Yogis have been dreaming of flight for thousands of years, and now here we are. Flying has become so commonplace that more than three billion people fly somewhere every year.
If you have ever looked up in the sky and wondered, “How many people are up there right now?” – the answer is that at any given moment there are over a million people in about 9,000 commercial passenger planes. You can track them with an app on your phone.
Amazingly, flying by commercial airlines is the safest form of transportation that has ever existed on earth, by far. Flying is way safer than walking along the street, or bicycling, and is twenty times safer than driving. It has become so commonplace that it’s sort of boring and tiring.
How Meditation Upgrades Your Flight for Free
Let’s look at some ways yoga can enhance your ability to enjoy your flight and arrive at your destination more rested and relaxed.
1. Prepare yourself before your flight.
For several days before your flight, practice simple breath awareness in an informal way as you move about in your world doing your chores. Again and again throughout the day, savor the free flow of air and the immediate sense of relaxation that comes from enjoying a breath. This is anaha, breathing freely.
Breathing is a multisensory experience: there is a subtle sound, a whoosh of air, and there are sensations throughout the body, from the nose down through the mucous membranes of the throat, into the expanding and contracting lungs. In this way, breathing is not so much concentrating on breath as delighting in it.
2. Develop a 15-second practice.
From time to time, breathe out slowly, twice, through the mouth. This takes about 15 seconds. All you are doing is extending the exhalation slightly and making a soft whoo sound as you breathe out. Make up your own name for this, I call it the ‘whoosh’ breath. This tends to invoke the “soothing response,” the body’s built-in antidote to anxiety or the stress response.
Learn to identify the sensations that go with bodily relaxation, including stress-release sensations. As you are relaxing, your body may ask you, “Are you sure you don’t need this tension?” Continue to breathe, and relaxation will gently permeate the tension and dissolve it. A 5-minute practice is a series of 15-second cycles.
3. Develop a standing practice.
Whenever you are standing in your living room or in line somewhere, develop a quick tense and release practice. Pick an area of the body and introduce a bit of tension into it – you could start with your feet – and tense, then let go. Then your calves, buttocks, shoulders, and face.
Experiment with tensing and releasing for longer and shorter periods of time. You will be able to do this invisibly while standing, waiting, or sitting, anywhere.
With the body, everything goes in opposites. To breathe in, first breathe out. In order to be awake tomorrow, get a good night’s sleep tonight. To be relaxed, you can introduce tension to your muscles then let go.
4. Practices for the day of the flight.
Before walking out the door to catch your flight, sit for five minutes and enjoy the flow of your breath. Practice welcoming the sensations you feel, which often are complex: relaxation, excitement, anxiety, joy, sorrow, impatience, fatigue, jumpiness. Welcome them all, for whatever you feel, you heal.
Whenever stressful or anxious thoughts and sensations arise and you breathe with them, you soothe them and wash away a bit of the excess tension. Then stand and practice simple breath awareness – it is so simple. Much of the airport experience is standing and waiting in lines.
5. Find Ease in your seat.
As soon as you get settled on the flight, experiment with some 15-second practices such as the whoosh breath and the tense-to-release exercise.
6. Meditate on the joy of takeoff.
As the engines wind up and the plane accelerates down the runway, this is a great time to savor the sensations throughout your body. It’s a thrill.
Delight in the feeling of your body being pushed back into the seat and being slightly heavier as the airplane lifts up into the air. Sheer power!
7. Experience the exhilaration of flight.
Being up in the air traveling through space is intrinsically ecstatic, and an interesting situation for meditation. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra mentions flight: kaya-akasayoh sambandha-samyamat laghu-tula-samapatteh ca akasa-gamamam. If we take one small molecule of meaning from this, we could evolve a practice:
First cherish the sensation of being in your body, resting in the seat.
Then simultaneously be aware of moving through space at great speed.
Now delight in the wonder of these two marvels, your body + motion through space.
Enjoy a sense of lightness and freedom on your flight.
8. Orient yourself to where you are going.
Part of a healthy meditation practice is a review of your to-do list – the items on your list are simply tasks or activities that make your world a better place.
Whether you are traveling for work or pleasure, envision a place where you are likely to be. It may be that conference room or even the beach, and visualize being there in a relaxed state.
In this way, through using simple yoga skills you can upgrade your flight experience for free. You can feel first class in your body even if you are in economy.