Seat assignments that leave you too-close-for-comfort to your neighbor, germ-infested cabins, the sounds of crying babies: Air travel isn’t exactly what most would call a meditative experience. But while there’s a common misconception that meditation means sitting cross-legged on the floor in a state of not thinking, says Doron Libshtein, founder of the Mentors Channel, meditating on a plane doesn't need to be an oxymoron.
According to Tina Chadda, a psychiatrist and founder of Akasha Meditation, tuning into all of the factors that irritate you—a loud seatmate or a long delay—can be an exercise in mindfulness in itself. Even better, the overall trend emerging from in-flight initiatives is that airlines (finally) are becoming more sophisticated when it comes to catering to a passenger’s emotional needs, moving beyond functional elements such as in-flight entertainment to create an experience that differentiates them from the competition, says Raymond Kollau, founder of airline innovation agency AirlineTrends.
While some airlines, like Virgin America, have been offering in-flight meditation guides since 2011; others are breaking new ground in the space. Take Air New Zealand's 'Virtual Flight Lab,’ for example. Created to show visitors of the airline's 75th anniversary exhibition how the in-flight experience could be radically reimagined via virtual reality, it opens a whole new realm of possibilities: Passengers would be provided with VR headsets that could create a tranquil mini-universe via sights, sounds, and smell, Kollau says. Meanwhile, Boeing wants to project calming images mimicking the time of day onto the interior of the plane to help passengers relax, sleep better, and enjoy some virtual stargazing.
With all that in mind, here’s how to find your zen at 30,000 feet.
Start Before You Find Your Seat
A meditative in-flight experience starts long before you reach 13D and many airports have meditation rooms for that purpose. Take the Berman Reflection Room at San Francisco International Airport’s (SFO) international terminal, or the Yoga Room in Chicago O’Hare’s terminal 3. Stopping in pre-flight can help calm your nerves so that you board a little more even-keeledThen, even if you’re stressed, it’s important to help other passengers with their bags, smile at seat mates, and be kind to flight attendants, says Libshtein. “You will be amazed at what a little mindful kindness can do in terms of keeping you, as well as keeping those around you, calm.”
A simple breathing technique designed to calm your body’s natural stress response and relieve you of negative thoughts can be its own form of meditation: Inhale for four counts (your stomach should expand) then exhale for eight counts (your stomach contracts), says Libshtein. Do this for three minutes. Repeat this whenever you begin to feel angst creep in, or allow it to lead you into a deeper meditation.
Consider an App
Meditation apps can keep you focused—allowing you to release a certain level of responsibility into the hands of a guide, says Chadda. They’re a great option if you’re new to meditating: Plug in, close your eyes, and imagine you’re somewhere calming.
Check out the in-flight entertainment, too. Virgin America provides mindfulness films from the meditation app Headspace that help flyers find sleep, focus, or switch off from work mode, says Kollau. Meanwhile, British Airways has a Headspace channel full of short meditation exercises; and Delta flights offer the 'OMG. I Can Meditate!' service, which even provides a short meditation specifically aimed at managing holiday stress.
Otherwise, hop on the Wi-Fi. Beyond Headspace and OMG I Can Meditate!, Calm is an easy-to-understand app worth downloading, says Libshtein. WellBe, a wearable that helps you identify stress triggers, then beat them with breathing techniques, calm music, and guided meditation, is another one to consider.
Go Old School
Remember: There’s no one way to meditate, says Libshtein. And while apps can be helpful for entering a calmer mindset in a stressful situation, you don’t always need one to find your zen. In fact, meditating doesn’t have to be anything like how most people see it. “Reading a new book, knitting, or doing a crossword puzzle are meditative activities many of us engage in while flying,” adds Chadda.
If you have a tech-free practice, after the breathing exercises, simply go into your meditation, whichever method that may be. Focus on a sense of safety, suggests Chadda. “It’s the groundlessness that stresses us or makes us anxious.”