It’s that time of year again.
Traveling to visit family and friends over the holidays can be enjoyable, but it also brings its fair share of stress. Disrupted waking and sleeping times, increased traffic, flight delays, unfamiliar foods and dry, recirculated air can all put a strain on the body and mind.
From the Ayurvedic standpoint, being on the move and off your normal daily rhythm increases vata dosha in the body, which has the qualities of coldness, lightness, dryness, mobility/instability and roughness. These qualities translate into physical challenges like dry skin, gas and bloating, constipation, cold hands and feet, worry, anxiety, insomnia and mood swings.
Opposites Balance Each Other
Although unpredictability is part of traveling, there is much you can do to make your upcoming trips go more smoothly.
In Ayurvedic medicine we treat disease by identifying the qualities that are present in the body in excess and then introducing the opposing qualities through the five senses. In the case of increased vata dosha, it’s essential to balance the excess coldness, lightness, dryness, mobility/instability and roughness by introducing more warmth, heaviness, moistness (both water and oil), stability and smoothness in your food, beverages, activities and surroundings.
Here are some suggestions for maintaining balance while traveling this holiday season.
Stay Warm and Well-Hydrated
Pack a two ounce bottle of organic, untoasted sesame oil. Before you leave home, apply a few drops of oil to each pinky finger and gently massage the inside of each nostril. You’ll protect those delicate mucous membranes from the dry air and also decrease your likelihood of picking up someone’s cold or flu germs.
Bring a pashmina-type scarf that you can wrap around you to stay warm or ball up to use as a pillow while traveling.
Fill up your water bottle after you pass through security and drink even more water than you usually do. Skip the alcohol, carbonated beverages and ice-cold drinks served on the airplane, as they all increase vata dosha. Instead, pack some ginger or India Spice tea bags and ask the flight attendant for a cup of hot water.
If you’re traveling in the car, invest in an insulated water bottle to keep your tea hot for hours. Side note: I think everyone should own one of these. They’re amazing and you will find it so much easier to drink the recommended amount of water every day.
Eat Grounding, Easy to Digest Foods
Soups, fresh fruits, steamed vegetables, almond butter packets, instant oatmeal (just add hot water), Medjool dates and apple sauce are all great options while you’re on the road. They’re moist, soothing to the digestive system and generally easy to find no matter where you’re traveling.
Pack at least one or two snacks in your carry-on that you can enjoy with minimal preparation in case of travel delays.
Soothe your Nervous System
Vata dosha governs the activity of the nervous system, so it’s important to wind down after all the mental stimulation of traveling. Once you arrive at your destination, spend a few minutes with your eyes closed and take some slow, deep breaths. Have another cup or two of spicy herbal tea.
Before bed, immerse your bottle of sesame oil in a cup of hot water until the oil is comfortably warm. Massage your ears, belly, legs and feet with the warm oil to further increase the qualities of warmth, moistness, heaviness, stability and smoothness.
Next, spend a couple minutes in Legs up the Wall pose to reduce swelling from sitting for long periods of time and to calm your mind. You can also practice Child’s Pose or sit on the ground and hug your knees to your chest.
Finally, take a nice hot shower or bath and you’ll be well on your way to a more restful night’s sleep.
Staying Regular on the Road
Irregular bowel movements are a common challenge when traveling. Following the tips above will help to reduce the likelihood of constipation, but sometimes one needs a little more assistance.
In that case, Ayurveda recommends triphala - a gentle cleansing formula that helps to regulate bowel function. Many natural foods stores carry this formula in capsules.
The standard dosage is 2 capsules with warm water before bed. If necessary, take 2 more capsules first thing in the morning.
Note: triphala should not be taken by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It’s always wise to consult with your healthcare practitioner if you are unsure about interactions with any medications you are currently taking.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Once you’re feeling out of balance, it takes more time and energy to bring yourself back to center. Therefore, I encourage you to follow these simple practices before you start feeling dehydrated or ungrounded. Bonus points if you start practicing them a few days before you travel.