One of my spiritual teachers always said, “The way you go in is the way you go out.” In other words, the way you begin anything – a relationship, a business, a journey – is the way you will complete it. If you begin on a shaky foundation, you’ll find that instability infects the entire venture. If you establish a firm and steady foundation, that stability will govern your experience.
For many years I resisted this concept, because very little that I engaged in was begun in a calm, steady and unhurried manner. I was usually hanging in there by the seat of my pants. Yet after more than a decade of hearing her repeated sage advice, I finally capitulated. She was right; I proved it. It is impossible to have a happy ending to an unhappy journey. It is better to slow down and be more mindful and thoughtful right at the start.
Now I won’t rush into anything, including travel. You know that anxiety you feel before you leave for a trip? Like there are too many things to do before you go, and there is a chance you’re going to leave important stuff undone? I found much of that quelled when I packed at least two days before departure. Calm, unrushed and steady, it sets the tone for the trip. Of course, my mother has done that for years, but I always thought I was too busy to pack days in advance. I finally got sick of those strained, sleepless nights before departures, so I made time for Mom’s method. Now I sleep well the night before, and that sense of calm well-being accompanies me from the start.
But that is just the start. Plane flights, particularly those lasting more than a few hours, can cause sluggishness, stiffness and in some rare cases, deep vein thrombosis. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a dangerous condition in which a blood clot forms in a deep vein (usually in the legs). This clot can break off and lodge elsewhere, like your lungs, blocking blood flow. DVT can develop with lengthy sitting, as in long plane or car trips. A way to help avoid it is to move around. According to the Centers for Disease Control, on flights more than four hours long, we should avoid crossing our legs for long periods and drink plenty of water. The best way to prevent DVT, however, is to get up and move every couple of hours.
I have my plane travel routine down pat, and I’ll share it with you. This routine never fails to deliver me to my destination relaxed, happy and healthy.
It starts in the airport terminal. I never sit and wait to board my flight. I try to move right up until the time I have to sit on the plane. An easy way to stay moving is to simply walk the terminal. I’ll do a few laps, then stop and do a few modified yoga moves to keep me limber and ward off stiffness. I start with a standing forward fold to stretch my hamstrings and lower back. To do this, slowly bend forward from the hips, and clasp your elbows, allowing your head to hang. Take a few 4-Count breaths (breathe in through your nose to the count of four, exhale through your nose to the count of four). Let the weight of your arms and head gently stretch your hamstrings and lower back. On an inhale, slightly bend your knees, and slowly come up to standing.
I follow this with a modified back bend. Stand up straight with your feet hip distance apart. Inhale as you reach your arms overhead and lean back, into a mild, modified back bend. Take a few deep 4-Count breaths. This opens the chest and stretches the hip flexors (which tend to tighten up with lengthy sitting). On an exhale, slowly bring your arms back down to your sides and your spine back to neutral.
Once I am on the plane, every 60 to 90 minutes, I’ll get up and walk the aisles a bit, then go to the back of the plane and do my forward fold and mild standing back bend as I described above. When I return to my seat, I do my easy, stress relieving 3-minute yoga sequence for office workers and sedentary people. This feels terrific. Here’s what you do:
1) We start with an inversion. Inversions bring the head below the heart, and are believed to restore calm very quickly. Scoot your hips to the back of the seat. With your feet on the floor, fold forward, clasp your elbows and allow your head to simply hang for a few deep 4-Count breaths. Slowly come back up.
2) Next, we move into a mild back bend. Back bends open the chest and elevate mood. Scoot your hips forward a bit on the seat. Place your hands flat on the chair seat next to your hips, then extend up through the spine as you slightly arch back. Remain here for a few 4-Count breaths.
3) We end with twists. Twists are good for spine mobility, and are believed to “wring out” emotion and tension. Move your hips to the back of the seat. We first twist to the right. Sitting up straight, place your right hand on the arm rest, and your left hand on your outer right thigh. Inhale, and extend up through your spine; exhale and gently twist toward the right. Inhale and extend up through the spine again; exhale and continue to twist to the right. Repeat this pattern until you have reached your maximum twist that you can do with comfort, then remain here for a few deep 4-Count breaths. Repeat on the left.
Give my plane routine a try on your next flight. I’m betting you’ll feel the same way I do when I travel on long flights – relaxed, calm, happy and without that stiff, sluggish feeling that used to plague me on travel days.