Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ayurvedic Tips for Weathering Travel

After traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday—which included lots of cold weather, a cancelled flight, reinjuring the meniscus in my left knee, overeating, and a succession of late nights—I returned home out of sorts and with a cold. Too much of everything left me weary and, frankly, a bit teary. 

This got me thinking about the Ayurvedic concept of “dinacharya,” or daily routine, which provides the foundation for a calm mind, cleanses and rejuvenates the body, and sets the rhythm for the day. 

Dinacharya includes such things as regular sleep patterns (waking and retiring), elimination, tongue scraping, use of a neti pot and nasya oil, warm water with lemon upon arising, self-massage with natural oils followed by bathing, meditation, exercise, and proper foods. While the Ayurvedic daily routine can get lengthy, even one or two practices help to arm the body and mind for whatever the day might bring.

While it’s a bit easier to stick to a routine when at home with access to what you need, more control over your activities, and perhaps some discipline, traveling tends to throw all of that into chaos. So, it’s best to decide on just a couple of practices that are a “must” each day when traveling. Some are a must for everyone—like staying hydrated. Others are specific things that support our individual health or prove restorative.

Pay attention to what creates the most irritation for you while on the road, and then look to a simple practice that can counteract—or balance—it. For example, I know I have to stay warm. If I get too cold for too long, it starts a chain reaction—not being able to sleep, sore throat, dehydration, and so on. Consider some of the following, or identify your own “musts” when traveling:
Hydrate - Travel is inherently drying. To counterbalance this, drink more water than usual—warm/hot or at room temperature. Limit caffeine and alcohol (which in excess are dehydrating), or substitute with herbal tea (carry your own tea bags). Keep water at your bedside. Waking up with extreme thirst and not being able to find your way to water and a glass in an unfamiliar hotel room or dark house is a recipe for dehydration. This can lead to headaches, constipation, and a host of other symptoms. Use saline drops for the eyes especially when traveling by plane. And massage your skin and lips as well as inside the nostrils with a natural oil, such as sesame, before bathing.

Nourish and Cleanse – Diet is usually the first to go when traveling. Exhaustion coupled with less control over what may be available to eat make it hard to practice discipline around food choices and eating at regular times. For example, balance an excess of processed foods and sugar with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains when possible. If helpful, carry fruit or a few nuts with you when in transit. Maintain proper digestive fire by eating one-third to one half of the saturation point. Stop short of full to the brim—at least for most meals. Constipation is a common travel problem, but targeted food choices—and more water—can help with regular elimination, which is vital for good health.
Move – Take a short walk, especially after eating, to get things moving—encouraging digestion and elimination. Or try some “in-room” yoga (or even yoga on the airplane). I’ve learned that there is a world of yoga to be had without any of the usual props—mat, block, strap, etc. Warm up with neck, shoulder, and hip circles, lubricating and creating space in the primary joints. A bed or wall space is perfect for a modified down dog—and while you’re there, a hamstring stretch (parsvottanasnaa) and calf muscle stretch. Half sun salutes and tree (vrksasana) require no props. Throw down a clean towel for cat/cow, child’s pose, reclined twists, hip openers (like happy baby pose), and lower back releases like apanasana and supported bridge pose. Finish with a short seated meditation.

Restore - Give yourself permission to take time to recharge: a short nap, a brisk walk, a restorative yoga pose, time with a book, a bath, or any other activity that gives you the right tools to restore and rejuvenate yourself. Make sure it’s the right activity. If you’re sluggish and feeling overloaded with food, a brisk walk may be the antidote. If you haven’t slept and feel exhausted, take a nap or spend 20 minutes in a restorative yoga pose such as legs up the wall or on a chair, block under the sacrum (supported bridge), or supported child’s pose. Or, spend a few minutes in either a reclined or seated practice of nadi shodanam, alternate nostril breathing. This balancing breath is especially comforting and helpful to restore equilibrium to the mind and body.
Finally, practice compassion with yourself and those around you. Ask for what you need, and offer help when you can. These kinds of exchanges will help you keep your equilibrium and equanimity in the face of changing circumstances. And remember to occasionally pause and take a deep breath—enjoy the journey.
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