Traveling is stressful on the body and mind. The anxiety around packing and planning, weather delays, traffic to the airport, getting through security taking off your damn shoes, traveling across time zones and interfering with natural circadian rhythm. Ultra endurance coach Chris Hauth says it takes 1 day for every new hour of time zone for the body to adjust. Ain't nobody got time for that!!
According to Ayurveda, the OG of holistic medicine, travel falls into the category of vata. Vata is the energy that governs all movement, whether that’s in the mind, the body, or our environment. Vata has a spectrum of balanced and imbalanced.
- In the mind it ranges from brilliant creative thoughts to paralyzing anxiety.
- In the body, vata makes us run like a well oiled machine through the cellular intelligence of peristalsis, neuromuscular movement, respiration, and normal sinus rhythm of our heartbeat. Imbalanced vata in the body can lead to digestive problems, neurological issues, respiratory distress and cardiac arrhythmias.
- In our environment vata moves as the wind, from a cool refreshing breeze, to a turbulent hurricane.
- Vata season runs from fall to winter, when it's cool and crisp.
When you sit on a plane you are flying at about 600 miles/hour. That movement alone is thought to accelerate and derange normal functioning in our body which can weaken our immune system. By learning how to balance vata, you can enhance your metabolism, immune health and overall vitality. Here are some modern travel hacks, influenced by ancient wisdom, to reduce stress efficiently so you can roll up to your destination with energy.
1. Drink plenty of hot water. Traveling is so dehydrating and can cause constipation, headaches and dry skin. I picture sad shriveled cells. Pack a stainless steel thermos to fill up at a coffee shop once you get through security. Hot water has a cleansing effect on the body, like doing dishes with hot water. Avoid cold, iced, or bubbly drinks which can exacerbate "travel belly".
- Tip: pack ginger tea. Ginger boosts digestion, metabolism, dissolves congestion and strengthens the immune system.
2. Eat warm soupy food. Soup is hands down the easiest food to digest. Cold, dry and raw food can cause uncomfortable gas and bloating. This is tough because travel/convenience food is typically dry and raw: nuts, dried fruit, chips, and granola bars. Here are 3 ideas:
- Choose oatmeal at Starbucks or a coffee shop. If you top with dried fruit and nuts, allow time for them to soak before eating. Soaking helps soften for best digestion and assimilation.
- BYOSS: bring your own super seeds. Pack a small jar with 2 tbsp chia seeds (omega 3s), 1 tbsp cacao powder (magnesium), dash of cinnamon and cardamom powder (calming sweet spices). Order a steamed soy milk, which is typically already sweetened, stir in your baller bag of super seeds and let soak for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Pack cup of soup. Light as a feather, cheap as hell, this packs easy. I love Dr. McDougall's vegan brand, found at Whole Foods or Amazon, or this miso ramen from Trader Joe's. I mean, Trader Joe's for the win guys. Add the hot water from your thermos or ask politely for some on the plane.
3. Nourish the ears. Vata plays a role in both sound and touch, so listen to something soothing. Create a playlist on Spotify and download to your phone before you board. My fave jazz guys are Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery, or I'll listen to any of my yoga playlists (you can friend me and listen).
4. Eat as light as possible. This will depend on the length of your flight and the advice from your healthcare provider. Preflight have a grounding cooked meal like a big bowl of oatmeal, quinoa porridge, or soup. If your flight is 1-4 hours, try to fast on the plane. Fasting between meals stimulates agni, or digestive fire. For longer flights, refer to tip #2 for easily digestible foods, and experiment with waiting 3-4 hours between meals. Drink plenty of hot water or tea in between.
5. Have a Red Eye Sleep Plan. No hack can truly replace sleep. Use a yogic approach and withdraw your senses to coax yourself to sleep.
Put the tech down and rest your eyes on a real book. Not only is this better for your natural sleep hormones, it's also super romantic and intriguing these days to see someone with a real book, right?
Sip a natural sedative like reishi, in these portable packets.
When you're ready to sleep, cover your eyes with a mask and put in ear plugs.
Drape a sign around your neck that says "Do Not Disturb." JUST KIDDING hehe.
6. Take triphala. Triphala is an Ayurvedic herb blend that means "3 fruits." It includes amalaki fruit, a powerful antioxidant that is used to reverse aging and promote longevity. It also rejuvenates the lower intestine, preventing travel belly. Consult with your doctor, but this is generally safe to take every night you are on vacation. I use Banyan Botanicals, here.
7. Save the booze for your arrival. Alcohol is mega dehydrating, sleep disturbing, and has a "reducing" or depleting effect on the body including reproductive, nervous, and immune systems. Save it for your arrival when you can celebrate your destination.
8. Oil up. Vata rules the sense of touch. We can feel irritable and ungrounded when traveling, but oil acts like a protective barrier to the nervous system.
- Self oil massage, called abhyanga (AB-ee-anga), is a luxurious act of self love. Before you fly, massage coconut oil into your whole body. Even better for dry skin types is this sesame herbal blend. Rinse off in the shower and gently pat dry. Armored up!
- You can also do your abhyanga once you arrive to your hotel. Oil your skin lovingly (or at least your feet), then rinse off in a steamy shower. The effect of this combo in unreal, as if you had a deep tissue massage and steam room, in 10 minutes.
- Tip: Choose natural. Our skin absorbs what we feed it into the bloodstream, so natural oils, toners and lip balms beat chemical products. Think about how skin absorbs things like a nicotine, pain, or birth control patch, so feed it what you might feed your belly.
9. Calm the mind. Take advantage of having too much time on your hands to experiment with breath work, known as pranayama. Prana means life force or vitality, so this practice can leave you feeling both relaxed and full of life.
Alternate nostril breathing (hands free version): balances the nervous system and can be done anywhere, discretely. I do this as the plane takes off, an anxious time for me!
Close your eyes and deepen your breath. As you inhale, visualize breath traveling up the left side of your body, across the bridge of your nose. As you exhale, watch the breath travel down the right side of your body. Inhale, watch your breath travel up the right side, across the bridge of your nose, exhale breath down the left side. Repeat for 1-20 minutes.
If you've never taken a conscious breath, 1 minute is an accomplishment! Bonus if you can stick to 1 minute every day of your trip.
10. Schedule rest/oration. Sometimes our itinerary is so full it can feel exhausting. Even if you don't typically nap, a quick rest midday could refill your cup and fuel more adventure. Vata time of day is between 2am-6am and again at 2pm-6pm, the latter being a time energy levels often dip and we seek out coffee and sugar. Consider that a perfect time for a nap, legs up the wall pose, meditation, or savasana on the floor. This might reduce that run down feeling of needing a vacation after your vacation.
Don't get overwhelmed attempting all of these suggestions at once. Pick 1 or 2 that speak to you and become aware of how your body responds.
If you want more vata balancing tips, sign up here for my workshop "Fall into Ayurveda" at Coolidge Yoga Brookline, October 7th. We will dive deep into what foods to favor this fall, how to start a 3-5 day seasonal cleanse (with a family style kitchari), and finish with a yoga practice to embody balanced vata.
Happy travels and Namaste!
These recommendations come from my training as an Ayurvedic Health Counselor. Before implementing any diet or lifestyle chances, consult your healthcare provider.