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Yoga as Delay Management

Flight delays, or any unexpected and unwanted change in plans, is a great opportunity to practice yoga. Baxter Bell speaks from experience.

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If you’ve paying attention to your life over the last few days, you likely noticed, repeatedly, that things do not go as planned. On an almost daily basis, our expectations are dashed in small or large ways. And yet, when the unexpected happens, which should actually not be a surprise (since it happens so regularly), we often react with surprise, disbelief, frustration, anger, and dire predictions of how tragic the day will now become.


It does not have to go down like that!

This was brought home to me not once, but twice on a recent teaching trip to North Carolina. On my way there, my midday flight was on time, we boarded smoothly, I settled into my window seat, greeted the passenger to my right in the aisle seat, his wife seated across the aisle from him. Retired and now enjoying the hobby of growing grapes at their home in Northern California, the couple were heading to a family gathering on the East Coast.

As we settled in, I noticed that a luggage bin just in front and above of our seats was askew, not able to close all the way. A subtle but distinct alert went off in my head: this could actually cause a delay in our take off. I had a connection to make on the other side of the country and part of me realized I might miss it. At that moment, noticing my inner worry, I chose to close my eyes and focus my attention on my breath as a way to calm myself, also realizing I really could not do much about the bin myself. When the mechanic arrived and began trying fix the bin, my traveling neighbor do not go inward, but began to make unhelpful suggestions to the mechanic, who shot back an angry look.

At other times, I would have picked up on the anger and anxiety I felt coming from them toward me, too. But the simple breath awareness that I continued to do allowed me to stay centered in myself and watch with curiosity rather than judgment, at the interaction to my right. In short order, the bin was taped shut and we were off without much delay at all.

On my way home, with an even tighter connection through DC, I checked online before heading to the airport to make sure my first flight was on time, and it was. My host insisted on popping into the terminal when we got to the airport to make sure things were still on time, and they were. There was hardly anyone going through security, so in short order I was at the gate, where all seemed on schedule, until about 10 minutes later when it was announced the incoming plane would be an hour late, the exact amount of time I had between flight. I might not make it home tonight, I thought.

Although not life threatening, my protective system, fondly called the fight-or-flight response, was about to be activated. Instead, I stood up, took my bag and got a place in the line leading up the departure counter with about six fellow travelers ahead of me. Once again, centering on the breath, I observed that the first folks at the counter would be a while, so I sat down next to my bag on the carpeted floor, (after all, I could be here a while!) closed my eyes for a few calming moments, and realized while I waited to speak to an agent here, I could call an agent, too! Putting my ear bud in, I dialed the airline’s number, heard the robotic voice tell me it could be 10-15 minutes before a live person took my call. Another moment to choose: freak out, get angry or utilize the time otherwise. So I choose to do some simple seated poses: Sukasana forward bend, Virasana, and Ardha Matsyendrasana twist. By the time the agent on the phone picked up, I was actually in quite a good mood, thanked him for working on a Sunday afternoon, and found out there was one seat left for the last flight home that night, and I would get it!

Obviously, you and I know that these things don’t always turn out so well, but by having some tools, yoga tools that is, in your pack, you can weather the expected unexpected stuff that we know is going to happen.

My yogic prescription for delay-management:

1) Start practicing simple seated breath awareness now, today, and do it often. When you need it, it will be second nature for you to turn to its calming and centering effects.

Try this: Focus your mind on the sensations of the in breath, then the out breath. Keep coming back to this, even when worrying thoughts attempt to capture your attention. Keep it up for 2 minutes and gradually lengthen the practice to 5 or 10 minutes. The timer on your smart phone can help.

2) Identify a few seated poses you can do in a chair or on the floor. Forward bends and twists always seem like good choices for me, but you might want a seated backbend if that’s helpful in keeping you open and calm when uncertainty shows up.

Also, try consider these:Cobbler’s Pose forward bend; Sage’s Twist (Marichyasana III); and gentle backbend over the back of a chair, keeping your hips on the seat.

3) Have some truly relaxing music on your iPod or phone, and even consider having a short Yoga Nidra recording there, too, for times when the delay is longer.

The goal is to eventually feel the same way about days that flow without a hitch as you do those with lots of unexpected twists and turns: centered and ready for all of it!