One in six Americans is afraid of flying in airplanes, according to research. A greater number of us are more anxious about what you might call the challenges of air travel: making connections, losing luggage, flight delays, weather problems, waiting on runways.
“The whole traveling process is stressful,” said Krs Edstrom, a meditation teacher based in Los Angeles. “It can be difficult to relax in a plane, but it’s possible.”
Edstrom is proving her point in flight. She was recently commissioned by American Airlines to develop a two-hour audio tape of relaxation techniques for passengers.
It has been available as one of the headphone selections since May on wide-body aircraft.
While United Airlines reports no similar programming, some foreign airlines offer audio meditations and even diagrammed in-flight stretching exercises. American may be setting a trend that might appeal to some passengers who don’t otherwise use the airline’s headphones.
“Our programming people researched a number of possibilities to help customers feel more relaxed in the air,” said Bill Dreslin, spokesman for American. “They felt these techniques met the criteria.”
When Edstrom created the two-hour in-flight program, which also features segments of soothing music, she targeted the harried traveler along with the fearful traveler.
“Some people simply never feel physically comfortable on a plane,” she said. “They might be cramped or unable to find a position that is restful.
“Other people are worried about their travel schedule or maybe an upcoming business meeting.”
To reach the various constituencies, Edstrom offers five forms of relaxation techniques: deep breathing, visualization, tension-release, body awareness and meditation.
“People can select which method works best for them,” said Edstrom, who creates relaxation audiotapes (available at many larger bookstores), lectures, and consults with corporations (such as MCA-Universal) and private individuals. “If you don’t connect with one approach, try another.”
The visualization session uses the airplane itself to comfort the passenger. Edstrom encourages you to imagine yourself as light and able to float through the clouds. As you are aloft, then visualize stress and tension from your body dropping to the clouds.
“It’s beautiful at high altitudes,” said Edstrom. “The view out the window is a perfect complement to finding a relaxed state.”
Another visualization suggestion is to perceive a waterfall as “washing stress from the forehead and eyes.” While this is useful at 30,000 feet, it might also be a good mental exercise to repeat while showering on the morning of a busy day.
“My overall goal is not just to get people to relax during the flight,” said Edstrom. “I want them to find ways to be less stressed throughout the day. These exercises are something they can take with them to their next destination.”
The tension-release segment is particularly appropriate for someone who has been under physical stress during the previous days, including lack of sleep. You start by tensing various parts of your body, from feet to face, for about five to seven seconds, then releasing and repeating.
The finishing exercise is most important: You tense the entire body for a good seven to 10 seconds, then release. “It shows the difference between which parts of your body are tight and which are relaxed,” said Edstrom.
“We have to relearn relaxation and find our base relaxed state. We have mastered feeling tension. We are so used to holding it, this has in many cases become our normal state.”
For more advanced participants, Edstrom has included the Buddhist technique called vipassana, which she prefers to call “body awareness” on the American program. Others call it “insight meditation.”
The method is intended to take you out of your brain and into your body.
“First you sit quietly and feel where tension is most prominent in your body,” said Edstrom. “Pick a place where your stress frequently resides. Be as specific as possible. Find its core.”
Next, Edstrom asks you to determine the dimensions of the stress point. How wide is it? How tall or long? How deep into the body? Then you are to draw an imaginary line around the area. Feel all of the muscles surrounding the circled area and let them relax.
“Finally, concentrate on the targeted area and let the tension go,” said Edstrom. “Just let the pain or stress or tightness release itself and travel wherever it might please. I call this letting the stress complete itself.
“It might be hard to find much relief the first few times you do this exercise,” said Edstrom. “But keep working with it. You will get results.”