When I was young, my mom had a terrible fear of flying. She would clench up on the way to the airport, gasp during the smallest air pocket mid-flight, and sigh with utter relief when we deplaned. Needless to say, we did not fly often.
Looking back, I wish I had known what I know now about meditation, and how it has the power to ease anxieties, such as that crippling fear of flying my mom suffered with. I’m happy to report that I did not inherit my mother’s phobia of flying, but airline travel can be stressful even for those of us who aren’t scared of it. And even as a daily meditator, I find it difficult to meditate with consistency while traveling, so I’ve learned to take advantage of my in-flight hours to practice mindfulness.
Maybe you’re terrified of flying, like my mom. Maybe you have anxiety about where you’re headed. Or maybe, you’re just looking for something to do on your next flight and want to use your sky time to maintain your practice. In any case, meditation just may be your key to flying with ease.
Whether you’re a frequent flyer or heading out on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, make sure you keep your mindfulness routine intact with this guide—featuring a meditation for every phase of your journey. It’ll help you arrive at your destination feeling balanced and centered.
1. On the Way to the Airport
Sometimes when we are fearful of something or anxious, we work ourselves up more before the stressful experience than actually during it. On your drive to the airport (as long as you’re not driving), or while waiting to check in, try this short visualization exercise:
Close your eyes and picture a smooth and easy airport experience. Don’t even think about the plane or the flight yet, just focus on your time at the airport. Imagine a short wait at security, visualize yourself walking seamlessly to your gate with a smile, and picture the coffee, water, or breakfast you pick up on the way—just what you wanted. Fill in any positive details along the way.
2. In a Long Security Line
If you must wait on a long line at security, use that time to close your eyes and take a few quiet moments to tune into your breath. Inhale to allow your lungs to fill completely, briefly pause at the top, and exhale fully, pausing before your next breath begins. Notice the qualities, textures and sensations of your breath as air moves in and out through your nose. If you need to move ahead in line, just open your eyes for a moment, take your step, and continue where you left off.
3. During Takeoff
If you have some anxiety about flying, takeoff will likely be the worst part of your whole experience. Know that while it may be more of a challenge to meditate during the most challenging part of your flight—it makes it all the more important. Since it does become harder, it’s the best time to put on some headphones (or ear buds) and tune into a guided meditation.
Even if you normally meditate without a guide, try this guided meditation by Tara Brach on your next flight during takeoff. It’ll help take the edge off those of you who are slightly worried, help distract those who are crippled with fear, and help anyone slip into a place of relaxation.
You may want to order a stiff drink or reach for a sedative if you’re feeling frenzied on your flight. A noble alternative though, is meditation. What else will you do with your long flight?
Oftentimes the fear of flying comes from the thought process that you are unsafe. But the reality is that flying is the safest form of traveling—the least likely of any form of transportation to be involved in an accident. Take this statistic into your mind and into your mantra for this meditation.
Mantras are vehicles that take your mind to a quieter, more focused place during meditation. They help bring a sense of restful awareness to the mind state. Take a few deep, mindful breaths, then focus all of your attention on these words as you breathe:
- Inhale, silently saying the words “I am safe.”
- Exhale, silently saying the words, ” I am calm.”
- Inhale, silently saying the words, “I am happy.”
- Exhale, silently saying the words, “I am at ease.”
Repeat this silent mantra for 10 to 20 minutes (longer, if it’s available to you). I recommend setting a timer so you know when to stop repeating the mantra. When your time is up, take another few minutes to focus on your breath—in and out through your nose—before opening your eyes. Enjoy the peaceful state of being that follows.
The seatbelt signs return, and your flight attendants request your seat to be upright and your tray to return to neutral. It’s time to land.
Sit up tall and close your eyes once again. Direct your attention away from the experience of landing and toward a visualization of what will follow after you land. Why are you traveling and where are you going?
Begin to visualize the very trip you are about to take:
- If you are going on vacation, imagine the ideal trip you would like to take—right down to the nitty gritty details. The arrival, the people, the conversations, the nature, the culture, the food—bring to mind every detail of your vacation and imagine it going as smooth as possible.
- If you’re traveling for business, imagine the reason why you’re traveling and visualize every meeting, training, and project plan hitting a home run.
- If you’re traveling for a funeral or difficult experience, try to detach from the actual trip for the time of your landing and instead, tune into a familiar and comforting memory of the recent past. Bring to mind this memory and relive it in detail, as if it were happening all over again in your mind.
6. Any Phase of Your Trip
No matter where you are or what you’re doing—whether you are taking off, landing, or halfway through a 10-hour flight—you are going to be breathing. And generally, you are also going to being thinking. If you can consciously direct your thoughts to your breath—silently saying “in” while you inhale and “out” while you exhale—you can find some mindful moments while on the road or in the air.