Friday, January 07, 2005

Ten thousand miles trapped in a tin can*

Some advice for you about flying in planes, from a girl who flies between the US, Australia, and Russia at least once a year.

Sitting on a plane is a grueling experience that attacks your health from a number of different angles. There’s the immobility that causes your muscles to stiffen up and blood to pool in your legs; there’s the overly dry recycled air redolent with whatever germs the hundreds of other passengers might be suffering from, (and which has a lower than normal oxygen content, both for energy and storage reasons, and because it keeps passengers sluggish and easy to manage); there’s the horrendous, low-prana food; and there’s the perpetual onslaught of low-grade greasy dirtiness. Meanwhile there’s the psychological stress of being in a confined place, on intimate terms with hundreds of other passengers.

I’m a sensitive girl and often subject to bouts of crippling psychosomatic sickness, but I’m also used to being seen as an oddball, so I’ve developed a number of survival skills to help me survive the flights - and when I say survival skills, I mean just that. Taking care of yourself during a long plane ride, especially if you can't sleep well, is the difference between spending a few of your precious days before you croak feeling like a sack of meat, and actually being able to do stuff enthusiastically, as soon as you step off the plane.

Useful carryon items:
--Well-planned bag of mini-toiletries
--Pajamas to change into, comfy socks
--Eyepillow/mask, earplugs
--Extra pillow, extra blanket
--Teabags (esp some with sleep aids like valerian and passionflower)
--Massage wand

I shall now elucidate some of my more idiosyncratic coping strategies, in the hopes that some might prove useful to you.

*The basic themes are to keep yourself ridiculously hydrated (=water bottles; you can't trust the flight attendants to come round with the drinks cart often enough) and move and stretch your body religiously to keep from seizing up into a pile of knots.

*I always like window seats, because they make you feel like you're inside a marvelous bird instead of a claustrophobic tin can, and there's nothing dreamier than far-off puffs of cotton wool dissolving into speedy wisps as you break through the clouds - plus you can prop a pillow on them and rest your head there, giving you a nicer sleeping position. But aisle seats let you get your all-important regular exercise - and save you from the annoying choice of pacifying your bladder, or elbowing your slumbering seatmates. It is, however, possible to have the best of both worlds, if you can figure out how to gracefully jump over your seatmates (charming them or glaring at them so that they don't complain), which involves standing up in your own seat and stepping gingerly across, balancing on the armrests. Yoga classes would probably help with this.

*I bring silk tapestries, and wedge one corner under my folding tray and the others around my seat back, creating a little tie-dyed tent over my head to sleep, giving the illusion of privacy much like an ostrich sticking its head into some cozy sand...

*Some favored sitting positions: one leg sticking straight up in the air and resting on the top of the window, the other knee bent and resting on the back of your front neighbor's armrest. Another good leg position is to bend your knees and rest your feet inside the pocket on the back of the seat behind you. The common theme here is to elevate your legs, which helps delay the onslaught of edema. (A medical misfortune shared by celebrities. I remember seeing a story in some checkout line: "Jennifer Aniston Takes Off Her Wedding Ring in the Plane! Sure Sign She's About to Dump Brad!" Buried in the last few paragraphs was a quote from a friend: "Jennifer always takes off her rings when she travels, because her hands swell.")

*I bring my own supply of tea bags, and constantly drop by the kitchenette to demand cups of hot water. (In the future I'm going to bring my own mug, I think, because their cups are very small.) This is also a good chance to scrounge leftover meals from first class.

*I bring my own food: bags of almonds, apples, bananas, red peppers, hard boiled eggs. Once on the way back from Moscow, I sat next to a friendly blonde in a pink business suit. It turned out that she was a mail-order bride who'd been living with her husband in Idaho for three years. She was returning to him after a vacation to visit her family for three weeks. And oh, could this woman pack for planes! She had a sack with neat baggies of walnuts, pistachios, granola, and raisins. She had some crackers and a little tub of cream cheese. We both spread out all our snacks to share and it was a veritable feast. She seemed very domestic, loving, and grateful to be living in America; I'm sure she made an excellent bride. If only I could order what I need in the mail...

*I disappear into the bathroom with a bag of toiletries, and by dint of strenuous contortions manage to wash most of my parts in the tiny sink there. Yes, you can take a change of clothes into the bathroom, strip down, and if you're somewhat flexible and balance one foot up on the toilet and take your time with a washcloth, you can basically wash all your bits and feel like you've had a shower. It's fiddly and laborious - but time is one thing you've got, on an airplane. Plus all the contortions are good exercise. After the ablutions, apply some lotion to protect against the Sahara-like cabin air (I use jojoba oil which I mix with soothing aromatherapy oils like lavender, rose, chamomile, jasmine, and neroli) and, while you're still naked, do not forget to brush your teeth and floss. Not only does your mouth feel better, it gives the lotion time to sink in while your skin is still damp, which is the most effective way to moisturize. When you emerge half an hour later in a fragrant cloud of steam, you're far more likely to get some decent sleep (especially if you're used to cleaning rituals before you go to bed.)

*Flight attendants don’t mind all these strange behaviors - they understand! In fact, they’ve got some coping strategies of their own. On the flight from DC to LA, a flight attendant showed me a trick that has been passed down through the generations: Take an empty water bottle and fill it full with hot water. Take off the lid and crush it so that it accordions down into a nub (excess water will spill out), and replace the lid. Repeat. You now have two warm nubs with handles, which you can use to massage your fellow flight attendants’ backs. It feels fabulous.

*And, most importantly: do yoga in front of the bathrooms!

Yoga moves with very little space:
Stretch arms over head, and side to side
Forward fold
Clasp hands behind back, open shoulders
Hands to reverse prayer behind back
Shrug shoulders in opposite circles
Hold foot behind back to stretch the top of your thigh muscle
Standing spinal twists (grab wall to brace yourself)
Neck rolls Tree pose and eagle pose (only if there’s no turbulence, or hold onto wall)
Stand and hug one knee to chest
Jump up and down or run in place to get the circulation going

If you have a little bit more space (there's often a little passageway between sets of bathrooms at the back of large planes)
Downward facing dog
Triangle pose
Reverse triangle pose (Great to do in the little passageway because you've got two walls to brace yourself between, helping keep your balance)
Stretch hamstrings by lifting foot onto that emergency exit bulwark thing and folding over it
Chair pose, chair pose with side twists
Warrior I and II

And anything else you think you can get away with! I’ve even done headstand, when most people were sleeping.


*Actually, the air distance between Sydney and LA is 7,530 miles, but that is less alliterative, so I rounded up. Sorry.


Blogger Sarah Smile said...

Thank you Zoe! I will definatly use these.

8:25 AM  
Blogger MJ said...

Excellent! I'll be able to use these this summer, and I'll pass them along to my friend Erika for when she goes to London next month.

5:00 PM  
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