The Sensory (Somatic) World of Flight Attendants

Some of you know the dichotomy of my background, now a faculty member, working as a research scientist at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. Formerly, I was a Pan Am flight attendant (FA) for over 18 years. It has been the greatest honor and good fortune (and I have to admit, a great deal of hard work) that has allowed the marriage of these two apparently disparate worlds. What has come from this, has been a later life career devoted to understanding the issues of flight attendant health.

I have been drawn to this pursuit by personal health challenges and the natural empathy that can best happen when you have been part of the team that regularly work on a mutual objective. The flight attendant relevant research at Dartmouth has spanned more than a decade. Our team has produced close to twenty peer reviewed research publications with relevance to Flight Attendant health. (Most of these do not name FA, rather issues related to their health.)

Today I’m on a trans-continental flight, headed to yet another training, with the aspiration to gain further insights that may be of use in this work. It’s an easy place to reflect. Close my eyes and I could be out over the Pacific looking at towering clouds and the amazing azure blue of the sea below me. Or, it could be flying over moon-lit glaciers and towering peaks of the ancient volcanoes that line the coast of Alaska. I could be watching the billowing smoke from a forest fire in Canada or smelling the pungent smoke from dung fires that tell you that you are approaching an airport in India.

Observing cabin crew, who have given their time and efforts to take part in the various clinical trials that we have conducted, brings an awareness of the complexities of how this special group of professionals has adapted to do their work. If you were never a FA, you might be puzzled. If you are, or were a FA, you know instinctively what I mean. Being a FA is not just a job, its a profession. It is a profession that requires special skills, many of which mature over time and with experience.

A key skill, is the way that you use your body to do your job. You develop a body awareness that allows you to notice the pitch of the engines on take off, the balance of thrust of the engines. You notice calm vibration at altitude in calm air and sense the shift to turbulence in your body before your conscious mind can acknowledge it. And yes, you change your stance to accommodate the need to maintain your balance.

All of this generally happens with a sense of grace and calm: it is with your body, your posture, your quiet smile that you reassure your passengers. Rarely acknowledged, these are the skills of leadership that keep the cabin calm, despite your inner turmoil.

Scientist like to ask questions. So I ask for your feedback on this. Are you aware of how you provide the leadership, flight after flight, that allows commercial aviation to operate, to happen? Do you appreciate how your posture and facial expression, the vibes that you share, make all of this possible?

It would be great to hear from you!

Best wishes from Mardi Crane-Godreau, PAA FA 1967-1985.
Assistant Professor, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Morning Coffee: Bodymind Training

‘Morning Coffee’ integrates practice into an activity of everyday living. 

The bedroom window is open just enough to carry a breath of the morning breeze and the racket of birds competing for mates and territory.

Hands and arms escape the envelope  of warmth under the down puff inviting feet and legs to join them, as they explore a new day.

Sunny nuzzles in, relishing the morning greeting. Paws and feet begin the journey to the kitchen, the cool smoothness of the maple planks, the plush softness of the carpet, and then the unevenness of rough grooves between the the kitchen tiles. Yawning, two beings stretch. Sunny does a downward dog.

Can you take a moment to stretch right now?  What do you notice in your body. When you yawn, you may notice increased saliva in your mouth.  Notice it’s coolness.

Like Tea Ceremony in Japan, Morning Coffee has become a time of mindful awareness.  Notice body alignment, notice placement of feet , notice release of tightness from neck and shoulders.  Notice and follow the breath, releasing the tension in the abdominal muscles.  With awareness,  the non-dominant hand reaches up to open the cupboard. The stretch reaches down past the sacrum, down the back of the legs. The pads of the feet are anchored, toes slightly curled to grip the floor. Easy actions are relegated to the dominant hand; those that require fine motor control or strength are done by the non-dominant side.

As the steamy water begins to flow, eyes are closed to again notice body alignment, to hear the sound of water dripping first into the bed of coffee and then into the pot. There is awareness to the shift in temperature near the coffee maker and of the complex scent of coffee. The pads do feet are anchored, toes slightly curled to grip the floor. The weight of the body, of burdens, are dropped through the feet into the floor. Notice and follow the breath.

The air is filled with richness and the coffee is ready. A cup is filled, a sip, another breath. The rest of the day begins.

For more on the idea of Day Long Practice, be sure to read Peter’s Blog here: