Learning to Fly: Tips for Air Travel

The theme for this issue is Air, and since I’m planning a trip to Peru in February I thought this would be a good time to discuss preventive medicine and travel. Traveling in good health is not easy. You may be staying in a hotel with no kitchen, experiencing insomnia from the time zone change, or struggling to find some green space in a dense urban area. It is already difficult enough just to stay healthy in the comforts of your home, so when you are traveling it is important to take the extra steps necessary to feel good.


In the cutthroat business of air travel, it’s uncommon to find a meal offered inflight these days. Since I’m flying all the way to Peru they may offer me a meal, but I’ll probably have to pass. I recently heard fitness trainer Steve Maxwell say that he always fasts while he travels. I’m not sure if this is a scientifically proven technique, but it seems like wise advice coming from an experienced traveler. Eating in combination with stress can result in poor digestion, so it makes sense to avoid food while flying since airports can be stressful places. Some people do eat to reduce their stress, and this is fine, but for good digestion you really should only eat when you actually feel hunger, typically at least 3 hours after the previous meal. For those who can’t fathom the thought of a mini fast, bringing along a few snacks is not very difficult, and a much better option than the airport fast food and inflight meal. On a recent flight I brought some dried figs, pistachios and a banana in case the fast was uncomfortable.


“Sir, would you like some water, a soda, or an alcoholic beverage?” No thanks, I reply to the attendant. The little 4-ounce cup of water they offer seems nearly worthless compared to my 40-ounce stainless steel bottle. I find that having access to a large bottle of water throughout the entire flight encourages me to sip more often. As for the alcohol, I wouldn’t recommend it, though I’m sure some people claim it counters the stress they experience. Obviously alcohol isn’t the only strategy available for dealing with stress. During my last layover in Denver I discovered private areas away from all the commotion where I was able to do some stretching and even a short meditation.


I normally advocate deep slow breathing, but in the confined environment of an airplane I winced at the thought of taking this recycled air deep into my lungs. People often comment on the dryness of airplane air, plus there are all the perfumes that people wear, and certainly an abundance of bacteria and viruses floating around. So what to do? All I can say is to get out into nature and breathe some clean fresh air as soon as possible after arriving at your destination. As for the bacteria, we seem to be much more focused these days on using antibacterial soaps than building strong immune systems. Take care of yourself and reduce stress as much as possible before the flight to better defend against illnesses that other passengers may be carrying.

In Ayurveda

The energy of motion is called “vata” in Ayurveda, and it is represented by the elements of air and space. Using the concept of “similar increases and opposite decreases”, Ayurveda has a simple approach to ensuring that our mind, body and spirit stays in balance. What modern technology is more similar to the energy of vata than flying in an airplane? As you fly through the air hundreds of kilometers per hour, thousands of meters from the earth you are certainly experiencing an increase of vata. We all understand that putting hot water on the stove makes the water hotter, so by extension we can understand that adding air travel to an already fast moving lifestyle can cause further imbalance. Since similar increases and opposite decreases, the best remedies for dealing with modern air travel are vata pacifying foods and activities. Examples include warm, heavy and oily meals, or perhaps some slow and grounding yoga postures upon arrival.

“There’s no sensation to compare to this, suspended animation, a state of bliss.”

I doubt that Pink Floyd was describing a trip to the airport when they wrote “Learning to Fly.” Even if you don’t feel a state of bliss during your next trip, with a little thought and preparation you can at least feel better when you reach your destination.


Eric Johnson regularly writes about the many connections between agriculture, food, health, and environment at:



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