Photos by A Cruising Couple
Despite having traveled to 30-plus countries, I've long suffered from a severe fear of flying. Of course, I'm not alone. The National Institute of Mental Health says some 20 million Americans suffer from aviophobia (fear of flying.) And while I realize flying is statistically the safest way to travel, that doesn't do much to stop the intense fear of dread I experience as soon as the plane doors slide shut.
While I've yet to tap into a sure-fire way to get over my fear of flying altogether, I have discovered a quick and easy method to significantly calm my flight jitters: yoga and breathing exercises.
READ MORE: The Hottest Trend in Air Travel? Yoga.
One of the best aspects of yoga is that you can easily practice variations on classic poses from your airplane seat. After I've boarded a flight or any time the turbulence gets to me, I take a moment to practice a few of these quick and easy exercises. And every time, I find my sweaty palms and anxious breathing return to a somewhat normal state.
Next time flight nerves get to you, try practicing a few of these poses and breathing exercises. You might just be surprised by their powerful calming effect! Just don't forget to consult your doctor before trying these, or any, yoga poses, as to avoid injury.
1. Belly Breathing
I've found that before I do anything else, the quickest and most powerful way to calm my flight jitters is through deep breathing. Start by sitting up as straight (but comfortably) as possible. Gently close your eyes. Begin slowly inhaling, mindfully breathing in and filling up the lower belly. Exhale completely.
The next time you slowly breathe in from your lower belly, count the number of seconds you inhale. Try to match the length of your inhale with the length of your exhale. Continue this slow, deep and rhythmic breathing until you start to feel calm and grounded. I like to listen to relaxing music and even wear an eye mask to block out distractions and fully focus on the belly breathing.
Mindful breathing can help stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, as can certain yoga postures (such as forward folds.) This is important if you're feeling stressed, anxious and scared. While the Sympathetic Nervous System is responsible for our "fight or flight" mechanism, the Parasympathetic helps to restore calmness and balance after a stressful event.
The middle of turbulence or take off and landing are some of the best times to start belly breathing, but you'll experience even better results if you practice mindfulness or meditation on a regular basis. A study from Harvard University says you can dramatically slash day-to-day anxiety (which impacts flight nerves for most) through a daily meditation or relaxation practice. Even just learning to calm your nerves through breath work on a regular basis can profoundly impact travel jitters.
2. Seated Twist
Mindful movement integrated with deep breathing is an excellent way to calm the mind and reduce stress and anxiety. Not to mention, these postures can help combat the adverse health effects associated with sitting on planes for long periods of time.
Don't worry if you're not comfortable practicing yoga up and down the aisle. Many poses can be done from the comfort of your seat. Start with a gentle seated twist.
Take the right hand to the left knee. Inhale to sit up as straight as possible. Exhale and gently twist to the left, as though you are wringing out your spine. On each inhale, sit up a bit taller; on each exhale, twist deeper to the left. Gently come back to the center, and then switch sides.
In addition to helping with stress, twists can help ease constipation (a common problem fliers are all too aware of.)
3. Seated Pigeon Pose
If you've ever practiced yoga before, it's likely you've heard the instructor say that we tend to carry our emotions and anxiety in our hips. Practicing a few gentle hip openers can help you let go of excess stress and anxiety you're holding on to. Not to mention, hip openers are often difficult for many people, which means your mind will soon be distracted from the fears you're feeling!
READ MORE: 5 Stunning Places To Practice Yoga Around The World
Take your left ankle to your right knee. If this is already tight for you, stay here. Or, begin to fold gently forward over your thighs (to the best of your ability on the plane.) Continue to breathe deeply, and stay here for 30 seconds. Then switch sides.
While practicing yoga may not cure your fear of flying, it can help to calm your jitters. Plus, you'll feel much better when you arrive than if you drink a bottle of wine to help your nerves. Trust me; I speak from experience.
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