Spring is fast approaching, which means vacations are approaching, too. Whether you’re traveling with a friend, partner, or your entire family, lengthy plane rides aren’t the best part of the trip. You’ve probably experienced fatigue and jet lag after a flight — and accepted it as a necessary byproduct of flying across time zones. Sometimes, however, jet lag can last days or even weeks, making it difficult to enjoy the actual vacation. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to combat jet lag. It’s called “flying meditation,” and it requires taking a series of steps before and during a flight to reduce the physical and mental toll of air travel. To learn how flying meditation works, we spoke to Susan Chen, a Vedic meditation teacher.
The Components of Flying Meditation
Chen first describes the flying factors that negatively impact our stress response. “While flying is a normal part of the routine for us in the twenty-first century, our bodies still have the hard-wiring of our ancestors, whose ‘normal’ was traveling no faster than they could walk or run,” she explains. “Between the cabin pressure, plane speeds 130 times faster than our walking pace, and the altitude change, our ancestral stress response is activated during flights.”
Chen adds that this “fight-or-flight” (pun intended) stress response contributes to fatigue, jet lag, and restlessness. But the three components of flying meditation that will help maintain the body’s state of relaxation instead of triggering stress, she says, are meditation, light fasting, and hydration. Find an explanation of each below.
Traveling is stressful, but meditation is a powerful tool that can help calm your nerves in any situation. “We can’t control if the plane is delayed, or if our luggage gets lost, or the traffic on the road, but meditation and mindfulness allows us to learn to accept the unknowns, and even embrace them,” Megan Jones Bell, PsyD, the chief science officer for the meditation app Headspace, explains to the New York Times, “Any type of mindfulness exercise, whether one minute or 10 minutes, can help your mind and body.”
Chen’s breathwork exercise is simple to do on a flight: Simply close your eyes and inhale for a count of three, and exhale for a count of six. Continue on for about 15 minutes, and be easy with it.
She suggests doing this exercise periodically throughout the flight, following this model:
- Take-off: Once you’ve fully settled in your seat, meditate for about 15 to 20 minutes until the pilot turns off the seatbelt sign.
- During: If the flight duration is longer than four to six hours, meditating intermittently throughout the flight will also be very beneficial.
- Landing: Toward the end of the flight, close your eyes and meditate for another 15 to 20 minutes. This will provide another boost of energy before deplaning.
Chen notes that the constant change in cabin pressure disrupts our digestive system’s ability to digest food properly. As a result, any food consumed during the flight or shortly before will likely digest more slowly and less efficiently.
Fortunately, she offers a simple solution to this issue: light fasting. Similar to intermittent fasting, light fasting involves limiting or blocking your food intake during your flight period. The goal is to prevent digestive discomfort while flying. Here are Chen’s suggestions for managing your appetite during shorter flights:
- Pre-flight: Avoid eating too close to your departure time. Slow digestion can cause discomfort and bloating (also known as “jet belly”), which ultimately leads to fatigue. Ayurveda, the Vedic science of health and well-being, shares that undigested food can cause several imbalances throughout the body. Additionally, our body working extra hard to carry out its digestive function wears us out and affects our sleep.
- During the flight: Fasting on flights may be extremely helpful in eliminating fatigue and jet lag by keeping your metabolism steady. If possible, eat a light meal well before the flight and avoid eating on the plane. But, if you’d rather eat on the flight, pack easy-to-digest snacks. Also, sip warm beverages such as hot water or tea during flights to enhance digestion.
According to the World Health Organization, airplane humidity levels are typically lower than 20 percent, while you tend to experience over 30 percent humidity at home. Due to the dry environment, it’s easy to experience dehydration while flying; and when your cells don’t have enough fluid to function properly, you may experience symptoms like fatigue and dizziness. To prevent this, you’ll want to stay well-hydrated throughout your journey.
Chen recommends drinking adequate amounts of water the day before traveling. Then, continue hydrating the day of and while on the flight. “As a general best practice, I suggest drinking lukewarm to warm or hot water, as your body can assimilate it quickly,” she says. “It doesn’t take as much energy for the body to ‘warm up’ the water internally. It’s also best to avoid consuming alcohol on flights, as it can dehydrate the body.”
If you’re able to successfully employ these flying meditation techniques, your upcoming travels should go as smoothly as possible. You’ll have more energy to sightsee and experience a new place without worrying about the crushing jet lag catching up to you. For more smart travel tips, check out our stories on easing your fear of flying, bringing your pets on a flight, and protecting your skin while in the air. Safe travels!
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.