with Marion Thornley

Marian Thornley


It is the beginning of October and my thoughts are turning to my annual trip to India. Although it is a long way to go, and becoming very expensive, to me it is a chance to make personal contact with my teachers, to improve my knowledge and skills, and time to focus on myself for a brief two weeks. Not to mention a chance to sample the wonderful Indian food and enjoy warm balmy evenings on the roof top terrace of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, watching the fruit bats flying around our heads as dusk falls.

Excited as I am about my trip, I am not so excited about the nine hour non-stop flight from London to Chennai. Having become a bit of an old hand at these long haul flights I have developed my own personal style of survival which help me to arrive feeling fresh and invigorated rather than groggy and tired.

There are several practical ways you can improve your flight experience. The first one is to drink plenty well in advance of your flight, that means H2O not alcohol! Being well hydrated will help you feel much better, and you can continue to drink water on the plane. Secondly, comfortable clothing that will allow you to breathe, so no tight trousers or belts, a drawstring waist is best. Shoes should be flat and comfortable, easy to slip off and able to accommodate any slight swelling. High heels are a no-no. Eye drops and lip balm may help combat the dry cabin air, and a warm blanket to rest your head when you wish to sleep.

I try to divide my nine hours into different sections. For the part of the flight during daylight hours I want to keep my brain busy, so if I have any homework to do, notes to make or sanskrit to learn, this is an excellent way of passing the time. These periods are punctuated by several periods of movement when I stand at the back of the aircraft or wherever there is the most space to move.

Starting with the “calf pump” I start to raise my heels alternately from the floor. This excellent exercise keeps blood and lymph moving in the legs, preventing swelling of the ankles and helping to avert blood clots in the legs. Then, putting my hands on my hips, I take a deep inhale, push the hips forward, look up and expand my chest, repeating several time. To take the spine into a forward bend, let the head to drop forward and as you exhale, allow the shoulders and spine to drop towards the floor, moving as slowly as you can. Raise up in the same way, as you inhale. Then, with the hands clasped behind the back, inhale deeply and grow tall, and as you exhale, twist to one side. Inhale and return, then repeat on the other side. Again, repeat as many times as you wish. You might feel a little self conscious doing these movements in front of cabin staff and other passengers, but if it helps you to arrive at your destination 100% better, its worth taking the plunge.

There are other movements that can be practiced less conspicuously from your seat, for example turning the head from side to side, up and down, and rotating your shoulders.

When you have done your brain and body exercises, it might be time to relax and finally to sleep. Meditation offers an effective method of relaxation but you will need to practice these techniques in the weeks before boarding your plane! There are several methods of meditation and there are two or three I usually use. The most simple of these is the breath. Simply to become aware of your breath and watch it as it enters and leaves your body. To watch the navel expand with the inhale and gently contract with the exhale. Watching also the pause between the breaths, and how the breath arises and dies away. So simple yet so effective.

Another method is to visualise a scene that is calming and relaxing. For example, visualising yourself lying on a sandy beach, your skin warmed by the sun. Try to imagine every detail of the scene, and watch as your body relaxes.

A third simple method is to use a mantra. This is a word or phrase you repeat over and over again, for this I use some of the Indian mantras but it could be the words of a song you find soothing. Keeping the brain occupied in this way you will be surprised at how soon you will be transported into a calmer place.

Finally, sleep. While the plane is in darkness, instead of stimulating your brain with the TV monitor, showing you how slowly the plane is moving across the surface of the globe, or constant TV shows, allow your brain to have some good, restful sleep. Happy travelling!

Marian teaches yoga and chant in the UK and Ceret (proceeds are donated to charity), as well as free consultations for yoga therapy. Email for more information: marianthornley@hotmail.co.uk

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