In most ways, air travel is the opposite of taking a yoga class. I sit stiffly, not wanting to breathe in recycled air that has been filled with coughs and sneezes. Do people cough and sneeze more on airplanes than in real life? This completely contrasts how breath guides every movement in Vinyasa or hot yoga. Sitting in a vinyl chair, or in our case, three different vinyl chairs for a total of 13 flight hours, in the span of 17 since we first took off, is the antithesis of 60 minutes of movement, stretching, strengthening, and meditating. As I am covered in goosebumps and using Chas’s suitcoat as a blanket, I’m craving the 105-degree yoga studio. Screens abound and glow. Book spines stretch. Headphones wail. People intermittently nap on their partners’ shoulders. I accidentally leaned on the stranger to my left in my sleep—at least that was good for a laugh. Anything to break the monotony.
If I had to think of a counterpart for our yoga teacher, I guess the job is split by our flight attendants. But rather than listen to them intently as I would a great yoga teacher, I block out every single word they say, especially when it’s in Icelandic. Because, well, have you ever heard Icelandic?
Only in a hallucination will a person walk by the window with a cute Puggle on a bright leash, a common occurrence at two of the yoga studios I frequent. Instead, I have a view beyond Chas’s beard and book of milky clouds, stripey orange, anonymous mountains, and a prism of sorts being gradually crafted as we fly into the later evening from GMT into Grecian air space.
The parallels between air travel and yoga classes start and stop at strangers being crammed in together with a common goal. And I feel like I am undoing weeks of intense yoga practice. My back is angry, my feet are tingly, and my head hates me. I asked Chas if I can have a shoulder massage when we arrive, he said “We’ll see.” I like those odds.
Ironically, I completed some of my “Omwork” for yoga teacher training here in this anti-yogic environment. I felt the urge to try out some of the postures as I wrote about cues for forming them but something tells me that almost all asana (postures) would get me quickly delivered to Federal Aviation Administration officials. Just picture me in savasana (corpse pose) in the middle of the aisle. Shoulders down your back. Heels touch, toes fall open. Hands face up. Feel the earth beneath you. Breathe here.
Instead, I perpetually cross and uncross my legs then plant them until I start the cycle again—does that count as yoga?
Flights are a means to a wonderful end, usually. And while I hate them, I will not curse my blessings—something my friend Shar instilled in me when we visited her exactly a year ago today in Swaziland. Chas and I are so fortunate to take this trip. So what my lips are cracking in this dry air, my butt feels like it’s about to fall off, and I look like I’m wearing eye black in the airplane bathroom mirror? I keep reminding myself this is one day. Rather than continue pointing out the discomfort of this journey, I’ve been taking notes on all of the things that amuse me. Airports and planes are pretty great for people watching and eavesdropping.
We drove from Baltimore to New Jersey and left our car at our friend Madeline’s house and then were off to the Philly airport with a chatty Lyft driver. The check-in was uneventful, aside from Chas being “THE FOURTH” and that not being on his ticket but having a prominent place on his passport.
What’s the deal with security lines? (said in Jerry Seinfeld’s voice) Every security line cares about different things. Some want the liquids out. Some want the shoes off. Some are very concerned about lip gloss. Some just yell at you and you don’t even know what they want (Philly). It’s survival of the fittest in security. Everyone kind of seizes up, forgets who they are, and almost everyone makes at least one mistake—a belt, a watch, a forgotten fake knee, a serious face when you were supposed to smile. I think if there were less yelling and more encouragement, security would go a lot more smoothly.
They should say, “It’s okay. Here in Manchester, we decided, completely arbitrarily, that lip gloss is highly combustible. But don’t worry, just take out your lip gloss, put it in its own gray bin, and you get a pat on the back. Then you’ll go in that little elevator thing and hold up your arms like we’re going to shoot you. But we won’t shoot. And you can have a hug when you’re done and then we’ll say, ‘Good day’ in a British accent.”
Manchester’s airport security room looked and felt like the basement of the Titanic and the sounds indicated that we were sinking quickly and all heading for certain death. Somehow, Chas and I made it through.
One a sad note, we saw a sign seeking information on the Manchester bombing.
I went for a jog to find an airport mailbox—I love that an airport is an indoor space where running is completely acceptable. Some people even yell encouragement! They should work for TSA. Someone hollered, “Catch that plane!” I will, ma’am, I thought, I will. Then I came across something I hadn’t seen before and had to pause my exercise for it: a service dog “relief area” with fake grass and a fake fire hydrant. I think that service dogs, and all dogs, are too smart to fall for that but then again, what is an airplane bathroom if not a mimicry of the real thing? It works on us!
Airports and airplanes can really mess with one’s sense of reality. One time, Chas and I were in the Bogota airport for 8 hours (long story for another day). We ate Burger King twice. I was so delirious, either from lack of sleep or from abundance of Burger King, I accidentally bought a $13 bag of Raisinets.
Back to today. When they start boarding the plane, something I love to observe but hate to participate in is the jostle to get on the plane. Obviously, we are all there in time to make the flight. We all have tickets and it’s not Southwest so we all have seats. But it never fails. They say, “begin boarding” and everyone becomes a rabid squirrel holding luggage. We jostle and shove and foam at the mouth. And then everyone ends up exactly where they would have been, without all the theatrics.
After we got on the plane, Chas and I had our usual conversation of What are they going to give us for free? The answer: a small water bottle. Oh well, it was Icelandic water which we can assume melted from something icy and clean and we glugged those down, continuing to scarf down the same granola bars. Water and granola…yoga parallel.
On any flight, I am almost always reminded of the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry is upgraded to first class and Elaine is stick with the commoners in coach. She mentally yells at the person on the aisle because she has to go to the bathroom and the man is sleeping peacefully. I totally Elained. After my chemically-induced-nap from which I woke up and had no idea where I was—vinyl seat, plane, over the Atlantic Ocean—I started watching Suicide Squad on someone else’s screen, through the crack in the seats, obviously without the sound. I thought we all agreed we’d only let Donnie Wahlberg out on New Year’s Eve (I checked IMDB and Donnie Wahlberg is not in this movie and maybe I am thinking of Scott Eastwood but I liked this joke enough, that I am leaving it in here anyway). Anyway, weird movie, especially when you can’t hear what they’re saying. Silence—yogic.
By flight two, the commonly spoken sentence “Enjoy your flight” started to anger me. Why do they always say that? The flight is hardly the enjoyable part. Yet, every single time you fly you’re told to enjoy your flight. I move we change this to “Tolerate your flight.”
Also by flight two, the token crying baby has become my spirit animal. I feel you baby, I feel you. Can your mom rub my back next? All my podcasts started to blend together. The murder mysteries rolled into the gameshows and I suddenly laughed during a story about a naked dead body that too closely followed a political joke. Help!
I sought distractions. I kept trying to meet the eyes of the traveling monk I found. I decided he’d taken a vow of silence because he had a notepad and pen on a purse-like object at his hip. I still had not seen him talk. Still, I’m not trying to be the one to trick him into talking and breaking his vow so I didn’t say hi, as badly as I wanted to. He would probably would have tried airplane yoga with me.
By flight three, we had switched to a real budget airline (Jet2.com—yep), which is a whole other level of amusement. We shed the Icelandic translations and moved into British English. I’ll take it. Then the marketplace opened. Our poor flight attendants were forced to become groveling saleswomen. Throughout the four-and-a-half-hour flight they pushed: watches, wine, beer, makeup, “items for the ladies,” sunglasses, and scratch offs. The most popular? The scratch offs. Their sad little cart store was topped with a stuffed cat wearing shades.
I thought of Jesus in the temple. Airplane Jesus would be enraged. He’d flip over the cart, furious that the sacred airplane had been bastardized by this commercialism.
Air travel is not yoga. And it doesn’t pretend to be. There’s no mindfulness, there’s mindlessness. There’s no stretching or flow, there’s tenseness and rigidity. There’s no deep breathing or collective exhales—even the thought of that makes me sick—there’s bathroom breath-holding and secret farts.
There is intention, however. The intention is the destination. Maybe one day I will find a way to combine the air travel and yoga. But for now, we made it. We made it through the security lines, the shoving squirrels, the pushy, sad-eyed flight attendants, the dry air, and fake Donnie Wahlberg. We tolerated our flights. And now we’re here.