We’re flying at 30,000 feet and we’re about ready to…TO LIVE!
The first moment that I felt any sense of calm of airplane in 10 years was a monumental moment. I looked out at the clouds after having some pretzels and marveled at the sense of peace that had alluded me. But it wasn’t always this way…
Fear started to build months before boarding an airplane. I would have panic attacks. Just thinking about boarding a plane made me sick to my stomach. I had dreams and nightmares regarding flying. And this all before even getting to the airport.
At the airport, panic elevated. I couldn’t eat when I needed to because the elevated anxiety had made my stomach so upset. My heart rate was elevated. Still not on the airplane…
On the plane, I felt like I couldn’t move or even look around. Hands clutched the arm rests. Whether or not the air craft was hot, I sweat buckets. I counted the seconds to landing again. Don’t even ask about turbulence.
The fear was a vicious circle of panic. It was not a way to live. I almost backed out of several trips. Fear of flying was preventing me from traveling to places I wanted to go and people I wanted to see. I also didn’t want to have to use alcohol or anti-anxiety drugs to control my fear.
Enter Yoga Tune Up® teacher training, I did this as a challenge for my 40th birthday. Little did I realize that it would complete me as human being not just as a “mover.” Learning how to down regulate myself helped me to calm anxiety, fears, and calm myself without external chemical implements.
Learning to Fly – Toolbox not Wand
There isn’t a magic wand to overcome a fear of flying. Look at it more as having a toolbox to help manage the physical symptoms of fear and anxiety.
Here are a few of my tools:
- Breath awareness and embodied breathing – Just as you don’t find the emergency exits on an airplane when you need them, you find them before the plane takes off. The same thing goes for your breath. Learning about where your breath comes from in your body is key here. Clavicular breath (originating around the collar bones) will only escalate panic and elevate heart rate (and that awful sweating). Abdominal breath with longer exhales calms and soothes (give it a count to help aid the pace). DON’T wait until you’re in situation where you need this awareness. Cultivate this awareness in day to day life. Stressful situations are a good excuse to practice your awareness. Start to incorporate this before heading to, at the airport, on the plane, and in flight.
- Full access to muscles of respiration and all their neighbors – This isn’t just for fear and anxiety sufferers but for all those who breath. Did you know your breath can exist anywhere between the clavicles to pubic bone? The Roll Model by Jill Miller has many great sequences for your breath canister. Don’t forget the pelvic floor!
- Therapy balls on the plane!! The ALPHA ball is amazing for plane seats since they’re big enough not to disappear in cushioned seats. You deserve to roll-ax, breathe easier, and do soft tissue work on the plane ride. On a recent flight, I started to roll before we hit turbulence. This really helped to tame the tension and turned the seat into a massage chair!
Flying has gone from the fear chamber to an evolving practice of awareness and interoception still have moments where panic starts to creep in but having a toolbox helps to put myself in the pilot’s seat of my own well being while in-flight.
Love this article as this relates to me, not only in flying but on other situations. I do get nervous when I have to drive to far places and panic sets in when I am try to figure out how to get to this places, especially places I have never been to. It is a great idea to have this tools readily available when we need them.
This should be an FAA mandated routine for all passengers! Flight attendants could lead everyone in a breathing excersize and YTU balls should be in the seat pocket in front of you.
A mindfulness trick to ad to this and help cope with anxiety is labelling. For some reason, labelling our sensory experience is down-regulating. There is a thing called the “5-4-3-2-1” tool for anxiety.
First, you identify five things you can see at the moment. Then, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, then two things you can smell. And finally, one thing you can taste.
But you don’t have to go through the whole routine everytime. You can combine the process with the breathing exercise mentioned here, or even while rolling on YTU balls. Just label your sensastions, “breath”, parts of the body, whatever. The details aren’t important.
Love to use the ball techiques assist to overcome the emotional tension. But more important is how to breath. The pelvic floor is always so easy to overlook.
Thank you for sharing this; as somebody who is not a relaxed flyer I do find my therapy balls of great use when on the plane to self soothe and to ensure I disembark feeling vaguely normal! Flying reminds me that there is always blue sky above the clouds – the moment when the plane breaks through the grey into the blue beyond always lifts my mood.
Thank you for sharing how your toolbox helps you in a fear-induced situation. Bringing mindfulness to the breath is so important. Being able to manage those fears in a mindful way benefits you and those around you.
Thanks for sharing your experience; how big it is to manage our fears with the abdominal and conscious breathing? It’s so strong. I’m blown. I will use your tips, your story to help people and… me. To calm myself when I get emotional. And just remember to breathe.
I am absolutely trying this when I fly out memorial weekend. I am terrified of planes and have also cancelled trips b/c of it. I sit there with trepidation and fear. It takes over me and I break into sweat and pretty much am the person saying …OMG we are going down! Eek… don’t think the other attendees on the plane like that . I would have never thought to try to roll on the alpha while on the plan. So along with my breathing and meditation I will incorporate the roll and definitely will let you know how it went!! 🙂
I can totally relate to this. I used to have a lot of flight anxiety and my adrenal system was put through the wringer every time I would fly. Pranayama and meditation practices were/are immensely helpful for me with this and you’re right that it’s important to have these skills in place beforehand, as they become more second nature when a stressful situation arises. While taxiing, I close my eyes, connect with my breath and remind myself that I am not in control and that’s okay. Whatever happens, it’s okay. I’ve also found that having a window seat and being able to connect with the beauty and miracle of flight can create moments of exhilaration instead of fear.
I’ve rolled on planes for muscle soreness and to keep moving during long flights. I love the idea of using them for down regulation during turbulence!
last week i flew on a plane with extreme turbulence. i used breathing techniques to get me through as I too suffer from severe anxiety when i fly, even on a good flight!
I think everybody should create their own “toolbox” based on the stressful situations that life throws at us. I like the idea of starting with your own, finding out what works best for you- and then sharing it with people on the plane or in your friend circle. There is something for everybody! “When life throws you lemons- give them YTU BALLS!”
Love the TOOLBOX (not wand list!) As someone who is challenged by anxiety & intense fear and has been recently diagnosed with PTSD I appreciate the adaptablity & simplicity of the toolbox! Honestly, it’s harder than it seems at times to implement but the reality is that’s there to be utilized when the time is right. The more I practice it the more natural it becomes & the less overwhelmed I feel. It’s there to help me refocus & relax into the moment as much as I can… even when it seems impossible.
Just last week I took my Yoga Tune Up therapy balls on a plane as well. I am 4 months pregnant and the plane was tiny, so having my therapy balls with me was a wonderful way to alleviate some low back pain being cramped in the seat (and stomping around the airport with a backpack) had generated. I won’t leave home without them again!
Great article.Hope this will help me overcome my fear next time in the air!
I completely resonated with thi a article Amalea! I used to go through a lot of the same anxiety issues myself and would not even consider flying by myself back then. It took me many years to “talk myself off the ledge” and now with Yoga Tune Up® In my life that has all changed. I just completed the Breath and Bliss Immersion with Jill in January and I had some huge breakthroughs with my meditation and savasana and I too now have a much bigger toolbox to choose from to help me on fly! Ps.. flew by myself from east to the west coast with no alcohol or anxiety medication!! So thankful for this work . Loved this article!
Amalea, I share your pre-yoga tune up sentiments about flying. I’m nervous days before. I cope using alternate nostril breathing. I love your idea of leveraging the turbulance and using the balls as a massage chair. And using the balls to stimulate the relaxation response I have been conditioning on solid ground while in the air.
This is a great topic! I too have benefited from decreased anxiety since discovering YTU. Not in the sense of air travel but in daily life. It is such a gift to be able to down regulate and coach yourself out of worry and panic!
Thank you for the insightful article. I believe your article could help a friend of mine with her anxiety with driving.
Love this! Thanks for sharing.
Wonderful article! Thank you !