an exercise in flying high
If you’re on a plane, I’m easy to spot. You’ll always find me sitting right next to the person who is just about to flip out. In fact, I’m pretty sure the airlines know in advance that I’ll be the calmest person on the plane and deliberately seat me next to the passenger most terrified of heights, enclosed spaces, flight attendants or just likely to have a midair panic attack.
Truth be told, I don’t mind at all. I once suffered from claustrophobia myself, and remember very well what it’s like to spend entire flights hyperventilating and crying. But now, teaching people to be calm is what I do””and it gives me something to do on long trips. I hold hands, teach mudras and breathing exercises, tap on pressure points, give away my acupressure secrets and listen to their stories. Sometimes the people in the rows around us get curious about what we’re doing and it turns into an impromptu calming class. This has happened so often that now I actually bring worksheets on board.
Flying can be one of the greatest challenges to being a yogi. Life’s little foibles are easy to accept or even learn from on the ground, but whizzing through the air in a tin tube is another thing altogether. Air travel takes away our sense of grounding and control. Some of us tend toward flightiness to begin with””even when actually standing on solid earth””and the promise of grounding is what brought many of us to yoga to in the first place. To suddenly find ourselves literally aloft can bring up issues we just aren’t prepared for.
As a yogi, the challenge is not just the uncanny sensation of being suspended in the air, the physical discomfort or even the shrieking toddler next to you. There is an additional challenge to react in a yogic way. When you can’t conjure up a calm, content and smiling yogic reaction at a moment’s notice, this can lead to an even greater sense of frustration and even guilt.
Fortunately, there are yoga techniques for dealing with all of this. Whether you’re annoyed by the whining kids behind you, annoyed at yourself for being annoyed or just plain uncomfortable, here are a few useful tools for staying calm on the plane.
This face mudra uses acupressure points to create a state of calm. Place your thumbs in the center of the chin, pinkies between nose and mouth, ring fingers at the inner corner of the eyebrow, middle fingers above the eyebrow and index fingers at the outer corner of the eye. Press lightly at each point and breathe slowly and gently.
Massage the tips of each finger. When you are done, grasp the third finger of one hand with two fingers of the other and hold firmly for one minute. Switch hands. The middle finger corresponds to the circulatory system as well as emotions like impatience and frustration.
Remove your shoes. Plant your feet firmly on the floor and spread your toes. Fold your hands in your lap. Sit up tall and say to yourself, “Even though I’m in the air right now, I choose to feel grounded. I choose to feel safe and loved. I draw strength from my internal base.”
Agreeing to the Disagreeable
Don’t fight your feelings of irritation or discomfort. Acknowledge these feelings and allow them to exist without being impressed by them or what you think they say about you. Try saying something like this:
“I recognize that I am scared/uncomfortable/annoyed right now and I agree that this is my reality in this moment. I remind myself that it’s temporary and I allow things to be the way they are. Even though it’s frustrating, I’m just going to allow myself to be as I am right now”.
As you agree, you will find that you separate from your discomfort and are in a better position to gently let it go.
With a long, conscious inhalation, focus on the word “quiet;” and with the exhalation, let out the word “serenity.”
Best of luck and peaceful travels!
Habits expert and yoga educator Havi Brooks can be reached through fluentself.com or 415.490.7016.