I get older I care less and less about what other people think of me though my teenage son would pass out from embarrassment and my husband would laugh his ass off. Anyway- the passenger you speak of clearly is not finding peace from her practice of yoga in airports and is still a stressed and bitchy traveler. Maybe she needs to try something else.. Like a bloody Mary!!

    • vanessafiola says:

      Kathy, piece of advice: maybe do some yoga (off to the side or whatever), but like, also your special pill and the Bloody Mary. The former’s so you’re not stiff, the latter’s so you’re not stiff. :)

  19. margo kellison says:

    I have a piggy back on this I think you might appreciate. Picture me, yoga chick in the city, newish Mom and a big sidewalk construction fiasco on a MAJOR busy street in Chicago. I clearly must cross to the other side of the street because Chicago in it’s infinite wisdom has closed down the other side to fix something that will remain busted no doubt but as I look to cross North Ave which is FOUR lanes of either speeding traffic or dead locked bumper to bumper veins of cars, I naturally choose to cross when it’s stopped rather than risk my new sons life and my own. So I cautiously try to make EYE CONTACT with every driver, who all can clearly see I MUST cross this street because there is no longer a sidewalk… I am nearly across where the last vehicle to get passed is a giant truck and then there is a right turn only lane that is actually supposed to drive you right into Home Depot, I cautiously peek around the gigantic dump truck to see if any cars are coming, mind you I have a stroller in front of me and now the light is turning free for the cars who have graciously let me pass and THEN IT HAPPENED,… A white Mecedez 4 Matic ( the car doesn’t really matter and trust me I would take this car if someone gave it to me but it makes the story a little better and if you know the car you know it’s as long as a small yacht) so anyway there she is, 50ish woman on her cell phone zooming by within inches of my son’s little toes using the turn lane as her own personal highway AROUND the traffic that hundreds of others are waiting in like god had made that lane for her because she is soooo special she shouldn’t have to wait in Chicago traffic like the millions of other people do who choose to live here. (why do I live here again??) But this is the last of it, as I am ready to give my favorite yoga mudra (otherwise known as the bird) and curse her audibly there it is, her vanity license plate reads “DOYOGA”. I hear a beep behind me to move it, I safely get to the sidewalk, BARELY and contemplate my entire existence. I did curse her and give her the finger, bad yogi but the Mama Bear and angry teen ager came out in me all at once!! What can I say?
    So moral of the story, DO YOGA people, but talk on your phone while driving, pay no attention to traffic rules that are intended to keep people safe, oh and when in the wrong after cursed at by another yogi you almost killed crossing the street because she HAD to, give her the finger right back because clearly there is no use looking at yourself in reflection, you must have missed class THAT day in your hot sweaty awesome workout of your yoga class. Just Sayin. Forgive typos and grammatical errors, I was in the moment. :)

    • vanessafiola says:

      Margo, first of all, I love anyone who ends something with “Forgive typos and grammatical errors, I was in the moment.” I’m going to use that one on Joslyn, our resident punctuation czar. Second, funny story! You should write for us. Like you said, when you’re pushing your “thing” (in this case, DOYOGA) — whatever your “thing” is — it just seems like it’s good practice to have your shit together. At least when you’re interacting w/ others. Or something like that.

    • Jenifer says:

      It’s not just “mama bear” stuff. It’s “i will effing kill you if you even come close to endangering my child.”

      I’m all about ahimsa and junk like that, and seriously non-violent, but . . .being a mom is just out of control sometimes.

      I had a similar experience, though perhaps turned about. I’d taught a yoga class with the baby wrapped to me, and then had to cross the street to get to my car. I went to the cross walk, where one side of traffic had stopped for me, and I was heading across, and this lady — rushing to get to the next yoga class (being a bit late) — nearly ran me and the baby over.

      As soon as she got out of her car and was like “oh! sorry! i didn’t want to be late for class!”

      I technically do not remember this incident, other than being angry. But my husband said that I nearly assaulted her (he held me back) and that I used all kinds of foul language and was screaming things like “you crazy *bleep*~ you nearly killed my baby! I’m going to effing cut you!”

      I think it’s hormones, but I don’t like to make excuses.

      So, yeah, the finger is practically emily post in such a situation.

  20. eleles says:

    I’d be happy to see more people do yoga in airports, as long as they weren’t getting in the way. What will all that sitting in cramped conditions, it seems like it would be very beneficial. Long flights tend to make my muscles seize up, so I sometimes do some stretching while waiting for flights. I do it unobtrusively, but some of the stretches do get a bit warrior-esque… and I could definitely imagine myself trying out pyramid pose during a layover to try to relieve that muscle that likes to seize up in my back. It makes me kind of sad to think that people might be judging me for the way I stretch… but I guess other people’s judgment is just a fact of life. I do tend to be patient and kind when I’m traveling by plane though, so hopefully I will not become a pox upon yoga like some of the people described here, like DOYOGA Mercedes lady…

  21. Jenifer says:

    i think no one has a problem with practicing PDY, i think that the holier-than-thou (see earlier RY article/poem about who practices yoga more than you!) behaviors of some practitioners, and an ability to make fun of themselves, is really at issue.

    Vanessa admits she’s not patient, and had she not been on the phone, luggage-guy would probably have been the topic of the blog, not ferret-yoga lady. At least she can be honest about that. :D

    I’m also honest about nearly attacking people whom I see as a threat to my baby. Seriously, do not even look sideways at my kid, or i will give you Death Eyes.

    End of the day, i practice on the plane (back corner, near the stewards area, ask first), and i practice at the air port (in the least noticeable spot i can find), and I sometimes practice in my seat, and i sometimes occupy small children by doing it in an open area in waiting spaces, and i sometimes do it on the plane to help people relax (teaching breathing techniques), and sometimes I’m at the beach, or at the park, or on a hike, or even *gasp* at the cafe because whenever people ask what I do and I say “oh, i teach yoga” they are like “show me a move!” so i never wear skirts out anymore.

    But I digress. It’s not the PDY that is the issue (though it can be, if it’s done in a crowded space, for example, or done for ostentation and to show off), it’s the PDY and not being a decent, mannered human being.

    Manners are so important for simply getting along with people in stressful situations. I can’t tell you how intensely mannered I get when I have to sue people (i’ve done this twice). Manners are *everything* to the court, even though people argue that it’s very unyogic of me to not let people steal from me and take it to the court.

    But I digressed again.

    Anyway, if you PDY, and are mannered, then finesies. If you are PDY and ill-mannered, and that happens to also threaten my baby, then I will cut you.

    (Death Eyes is a trademark of having given birth or adopted, utilized as a primary protective method of one’s parenting choices, one’s child, and/or a combination thereof. You can learn Death Eyes prior to birth or adoption by signing up for my $10,000 course, to be held in the Maldives, every third year. You’ll have to pay for your own flights and accommodations, and you’ll have to prove that you were nice to everyone along the way, because Death Eyes should never be used inappropriately.)

    • eleles says:

      ROFL! I heart manners. You know, now that I think about it, I have a reason to actually be *happy* I’m not taller or model-beautiful or anything like that… I can blend in more easily while doing unusual things like yoga in airports :)

    • Chrissy says:

      Yup, I can cop to nearly 14 years of Momma death eyes….and once when I had to grab my daughter by the ponytail because some lady blew a light on her way to yoga…I sported some mouth foam…she didn’t seem to care until officer Daddy happened to pull her over…what can I say…my husband has impeccable timing…late to yoga and a ticket….good times….

  22. Debbie M. says:

    I always do yoga at the airport when I travel too! But I try to hide- I hate being the center of attention. I was really into my little vinayasa routine and had my Ipod on enjoying my time before the cattle call- I mean boarding call on SouthWest. Then I looked out the window and there were all these bag handlers smirking and staring at me from the runway. I was mortified and quickly wrapped up my mat. I think that being in the center of the airport would just be asking for attention. Sounds like she needs to practice more than just asanas though. Keep the posts coming- so funny and I learned there is a prayer room for practicing :)

  23. Kimberly Johnson says:

    This just kind of makes me shake my head at myself, remembering rolling the mat out under the escalators at Logan International, and doing a Feldenkrais lesson, which is honestly WAY weirder than yoga. (a lot of spinal undulation and odd micromovements) I don’t have anything to say for myself, except I am pretty sure I was very polite to everyone in my PDF.

  24. Tracey says:

    Since I am 6′ tall, (but a lanky ferret? Um, not quite) with back and knee injuries that suffer mightily from weensy airplane seats, I do yoga in the airport all the time.


    I try to find an out-of-the-way place, and choose gentle stretching poses, not really flashy ones. I don’t use a mat, but then, I often don’t do seated poses on the airport carpet (ick). I keep my butt to the wall and avoid eye contact with people. I’m not trying to show off; I’m trying to prepare my body for the brutality of plane travel. I think it does help me stay more calm during flight.

    Unless you keep kicking/bumping/jostling my seat. Then I may have to punch you. :D

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