AYURVEDA FOR TRAVEL
By Hannah Levin
Do you ever struggle when traveling? Maybe with digestion or sleep? Before I learned Ayurveda, I would inevitably struggle with bloating, constipation, and trouble sleeping when traveling. Now that is no longer the case. Knowing my constitution helped explain so many things, including why travel felt so challenging. If Ayurveda is new to you, consider taking a Dosha Quiz to start learning about your unique constitution and see the world through a different lense. (You can find one on my website at www.heartfeltwellbeing.com).
Ayurveda, the Sister-Science to Yoga is simply about living in alignment with the rhythms of nature – night and day, the seasons, and weather patterns.
Based in the five elements of Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth, Ayurveda can support each individual to live their best life through understanding their unique constitution AND learning to use opposite elements to heal imbalances (otherwise known as dis-ease).
Ayurveda can also be used to navigate simple changes in our lives with more ease and grace. Travel is one such area. Traveling entails moving rapidly, via plane, train, boat, or automobile to another environment. This movement stirs up Vata (Air and Space elements). Even though it is Pitta (Fire element) season, while traveling we need to focus not only on balancing Pitta through cooling, but also on balancing Vata through warmth and grounding. Here are some simple tips to make your travel experiences more easeful.
FOOD AND DIGESTION
We have to eat. Eating and drinking can be a wonderful part of exploring the world. Yet amidst the excitement of new places and adventures, many people struggle with gas, bloating, constipation, or simply not knowing how to make good food choices to support happy digestion when traveling.
Whatever plans you may have this summer, here are some guidelines to help you navigate food while traveling to avoid dealing with Vata imbalance in the digestive system (gas, bloating, nausea, constipation, etc).
– Stay hydrated. Travel dries out the body and if we change time zones, hydrating can help us roll with the shifts. Drinking cold beverages or carbonated beverages on the plane is a huge disservice to your digestive strength and immunity. Cold food or drink makes your body have to work harder to heat up what you are ingesting before it can be digested and absorbed. Carbonation adds air to your system which is the exact element you need to decrease. Aim to drink at least 8-12 oz of warm water or herbal tea each hour while you are traveling.
– Drink Hot Ginger Tea – this keeps you hydrated, warm, and your digestive fire strong. For plane travel, bring ginger tea bags and a stainless steel insulated water bottle. Ask a restaurant in the airport to fill it up with hot water before your flight. If you are traveling in a car, train or boat, drinking ginger tea will help too, but if it’s hot outside, no need to drink the tea hot. Room temperature tea will do the trick. Ginger tea will also help with relieving motion sickness/nausea.
– Pack Your Own Food for Travel Days. The quality of the food will be better and your digestion will be happier. Ideally, eating out should be a special treat, not how you get most of your nutrition. The quality of the food will be better and your digestion will be happier if you bring food that you made. When you do eat out, choose foods that are easy to digest: cooked, mostly vegetables, minimal number of ingredients, and freshly prepared.
– Avoid Dry, Rough or Cold Foods. This makes a BIG difference if you tend toward constipation or gas when traveling. It’s best to steer toward cooked foods that are warm and have some moisture to them. Not only can dry, rough, and cold foods affect the digestion in unwanted ways, but they can also affect your state of mind and lead you to feel more anxious, scattered, or overwhelmed. If you do end up having dry foods, like rice cakes, make sure you combine them with healthy fats, like ghee. Focus on cooked vegetables in soups, stir frys, currys, etc…
– Focus on Eating Actual Meals, Not Snacking. Sticking to routine really helps the body stay in rhythm with digestion and elimination. Most snacks fall into the dry and rough category as well (chips, pretzels, popcorn, granola bars, nuts and seeds, etc…). Three meals a day, with lunch being the largest meal, works best for most people.
– Eat fruits first. Fruit digests more quickly than other foods, so eating it before other foods creates more digestive ease, whereas eating fruit after other foods creates a fermentation situation in the stomach. If you like melons, they should be eaten away from other foods because they digest super quickly and don’t combine well with other foods at all. Eat melons at least 30 minutes before other foods or as an earlier lighter dinner.
– If Constipation or Irregularity is a Problem, travel with Triphala (an Ayurvedic herbal formula) and take 2-4 tablets before bed each night (take more if you ate challenging things to digest that day). When you wake up the next morning drink up to 4 cups of warm water. Add lemon if you like. Allow this to initiate a bowel movement before eating breakfast.
– Minimize Sugar, Alcohol and Caffeine. All of those things simply increase heat and decrease your immunity, stress the body, and disrupt digestion.
If you don’t sleep well, life is simply not as much fun. Not getting adequate sleep is one of the fastest ways to wear down your immune system. Travel presents certain sleep challenges, especially if you are changing time zones. As I mentioned before, travel elevates the elements of Air and Ether, which comprise Vata dosha.
In the realm of sleep, elevated Vata means that our nervous systems get amped up. We may struggle with anxiety, have a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or feel like our minds are going in a million directions at once. Specifically, Vata time, from 2am-6am, is a time when many travelers find themselves waking up with their minds racing. (Note: these are all symptoms of elevated Vata which may also occur without travel if your life is too busy, your energy is ungrounded, or you are undernourished).
Changing time zones creates another challenge for sleep which generally can be remedied in a couple days if you stick to staying on a schedule with the time zone you are visiting. Here are some tips for creating good sleep in general, (but especially) while traveling:
– Rub the soles of your feet with sesame oil before you go to bed. This calms the nervous system and brings in the grounding Earth element of Kapha which helps you sink into deep sleep and stay asleep. If you don’t have oil, just massage your feet.
– Don’t eat within 3 hours of going to sleep. When you are simultaneously digesting and sleeping, both happen inadequately. It’s best to do one at a time. This also makes a huge difference for energy, weight loss, mental clarity, and immunity.
– Drink warm milk (dairy or nut milk) with a pinch of nutmeg before going to bed. Warm milk is soothing and calming, and nutmeg is a sleep aid. It’s basically a comforting liquid to help you calm and relax when you find yourself in new territory. This is a lovely and more nourishing replacement for alcohol.
– Travel with an eye mask and ear plugs. Being able to create dark and quiet for yourself is necessary in many places you might be sleeping. You can get the best rest when noise and light are minimized. If you are in a noisy place, try having a fan running, bring a white noise machine with you, or play white noise on your phone while you sleep to create more calm in your environment.
– Take passionflower, chamomile, and or lemon balm tea or tincture. All of these herbs are helpful for sleep. They can help you relax and unwind if you have been busy, stressed or overly focused during your day.
– Go to bed before 10pm in the timezone you are visiting. When adjusting to a new place or moving around a lot, the nervous system can be on overdrive. Staying up past 10pm, puts you into Pitta time with the solar/lunar cycle. Pitta time at night (10pm-2am) is when the mind will start being more active and anxiety, plans, or projects can rule your life. Use the ease and weight of the earth element in Kapha time (6-10pm) to invite nourishing sleep that will set you up for a fabulous tomorrow. Be in your present time zone and stop thinking about what time it is where you came from.
These are simple, inexpensive ways to support your sleep and digestion to stay happy and healthy while you are traveling. You can also apply them when you are at home. All of these tips can be helpful if you are anxious or over stimulated, perhaps by the challenging state of the world today. Keeping simple daily rhythms for the body are very supportive. And, it goes without saying, do yoga!