Yoga Nidra for Pilots

Courtesy: The Times of India, New Delhi, December 15, 2006

It is a classroom of a different kind. Here students don’t sit on benches or chairs, but surprisingly lie down with the eyes shut. It looks like they are all asleep. But in their minds, the 70 students are visualizing the insides of a cockpit, in great detail, as they go through a virtual pre-flight check. They are doing yoga nidra, with a twist though.

“What distinguishes the yogic form of exercise from the rest is that it can be tailor-made to deliver specific solutions. Martina Navratilova, Sachin Tendulkar, Leander Paes and many other sportspeople have personal yoga instructors,” says Sanjeev Chaturvedi, a post-graduate in applied yogic science from Bihar Yoga Bharati, whose latest brief was to train the pilot aspirants.

Chaturvedi says the benefits of exclusively developed programs go beyond the obvious like improving concentration, alertness, etc. “For instance, using yoga nidra to etch the basics of flying in the student’s memory,” he says.

So after a round of asanas, by 6 am the students lie down in shavasana, relax every muscle of their body and enter a state of deep relaxation. “They then visualize the cockpit and begin a virtual pre-flight check with step-by-step instructions,” says Chaturvedi, who took lessons from flying instructors for the purpose.

The use of yoga, though, is not really new in the field of aviation. The IAF Medical Service’s Indian Society of Aerospace Medicine has been using it to desensitize trainees having air sickness problems. The desensitization program involves a series of asanas for the spine and neck, followed by breathing techniques and other procedures like hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

The Indian Army, on the other hand, had introduced yoga into its curriculum way back in 1995, after a 10-year research program. But it has never been into the classroom of students seeking a Commercial Pilots License (CPL).

“It was solely introduced to help students sharpen their mental abilities, and pick up basics of flying training in a novel environment,” says Capt. Yashraj Tongia, chief flying instructor of Yash Air, which introduced yoga-assisted learning techniques with a 10-day program.

And what has the response been? “The fact that we are planning to turn this into a daily routine should speak about its popularity,” he says. Though waking up at 4.30 am to begin the 90-minute yoga routine was not easy to begin with, sessions became popular eventually.

“The other day, a student had a cross-country flight scheduled at 7 am, but was engrossed in the yoga class. When the instructor went up to remind him, he just nodded in the negative and continued with his breathing exercise,” says Capt. Tongia.

Says Jehan Dastur (21), a student, who took up flying training two months back: “It was my first exposure to yoga. I had completed 100 hours by then and was fairly well versed with the basics of flying.”