In Cincinnati, my flight was delayed five hours. I ate at the airport’s Taco Bell twice. As I boarded another plane in Salt Lake, the pilot announced a minor engine defect. Then he said it wasn’t minor. Then we got off. I spent the night in Salt Lake City and it was too late for a Temple tour.
The plane going from Kansas City, Missouri, to Pittsburgh simply didn’t show up. “There’s weather in Chicago,” they said. (Excuse me, but isn’t there always “weather” in Chicago?) I was offered standby, but instead took a stand: I skipped Pittsburgh.
My last flight, however, was uneventful. Except for the woman behind me who shouted her life story all the way, the flight was actually pleasant.
Part of the reason was sheer luck—no delays, no weather problems, no mechanical difficulties. And part of it was yoga: I decided to apply Patanjali’s yamas and niyamas, ethical principles and observances, to achieve serenity en route.
Consider packing these guidelines for your next trip.
Self-study. For blissful travel, you need to know yourself. For example, is getting up at 3 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight your idea of torture, or a great way to get a head start on the day? What do you choose to eat? If a meal is served and you want vegetarian, kosher, or a fruit plate, tell the agent when you make your reservation and reconfirm it 24 hours before you fly. What kind of seat do you prefer? I’ll take anything near the front: It’s quieter, and you get off sooner without being shoved so much. Also, know where your emotional rope starts to fray. If a tight layover makes you nervous, don’t accept one of less than an hour and a half.
Greedlessness. The Indian holy man Sathya Sai Baba often tells his students, “Travel light. Arrive quickly.” This applies to both spiritual and physical journeying. Pack only what you’ll need. I love the freedom of taking just a compact carry-on bag designed to accommodate enough for a week away and avoid waiting at the baggage claim. On the other hand, greed is nowhere more apparent than in people trying to get anything short of a steamer trunk to count as a carry-on. Respect your traveling colleagues by packing conservatively, or checking your bags.
Remember greedlessness, too, in those ubiquitous airport shops. Many airports have become shopping malls with metal detectors. Anything you buy there is sure to cost more than the same item elsewhere—if you’d buy it elsewhere at all. Ask yourself before you acquire that souvenir, Do I want to pay for this, lug it, repack it, and take care of it when I get home? If not, pass.
Austerity. Saying no to notoriously mediocre airline food (or, more likely, pretzels) isn’t terribly austere. Still, you’ll feel better on a short flight if you just drink plenty of water and other noncaffeinated, nonalcoholic liquids.
An Indian gentleman who sat next to me on a flight when I was 10 influenced me greatly by practicing this niyama. His vegetarian dinner had not made it on. He declined the offer of a regular meal with the meat removed, and ate nothing from New York to London which, in 1960, was a long flight. I was so impressed by his commitment and self-control that even as I ate my Salisbury steak, I knew one day I would be a vegetarian too.
Nonharming. This yama is about doing the most good and the least harm possible. Opportunities for this abound when you fly. Start with kindness to the “invisible people”—the telephone ticket agents (it’s not their fault you just spent seven minutes being routed through a maze of voice-mail menus) and baggage handlers (they’re not power lifters; think of them when you pack).
Look for ways to show consideration to the people you meet as well. Tip outdoor check-in personnel generously; they depend heavily on their tips for income. Counter agents hear complaints all day. Can you offer a compliment? On the plane, there’s sure to be someone who wants to trade seats, or parents of a crying baby who could use a supportive smile. Help out if you can. Watch a flight attendant’s face light up when you offer to lift a bag into the overhead compartment.
Devotion to a Higher Spiritual Power. Getting on a plane is an act of faith. You’re relying on laws of aerodynamics you probably don’t understand, and trusting pilots and mechanics you’ve never met. This is a perfect time to settle back and connect with the Divine.
My best in-flight meditation occurred when I was bumped from an oversold flight, along with another female passenger. We were given flight credits to use later and meal vouchers to use immediately. We went to dinner together and learned that we shared an interest in natural foods, yoga, and Eastern thought. We easily chatted the four hours away. Upon boarding the later flight, we found we’d been upgraded to first class. Once airborne, we meditated together. Being in first class meant we could sit in Lotus position—a definite bonus. We shared a lovely stillness at 30,000 feet.