In consultation with Aviation Health’s Global Medical Director, Dr. Paulo Magalhães Alves, this article focuses on practices that reduce the strain of long-haul flights on the body and mind. As the second installment to our three-part series, this guide aims to curtail the symptoms of jet-lag, muscle tension and travel anxiety.
A Guide to Flying Well
The fear of flying is a commonly experienced anxiety shared by many travellers. main concern with flying is anxiety. Like any kind of anxiety, a fear of flying is a self-reinforcing belief that can induce stress symptoms in the body. To alleviate travel-stress, Dr Paulo Alves recommends the following tips:
The passenger experience begins well before the flight, therefore good planning is paramount.
▪ Simple practices like packing in advance, booking transportation and checking in online can reduce unnecessary stress and set the tone for a positive journey.
Paying attention to your state of mind is a key step to instilling emotional calm and relieving travel tension.
▪ To center your mind and disengage from external stressors we suggest deep breathing. Encouraging full oxygen exchange, focused breathing helps to lower the heart rate and blood pressure, promoting feelings of relaxation.
Focusing On the Breath
Begin by taking a regular breath. Then, deepening your breath, inhale slowly through your nose for four counts, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Letting your abdomen expand fully.
Then, breathe out slowly for four counts, through your mouth or nose. Once you have brought the breath into focus, you can move on to regular practice of controlled breathing. Sitting with your eyes closed, combine deep breathing with an affirmation that helps you to feel calm and still.
Floating high above the clouds without the distractions of the digital world, a plane is the perfect place to practice mindful meditation. To focus the mind on a long-haul flight simple, We have created a playlist below to encourage a sense of calm and lend the soundtrack for your journey.
An important aspect of long-haul air travel is the lack of mobility during flights. Coupled with low, in-flight cabin pressure, slowed blood flow can lead to muscle ache, swelling and chronic fatigue. To encourage healthy circulation, Dr Alves recommends the following.
Simple exercises that can be done even in your seat, such as rotating your feet and stretching your legs by extending heels and toes in alternation.
Applying massage to localised areas of the body can alleviate pain and muscular tension. Targeted massage techniques, are the most effective form of in-flight massage. Grounded in the principles of acupressure, massage balls used by athletes are precisely target muscle tension and alleviate pain. We have outlined an exercise below that can be used to relieve muscular tension quickly and effectively.
Tension Relief Massage
Props needed: Massage Ball
During travel, massage balls are most effectively applied when targeting the back and hips of your body. Through applying localised pressure, this delivers a small stretch to the muscle area, which in turn improves the feeling of relaxation and muscular comfort. The portability of these items also allow quick and versatile muscular release that can be useful when sitting for long periods of time. We have included a simple tension-relieving massage below.
Use your bodyweight to locate the ache and gently lean the body’s pressure against the ball.
To target discomfort in the back, research suggests that the leaning back slightly is the most ideal as the least pressure is placed on the spinal discs. Applying enough pressure for it to be felt, roll the ball in small concentric or lateral motions massaging the point of tension.
Once the knot or area has been massaged, move and stretch the muscles to introduce circulation to the area. Whilst performing yogic stretches in the aisles may not always be practical, simply walking around the cabin can be greatly beneficial in stimulating the circulation.
Due to changes in the body’s circadian rhythms, jet lag is the most immediate consequence of flying. Although there are no proven methods to avoid it completely, there are strategies to expedite or delay adaptation to a new time zone.
As a rule of of thumb we need one day for every time zone crossed for our bodies to fully adapt to the new location. To adjust to your new time zone, resist the urge to sleep in the daylight hours and increase exposure to outdoor light. Studies have shown that keeping to your regular exercise schedule, may speed up the return to normal circadian rhythms. So, if you usually wake up for an 8am run, try to do the same in your new destination.
Whilst accelerated adaptation suits a traveler who has planned a long trip, Dr Alves explained that ‘a business traveler going for one or two meetings staying abroad for less than 48 hours crossing 5 time zones (i.e. a New York to London trip) typically wouldn’t benefit from adjusting to the new time zone. The best strategy to keep alertness under those circumstances is to keep as much as possible the home base time zone.’
Grounding the Body
After stepping off the plane it is also beneficial to stimulate the circulation and iron out any residual strain. Adopting the Vedic practice of energetic healing, using a Shakti acupressure mat helps to stimulate pressure points and release self-healing endorphin.
Yoga styles like Restorative Yoga or Yoga Nidra can mitigate the effects of travel stress By stimulating the body’s parasympathetic system. Focussing on the centering of the breath and body, restorative yoga allows calms the adrenal gland and encourages greater rest and easing the body into a restful sleep. We have outlined a few simple restorative poses below that can be done in your hotel room, using pillows as bolsters. You should aim to hold each posture for ten minutes and close the practice with a meditative Savasana.
Including familiar poses like Downward Facing Dog, Legs Up The Wall and Supported Bridge, these poses all include the elevation of the pelvis above the heart. These asanas help to improve circulation, increasing the blood flow to the brain, encouraging mental clarity and calm.
Perfect for realigning your body after a long flight, this pose opens up the hip joints and gently stretches the spine.
Poses like Standing Forward Bend, Child’s Pose and Extended Puppy Pose help opening up the backside of the body from heels to calves, to hamstrings to hips. These stretches can be deepened or taken slowly depending on your flexibility.