Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Staying Healthy

We need to take care of ourselves in order to be pilot in command

Pilots sit on their butts a lot. We might want to stay in shape, but after a day of dealing with weather, shooting a precision approach and managing a thousand other things, all we really want to do at the end of the day is sit in a cool lounge or hotel room, and exercise our fingers by flipping buttons on a remote.

We need to stay healthy. The FAA and good sense demand we take care of ourselves in order to enjoy the privileges of a medical certificate. It's not enough to be a mental athlete. It takes a combination of good diet, cardio, weight training and everything in moderation to stay fit and ready to be pilot in command.

What if, after a day of aviating, you could find a way to relax and get a physical workout at the same time? What if in the time it takes you to watch one TV show, you could build strength, balance and flexibility, ease back pain, tone your muscles and de-stress in a peaceful environment?

I'm talking about yoga. More than a simple exercise program, yoga is an ancient practice that has been used for curing disease, physical therapy, injury rehabilitation, and even treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yoga has good benefits for pilots who are challenged by sitting for hours at a time subjected to back pain and time-zone changes. For aerobatic and fighter pilots, yoga can help with the stress that pulling G's puts on their bodies by helping with body alignment. An estimated 30 million people practice yoga in the U.S. today, partly because it provides a mindful balance to today's intensely techno society. It's a great escape from our incessant mental-data download, and it's the perfect antidote to a sedentary lifestyle sitting in front of a computer screen, or for pilots, in a cockpit.

Originating in India thousands of years ago, yoga is part of the curriculum of the Indian Army today. The Indian Society of Aerospace Medicine has been using yoga to desensitize student pilots who have airsickness problems. And, according to The Times of India, yoga is now being used to help train commercial flight students. Capt. Yashraj Tongia, Chief Flight Instructor of Yash Air, says yoga was "solely introduced to help students sharpen their mental abilities and pick up basics of flying training in a novel environment."

Yoga might have begun there, but we don't have to go to India to find it of special interest to pilots and in wide use in military and government programs. The USAF 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, U.K., uses yoga extensively in their physical fitness program. Pilots setting long-distance records report using yoga to help stay awake and keep their butts from getting numb, and there's evidence that yoga, pilates and tai chi are effective for treating high blood pressure. Warriors at Ease ( has researched the effect of yoga practice for soldiers experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a yoga instructor was quoted on "Most military people are strong but not very flexible, and too often, their hard-core training workouts can lead to injury," she says. "That's why I teach students hatha yoga, which is exercise based and has no meditation or religion connected to it. Mostly, I want them to use this practice to relax and relieve their stress. Ultimately, it will lower their blood pressure and improve their overall health."

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