How To Use Mindfulness To Overcome Every Flight Headache Out There

Photo by Angela Lumsden

The crying baby, the pushy man next to you, the rude flight attendant, flight delays, no overhead compartment space, a last-minute change in your gate—oh, the joys of plane travel.

I practice yoga for the health and longevity of my body, for the sanity of my mind, and for the sake of the world. However, when you’re 35,000 feet high in the sky, you can't exactly roll out your mat. So how does one keep their Zen during travel headaches? Sit back, buckle up, and check out the top ways to stay healthy—mentally and physically—when flying throws you for a loop.

Flight delays

Remember: The busier the connecting city, the more delays are possible. I like to plan ahead by packing some added entertainment, extra batteries, and healthy snacks: Grapes, blueberries, apples, clementines, or bananas with some raw unsalted nuts all pack really well and are easy to eat with your hands.

On the bright side, a delayed flight means more time to get a pre-plane stretch in. Here are a few of my go-to's:

Side bend

Standing with feet hip-distance apart, grab opposite wrist with hand. Lengthen the spine up on the inhale; exhale and move into the side bend. Keep length through both sides of the ribs while doing so.

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Standing backbend

Feet slightly separated, soft bend in the knees, place hands at lower back or grab opposite elbows behind you. Lifting up through the breastbone, draw elbows in toward one another for a gentle heart opener, beneficial for both your spine and your breathing.

Seated twist

From a chair pose, take hands to heart center. As you inhale, lengthen the spine out; as you exhale, move into the twist, placing your elbow over opposite knee. Repeat on both sides, balancing out your spine and range of motion.

The turbulence

Photo: Morre Christophe

Bring it all back to the yoga on this one! Meditation and breathing exercises have been scientifically proven to work wonders for calming nerves, focusing your mind, and relieving stress during any situation. I typically practice meditations during takeoff, envisioning the adventures of my upcoming trip.

If turbulence makes you antsy, I'd recommend this breathing technique for calming nerves: Breath in to the count of 4. Exhale to the count of 6. Hear your own breathing, repeating this exercise for as many rounds as needed, or until the turbulence passes. This too shall pass, dear yogis.

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The crying baby

No matter what flight you’re on, sometimes it can feel like a crying baby or loud passenger is inevitable. My advice? Make friends with the parent or caretaker. Play games with the baby. Offer some of those snacks I mentioned above. I recently implemented all of these strategies with a mom who was in a seat in front of me traveling with her baby who cried for almost the entire flight back from New York. She thanked me afterward for being so understanding and caring. It pays to go the extra mile, share your kindness, and have some compassion.

Lovingkindness meditation is a perfect way to calm yourself and possibly calm those around you too. Close your eyes, take a few simple breaths, visualizing yourself in a comfortable, spacious seat. Then, begin saying the mantra in your mind:

May I be happy. May I be calm. May I be at ease.

Say this a few times—or 10! Then visualize the baby and the parent in your surroundings. Repeat in your mind the mantra, sending those same positive thoughts to them:

May you be happy. May you be calm. May you be at ease.

While it may or may not stop the baby from crying, you'll feel the benefits of offering kindness and compassion to the baby and parent who's also suffering.

The cramped conditions

A weird phenomenon seems to occur when we get into tight spaces and we’re positioned next to people we don’t know. We get territorial, and suddenly even the calmest of the bunch (or the tiniest) are in a battle for the armrest, knee space, and elbow room. If you’re next to someone all up in your aisle seat, you can kindly ask the person to please move his/her shirt, pants, or jacket over (a not-so-direct hint). Or simply ask, "Do you mind moving your elbow, please?" Simple and direct. No explanation needed. There’s always a nice way, and a rude way, to ask for something.

Opening up some mental space can help, too. Close your eyes and visualize yourself in your personal most peaceful space. For some, it’s the top of a mountain; others, the shores of a white, sandy beach. Continue to visualize all of the elements in that area of peace, as you breathe and imagine, visualizing yourself in that place of calm.

Keep these tips and tactics in your carry-on back pocket for the next time you fly. While we can’t control what happens in the travel world around us, we can work on our own selves and mindsets to make any travel a true adventure.

Up your travel game this summer with these doctor-approved tips for beating jet lag, and check out the one supplement you should have in your carry-on.

And do you want to learn how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.

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