Boarding a plane isn’t easy for everyone.
In fact, for some, it’s one of the most nerve-racking things imaginable. It’s been estimated that up to 20 million Americans have severe aviophobia, and at least 80 million have some nervousness about flying.
To make matters worse, it’s not just the act of flying that can set anxiety skyrocketing. With the hustle and bustle of airport terminals, lengthy TSA PreChecks, and often confusing gate information, booking a flight can easily feel like pulling teeth.
But it doesn’t necessarily have to.
Flying is arguably one of the safest methods of travel, and whether you’re flying for business or pleasure, taking that trip can often come with tons of rewards—from working towards that promotion, or relaxing on the beach.
Sure, it may at times feel unconventionally claustrophobic in an airplane. There might be a child kicking a seat behind you, or someone eating egg salad beside you. There might be dizzying turbulence, or disconcerting weather.
But there’s so much of the world that can be accessed through air travel.
And keeping yourself relaxed is always just a few breaths away.
That’s why I’ve put together this list of breathing techniques to help you stay calm, cool, and confident when it comes to boarding a plane.
Read on to find a technique that works for you!
The Benefits of Controlled Breathing
Learning to control your breathing has a number of benefits.
Your mind and body learn to thrive on the gentle exchange of oxygen and CO2. Your blood pressure lowers and your heart rate slows down. Stress begins to diminish, and feelings of deep relaxation wash over you.
Although the benefits of long-term controlled breathing haven’t been studied at length, there’s a reason that numerous spiritual traditions have utilized the practice of controlled breathing for hundreds of centuries.
Many practitioners have advocated for controlled breathing as a way to increase awareness, develop mindfulness, and find a path to one’s center.
With that being said, learning to control your breath is one of the single most effective methods to calming your flight anxiety. Are you ready to get started?
Here are 12 ancient techniques borrowed from yogic and meditative traditions, guaranteed to promote feelings of relaxation during your next flight.
1. Equal Breathing
How to do it: Start by sitting in a comfortable position and closing your eyes, slowly bringing your attention inward. Gently inhale through your nose, counting to four. Then gently exhale through your nose, counting to four again. Repeat. As your heart rate slows, try increasing each pace to counts of six, eight, or even ten.
2. Square Breathing
How to do it: Find a comfortable position and close your eyes. Using only your nostrils, inhale for four second, hold for four seconds, exhale for four second, then hold for four seconds. It is also sometimes helpful to visualize a box to aid in your concentration. Slowly increase your counts to expand your awareness.
Similar to Equal Breathing, Square Breathing has the calming effect of lowering the heart rate and quelling the mind. The addition of holding the breath acts like a window where there is no exchange of breathing—only stillness. This type of breathing is primarily useful for sensations of peacefulness, and teaching proper pacing of the breath.
3. Abdominal Breathing
How to do it: Sit in a comfortable position and lengthen your spine without overextending it. Take a deep breath in through your nostrils, slowly filling your abdomen. Try to allow your lungs to expand only slightly. Slowly exhale. It can be helpful to rest one hand on the abdomen, and one on the chest.
This breathing technique is wonderful for reducing blood pressure. It also teaches you to use your belly to breathe, which is much healthier than using only the top portion of your lungs. By harnessing the power of deeper inhalations, your mind and body become calmed with the increase of oxygen intake.
4. Alternate Nostril Breathing
How to do it: Begin by finding a comfortable place to sit. Take your dominant hand and fold in your ring finger, pinky finger, and thumb. Place your index finger and middle finger between your eyebrows. Plugging one nostril with your thumb, inhale through the other nostril. Then plug the nostril you just used to inhale with your ring finger and pinky finger. Exhale slowly and repeat. After one to two minutes, switch sides.
In certain systems of yoga, alternate nostril breathing is used to balance ida and pingala, or the lunar and solar energies present in the body. Similar to yin and yang currents, balancing these two polarities allows the practitioner to refocus and re-energize. This can be especially useful when anxiety is stirring the mind into restlessness.
5. Cobra Breathing
How to do it: Begin by sitting in a comfortable position and closing the eyes. Take a deep inhale through the nose, then exhale audibly from the back of the throat. The sound produced upon exhaling should sound like a baby snoring. As your breathing begins to originate more easily from the diaphragm, your exhales should glide more easily through the tightened throat.
Although you’re likely to convince people that you’ve fallen asleep, Cobra Breathing has a variety of psychosomatic benefits. Tension is released by oxygenating the blood. This is also a great technique for easing headaches, relieving sinus pressure, and quelling nausea. Because anxiety often manifests in a host of physical symptoms, Cobra Breathing can be used to alleviate many of those symptoms.
6. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
How to do it: Take a deep cleansing breath in and then exhale most of the air out of your lungs. Upon inhaling again, focus on your feet, tensing the muscles in them while counting to three. While exhaling, relax all of the muscles. Repeat this process of tensing and relaxing each muscle group all the way up to the top of your head. Take deep, slow breaths and take your time working upward.
Breathing with the technique of progressive muscle relaxation is great for bringing an overall sensation of well-being to the body. It gets rid of excess tension in the body and allows one to feel more present. Practicing this periodically throughout the flight, or once you’ve landed can help work out those difficult knots.
7. Breath of Fire
How to do it: Find a comfortable place away from others and close your eyes. Slowly inhale through the nostrils. Then, to exhale, force the abdomen inward and forcefully expel the air. As you begin to feel more in tune with your body, slowly increase the pace, doing one inhale-exhale every two seconds.
The Breath of Fire technique, done correctly, eventually produces an overwhelming sensation of relaxation. It is as if your body has been sedated, but by using only the practice of breathing. This technique has the added benefit of strengthening the core muscles and building confidence.
8. Three-Part Breathing
How to do it: Start by finding a comfortable place to sit and take a few refreshing breaths in and out. Place one hand on the belly and one on the chest. Inhale a third of your breath into your belly, a third of your breath into your chest, and a third of your breath into your throat. Exhale using normal breathing.
Similar to Abdominal Breathing, Three-Part Breathing teaches the practitioner to regulate the breath. It provides a space for self-connection and establishes confidence. The added benefit of Three-Part Breathing is that it utilizes the fullness of the lungs, opening new air sacs and cleansing impurities.
9. Om Breathing
How to do it: Start with one cleansing breath in through the nose and a lengthy exhale out through the mouth. Slowly inhale through the nose again and close your eyes. Upon exhaling, let air flow quietly out of the throat. At the same time, position your lips to make the sound “aum” as you expel air around them. It may aid concentration to mentally imagine the sound as well.
Om Breathing may sound cliché, but there’s a reason it has been around for thousands of years. The basic idea, among other descriptions, is that “aaa” calms the feet, “uuu” calms the torso, and “mmm” calms the mind. The longer this method is practiced, concentration increases, and calmness sets in. It has been said that “aum” is the sound the universe makes.
10. Mantra Breathing
How to do it: Start by imagining a word or phrase that deeply resonates with you. Take one clearing breath in and out. Then inhale through your nose. While exhaling, internally voice your chosen word or phrase. While inhaling again, imagine that you are being washed over with clean energy. If your mind becomes distracted, bring your attention back to the chosen word or phrase.
This technique is similar to Om Breathing in that it utilizes a sound to imagine while exhaling. If you have the space to voice the word or phrase out loud, that’s okay too. Something as simple as, “I am calm” is perfectly alright. The beauty of mantra breathing is that it works like a potter’s wheel. Anytime the mind becomes distracted, the revolving motion of the mantra can always be used to fling off the distraction and bring the mind back to center.
11. Guided Meditation
How to do it: Begin by searching for a guided meditation to follow. The voice present in the guided meditation should be compassionate, but also confident. Using earphones can greatly increase the benefit of your meditation. Follow the patterns of breathing in the guided meditation and use it to let go of your fears.
Although guided meditations may come in a variety of shapes and sizes, the basic implication is the same: to visualize a calmer, less stressed reality. Guided meditations leverage distraction from fears by listening to another voice gently instruct patterned forms of breathing. You also gain control over intrusive thoughts that often end up causing anxiety. Guided meditations can be found on YouTube, through podcasts, or with mobile applications.
12. CO2 Rebreathing
How to do it: Cup both hands over your mouth and breathe slowly through your nose. Try to slow your cycle of inhalations and exhalations to last a few seconds. Bring your attention back to center and find a greater sense of security and well-being.
This technique is primarily useful in situations of hyperventilation. Oftentimes, hyperventilating leads to feeling like there is a lack of oxygen, but the opposite is actually more true. It’s likely that too much oxygen is being taken in, relative to your carbon dioxide levels. By gently cupping the hands over the mouth, the expulsion of carbon dioxide is prevented and it ends up cycling back into the lungs. This technique is great for calming symptoms of increased anxiety caused by hyperventilation.
Calming Your Flight Anxiety
Although it may take a combination of things to completely calm flight anxiety, breathing techniques are certainly a great start!
For most people who suffer from aviophobia, the fear isn’t necessarily about the thought of crashing. It’s more of an internal fear of “crashing” due to the inability to escape the sealed environment of the cabin.
It’s important to understand the underlying causes of aviophobia first before embarking on a path toward wholeness and self-security. However, these practices are exceptional for practicing aboard an airplane, or while waiting to board.
In addition to utilizing one of the aforementioned breathing techniques, it can also be helpful to avoid caffeine or alcohol before a flight.
Finally, if you start feeling scared, remember to visualize your destination.
You can do this, I promise.
Thank you for reading.