Category Archives: Travel

The Circus in my Head

A few years ago, I was asking each of my yoga students how they were feeling before I started class. Most people told me something about their body: “my neck is stiff”, “my hips are tight”, “I hurt my knee but I don’t know how (or I know exactly how)”!

This is quite useful, because as a teacher it helped me decide which movements or poses to incorporate, which modifications to offer and to whom, etc.

But I’ll never forget the first time a woman decked out in colorful yoga leggings answered the question in a different way: “I have a circus in my head,” she said in her fabulous Italian accent. So true, my friend, so true.

To me, the goal of yoga isn’t really standing on your head or achieving ultimate pretzel state. Although it’s nice, it’s not even getting stronger or increasing flexibility or balance. The ultimate goal of yoga is to take all the activities my mind is capable of: perceiving, imagining, remembering, etc., directing this mind to a place of my CHOOSING, and holding my attention there as long as I want.

The circus often has other ideas about where attention should be placed.

I recently relocated back to the Boston area from Austin. Talk about chaos, and the need to multi-task. Three days prior to this writing, I was playing “mover delivery bingo”, crossing 188 numbers (in random order) off a sheet while 3 different guys brought things into my apartment, calling out numbers. All while trying to instruct them on which room to put things in, and where. Needless to say, this was all my mind was being instructed to do.

I’ve only been gone 3 years, and some things have changed. I can *sort of* drive on autopilot, but when I do, I often realize that no, this wasn’t the best way to go. I have to be a little more active in my attention when I want to get from point A to point B.

In the new Market Basket the other day, I had a pretty surreal experience. I was unfamiliar with the store — and quite frankly the layout is pretty hokey — but as I was walking through I would “tune in” to a single thing. For example, I was first captured by the woman hollering into her cell phone: “I don’t understand how they found out! They must have overheard me talking or something!!” The irony of that made me smile. An aisle later: listening to the cadence of some produce workers speaking Spanish.

It was as if I had a laser beam of attention that I focused on one particular situation, and everything else got a little hazy. I was feeling a little weird about it until a friend reminded me of what it really was: mindful attention. We’re so not used to it!

Even though I’m no longer in the corporate world, I consider myself a go-go-go kind of person. I’ll always be busy. So I know that sometimes health recommendations are just too.freaking.hard. I don’t sit in meditation — in fact health issues prevent me from being physically able to. My mindfulness, my meditation, my practices have had to be more IN the world than removed from it. And that’s taught me a lot.

In fact, all these upheavals in my life helped me rediscover a practical, easy-to-remember technique I learned years ago in a different context. When practicing it, I’ve greatly increased my ability to be present, especially when the circus wants to play. What’s even better is that each step in the 5-step technique is also independently do-able and useful in and of itself.

I want to share this with more people; while it’s not new, it’s likely a different combination and a new “take” on something that may just change your life.

So my hope is that, regardless of where you are located (and where your mind is) right now, I hope you’ll join me Wednesday evenings starting June 14. Learn more here.


Staying AWARE; the eye of the storm

I must say I was pretty surprised not to find “moving” on the list of the 10 most stressful life events. And when you factor in a cross-country move with a significant other and an animal, I’d expect it to at least be in there!

When I moved to Austin at the end of 2013, I was lucky. I was by myself, felt I had nothing to lose, and had someone there ready to accept me (and my stuff) with open arms and empty drawers. Although I loved the weather, my teaching gigs, my students and my clients, the energy and atmosphere of the South just doesn’t work for me, and it’s almost immediately noticeable when I’m back in Boston. So last week, I flew home with 2 big and 2 small suitcases, received by a gracious friend and her equally gracious beau, and hit the ground running on the apartment-hunt front. I can feel the almost 24-like timer in the corner of my screen, counting down the days I have to find something that’s do-able for my family for a year.

I’d love to say that being a Mind-body Wellness Consultant means I’ve taken GREAT care of myself. But honestly, it’s been quite hard.

I was up way too late the night of arrival, busy catching up, socializing, and then wound so tight sleep eluded me. The following 2-3 days were a frantic pile of running around–renting a car until mine arrived, looking at places I’d already lined up, texting / emailing / calling multiple people trying to show me places, etc. I ran around from mid-morning to early evening, and then last night had an agonizing decision to make over two “doable” but “not quite right” places I finally turned down, when 3 tosses of the coin came up tails and that was clearly the answer from the Universe. Talk about stress.

But I will recognize and even give myself some “kudos” (wow, that word hasn’t come up in a few years ;-)! Even as I was driving around–which BTW is SO SO much easier here than in Austin!–I became AWARE that I wasn’t hydrated; that I was hungry; that I was tired. When I NOTICED these things, I ACTED to make better choices in the next moments. I stopped at Whole Foods for a lunch break. I got a quinoa salad thing (at Starbucks of all places!) in the morning and put it in my lunch sack for later…I bought bottles of water and healthy GF nutrition bars. I even took my pile of supplements with me in a little plastic baggie–and I haven’t yet missed a dose. I also haven’t missed a day of my morning yoga practice, because I KNOW how much I need it.

This morning was more of the same, but after I turned in the rental car, I’m in, no where to go and nothing to do. In some ways, having this self-care day is exactly what I needed. I’m ensconced in tea and “Tuesdays with Morrie” (which I started on the plane and just finished). I had my first “meal” this morning around 11 o’clock: rotisserie chicken, basmati rice, and green beans, all smothered in olive oil. Ah…so soothing. When realtors text me, “I’m sorry, I can’t see anything until tomorrow.” And that’s true. For today, I’m hanging out in the eye of the storm. Trying to find some bit of stability, peace, and comfort with everything whirling around me.

What have you done to find some peace and stillness when everything around you is in upheaval? Do you NOTICE and CHANGE your behavior before it’s too late and you’re completely spent? I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts and advice!


When Attachment Bites (You in the Butt)

IMG_1089I just had the good fortune to spend two weeks in Maui near Ka’anapali Beach and Lahaina, an area that I visited for the first time in 2013 under much different life circumstances (different career, home, and relationships to name a few). While Maui was as I remembered it, I thought myself to be an entirely different person from the gal who landed there 3 years prior.

IMG_1064I wasn’t entirely eager to go back, having “been there, done that”. But as soon as I stepped off the plane, my body responded. I simply thrive in a more tropical environment–the sun and light, the humidity, the colorful landscape, the fresh air and light breeze. Although I’m well aware of the dangers of both the sun and sunblock lotions, I’m one who infrequently burns and I feel so much better when I have a tan. It was even easier to be healthy there: walk to the shop for a coffee and back, walk to the farmers market / grocery for veggies and back, walk to the fish market for types of fish unheard of on the mainland that only needed a simple dusting of salt, pepper, and lemon juice to be amazing. A lot of walking, not a lot of exercise, although I did take a few gentle yoga and NIA classes and enjoyed them all very much. I was staying in about a 700 sqft 1 bedroom with an ocean view. Absolute heavenly paradise.

As if that weren’t enough, an opportunity presented itself to do the unthinkable–to stay.  Well aware of my typical wanderlust for new countries and the concept of “island fever”, it was still an interesting proposition. I almost hadn’t wanted to come again at all, and now, here I was, considering whether it was more important to live in walking distance to the beach or to see the ocean from a lanai.

IMG_1176Although I hadn’t ever considered it, suddenly I was enamored with the idea, and thing after thing started to fall into place, seemingly to open the gate to this magical once-in-a-lifetime experience. And the more things that lined up, the more I started to desire this life. Even with all the untangling of life that would have to be done (especially leaving my classes/clients and ridding myself of possessions–again), I could feel myself ready to leap.

And then, what was starting to become unthinkable happened. It all fell apart. In the blink of an eye, at the height of my desire, it all just ended. And I was left with so many feelings: anger, disappointment, hurt. Those emotions, and the awareness that something I taught not more than a month ago in my yoga classes–non-attachment (Aparigraha) had just bitten me in the Maui-tanned and firmed buttocks.

IMG_1221So now what to do? Well, to start, I felt anger and disappointment in not just the situation or in others, but in myself for being duped. (It isn’t the first time, and one often thinks that in retrospect one would have learned something by now, right?) But here I was, feeling naive and stupid, starting to beat myself up. I’m happy to say that where I am now is this recognition of having been so attached to the idea, which is always the first step to treating yourself better in the face of disappointment.

But other interesting things have started happening. Coincidentally for spring, I have started getting rid of possessions again. I lived for two weeks in a very small space, with nothing but a few clothes and pairs of shoes and books, and things just felt, well, simpler. So I am purging “as if” I were going to live in that paradise. And I don’t mean just the easy stuff. I mean the hard stuff too. That large Rubbermaid bin of old journals and photo albums are getting a “best of” scan, and they are going too. There is only now and my future, and I feel lighter already.

I can’t say I’m not frustrated that I can’t walk–well, anywhere, to get food or fresh fish, but I’m doing what I can to preserve the simplicity with which I cook. I’m also consciously using more of my free time for reading, study, and reflection rather than mindlessly vegging in front of the TV. And I find that coming back to my classes feels smooth; it’s great when students and clients are happy I’ve returned, and I can continue helping people during my upcoming workshop. I am reinvigorated to help myself too. To work smarter, to play more, to examine this experience not to beat myself up more, but to ask what lesson I’m meant to learn from again being presented with attachment.

Aparigraha. Sometimes it’s a real bite in the butt!


Apple Leek Juice

apple_wineIf you’ve been reading my posts about our trip to Prague lately, you might remember that we enjoyed a tasting menu where I did the wine pairing and my partner did a juice pairing. There were many fabulous juices, so I thought I’d try to recreate them. Here’s an interesting combination that’s pretty easy to make.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large organic apples
  • 1 leek

Instructions:

  • Wash all ingredients thoroughly.
  • Chop the apples just enough so that they work with your juicer.
  • Chop the end off the white side of the leek, and then continue chopping the leek into rounds until you get to the other end, which you can discard.
  • Juice the apples.
  • Juice 2-3 slices of leek, starting from the white end and moving up.
  • Stir your result and taste. Add more leek if desired, but be careful, as this is a strong flavor and it doesn’t take much!
  • Use the rest of the leek in your dish of choice, or make more juice!

When your health routines get disrupted

Traveling naturally disrupts one’s routines. In fact, that’s one of the great parts of traveling–to experience something new, outside the ordinary. However, it’s also sometimes important for physical, mental, and/or emotional health to maintain some routines you know help you, even when everything else around you might be different.

During my recent trip to Prague, Czech Republic, I allowed myself to be on vacation. I did many things I wouldn’t normally do. And, because I knew it would keep me grounded and happy, I tried to maintain my short daily yoga practice as given by my teacher.

My current practice requires that I take several different positions with my body:

  • standing (sometimes at a wall)
  • lying on my back
  • sitting on a chair with my thighs parallel to the floor

IMG_0604These positions are pretty simple when I’m at home in my own practice space. But in a small hotel room, it can be a little more challenging. For example, due to various wall hangings, windows, and furniture, I didn’t really have access to a “wall”. So I used these closet doors. They were the widest “wall-like” surface in the room, and although they sometimes slid open as I did my movements, they were the best available substitute.

Although I didn’t have a ton of space, putting down my travel mat and lying on my back wasn’t a problem. Next was sitting with thighs parallel to the floor, which honestly challenges me in general, because I’m usually too short for most chairs to do this. At home, I have yoga blocks and cushions and can adjust both the seat height and floor height easily.

IMG_0607But again, when in a different space one has to make do, so here was my set up. There were two firm show pillows for the bed, but those weren’t high enough for the chair. So I used another of the firmer pillows from the bed to get the right height. It was a little less stable than yoga blocks, but for the most part, it worked.

Did I practice every day? Honestly no. Did I always do all parts of my practice–asana (physical movement), pranayama (breathing practice), and meditation? No. But there was only one day I skipped altogether. Sometimes, due to all the walking, my body cried out for more asana. Other times, possibly due to jet lag, I couldn’t seem to extend my exhale. And contrary to that, consciously attempting to extend my exhalation helped me fall asleep some nights. On a night that I saw some incredible manifestations of the moon (see below), my meditations happened with more ease.

IMG_0475

Town Square, Kunta Hora

I had also brought my Ayurvedic oils with me, which helped tremendously given the dry air on the plane, in the hotel room, and being outside in the cold wind every day. I used them fairly frequently!

Was I perfect while I was away? No. Do I feel good about what I did to maintain my health and sanity while traveling to another country, during a time of increased world turmoil, handling drastic time changes, long flights, and unfamiliar sights and languages? Absolutely. I did what I was able to do, and I let the rest go. I continue to do what I can as I re-enter my more daily life routine, knowing that it will take at least a week to get fully adjusted to “normal”.

What about you? Do you struggle to keep your healthy habits when life changes around you? Do you beat yourself up when you don’t maintain your habits perfectly? The holidays can be a time of disruption for many of us, whether or not we travel. I can relate, and I’m here to help if you should need it! Feel free to share your experiences and let me know your strategies for staying true to yourself during this holiday season. And look for my stories from Prague, coming to the blog soon!


Yoga Practice Off the Mat: My Dance Weekend Experience

yogi_dance_imgAfter not having set foot on dance floor for over 3 months, I decided to attend a weekend dance event. I originally started doing West Coast Swing in 2004 because I had a lot of spare time after getting my Master’s degree, and I loved how it made me feel physically and emotionally. Many studies have shown that dancing is good for your health, but I can also attribute dancing to making me more engaged with the outside world. And like yoga, I believe it has helped in unraveling my insides, some of which aren’t always pretty.

Part of the reason I hadn’t been dancing was because I felt like it had become a choice to dance or pursue my yogic studies. There always seemed to be too many things at odds with one another in each of these passions. For Ayurveda and yoga, I got up early, I ate light and clean, I practiced mindfulness and compassion. For dancing, I stayed up until Ayurveda would have me wake, food and alcoholic drinks were a prevalent and constant temptation, not to mention all the competition, ego, judgement, and cliques that seemed the norm in the dance community.

But since yoga is really about a way of living in the world (99% of which happens off the mat), I decided to use the dance weekend as a test: could I be a yogi while participating in the hobby I used to enjoy so much? Here’s how it went.

Friday Evening

  • 8:30 pm: I arrived at the hotel, pleased as punch that I had two, like-minded and considerate roommates with whom to share the weekend. Space in the room was respectfully shared from the moment I arrived. I felt content, and I set an intention to have fun this weekend.
  • 9:30 pm: While watching the first competition, I caught myself judging other dancers, trying to select who’d come in first, second, or third place, and made comments to nearby friends about outfits and dancing (some good and some not so good). I vowed to just sit and enjoy watching others express themselves while doing something that gave them pleasure.
  • 10 pm: My former dance partner (a vegan, neuro-muscular massage therapist tickled at my yogic interests) asked me, “are you the same person?” I smiled confidently and replied, “No, I’m not.” Friends encouraged me to compete the next day, and I knew I needed to make a decision by the morning.
  • 11 pm: Having gotten up at 5am, I felt jet-lagged. I decided I’d had a long day, and turned in. (Something unheard of at a dance event.)

Saturday

  • 6:15 am: After initially waking at 4 am I got up and did some yoga postures, meditated, and then decided to compete.
  • 9 am: I started to second guess my decision, thinking it wouldn’t be worth the hit to my self-esteem. I observed this indecisiveness as a pattern, realized it was not good for me, and chose to just own the decision I made instead of doubting it. I felt better.
  • 12 pm: I was proud of myself for maintaining phase 3 of my Buddha cleanse, eating the lunch I had brought with me.
  • 1 pm: I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with two professional instructors who surprised and inspired me by talking all about how important the breath is while dancing because it calms the body and enables communication with your partner. They had us breathe deeply in, pause slightly at the top, and exhale through our movements. I was so excited and grateful I could hardly contain myself! Pranayama on the dance floor!
  • 3:15 pm: I spent the next several hours trying to find my full yogic breath while social dancing in between comps. Initially it was distracting, and I couldn’t do that and keep my steps. But after a short time, I started to feel my breath as grounding. Just what I needed. I did feel as though my breath could breathe life into my dance!
  • 4:30 pm: My roommate and I rushed to get ready for comps. We’d been chatting about this amazing rhythmic yoga flow and completely lost track of time. I had 3 really fun dances, where I truly breathed and felt comfortable in my body while on the competition floor. (Competing without freaking out is an issue for me for as long as I’ve been alive.)
  • 5 pm: Some friends in a lower division got called back for semis. I quickly ran to the restroom so I could be back in time to watch them dance. When I emerged from the stall, I saw a wall of urinals and a close friend turned around to say, “Kali, you in the right place?” I panicked and ran out, amazed at how un-mindful I’d been. I continued this by nearly sitting on a guy’s lap when I got back into the ballroom because he’d taken my chair. Of course my friends thought all this was hysterical.
  • 6:15 pm: A pro told me and a friend / fellow competitor that we looked good on the floor. I started to have hopes of making finals.
  • 7 pm: I realized once five of us arrived at the restaurant for dinner that I’d screwed up the reservation and we didn’t actually have one. My friends were so kind (reminding me gently of my earlier mishaps) and the restaurant was accommodating. I breathed with the discomfort of not being perfect, and tried to accept that that’s really OKMy friends loved me anyway.
  • 8 pm: I found out I was only one of three other girls cut completely from the finals list. Part of me said, “of course, you haven’t danced in 3 months, what do you expect?” Another part was sad and disappointed. Yet another was thrilled for my roommate, who did make the cut. Behind it all, my true Self is amazed I’m actually remembering my yoga training and starting to allow myself to >feel each layer of my emotions.
  • 9 pm: I felt really tired. One of my roommates talked me out of breaking my Buddha cleanse with a coffee. I decided to do Viparita Karani instead, but never ended up actually doing it.
  • 9:30 – 11 pm: I did battle with my “itty bitty shitty committee“. My roommate told me to dance with a more advanced guy–I did, and while it was fine, I still felt like it was a “pity dance”. When she wanted to teach yoga with me at dance events, I wondered why. I wanted to eat something I shouldn’t. I doubted my ability to be a good dancer, a good yoga teacher, to maintain a healthy body. I saw a woman who I’ve had issues with in the past and this riled me up. I reluctantly danced with the beginner who kept asking me, and wondered why on earth he was so persistent. Then suddenly I remembered my intention for the weekend: FUN!
  • 11:30 pm: I complained to a friend about the dude selling dance shoes, because he’d been saying wacky things to me about buying something every time I pass his tables. Soon after it occurred to me that maybe I could be more light-hearted about it.  
  • 12:30 am: I had good dances with old friends and new partners. I got a second wind. I focused on having a good time. I marveled at how applicable my yoga training was: emotions really are just waves one has to ride; the amount of time between them just varies, as does their magnitude.
  • 2:30 am: I kindly explained to the man who had been asking me to dance repeatedly that I was really flattered but there were a lot of people I hadn’t seen in awhile who I’d like to dance with. He took it well, and I didn’t feel like I’d been a snob.
  • 3:30 am: I was tickled when a pro I liked started running around the social floor with a child-like grin on his face, cutting in on random couples and stealing followers for a few passes. They must have been tickled too!
  • 4 am: I hadn’t been on the floor for about 45 minutes, and so I decided to call it a night. A respectable time for a dance event. I felt proud of myself.

Sunday

  • 9 am: I woke up after having had less than 5 hours of sleep, which I knew was less than what my body needed. I spotted one of my roommates on her yoga mat, and got down on the floor myself. I heard her Ujjayi breathing and started my own short flow, listening to what my body needed me to pay attention to after all that dancing. I smiled when I glanced up and saw that we were in similar postures. I felt very connected to her.
  • 10 am: The three of us worked together perfectly to all get showers and pack up in time for the 11 am check out. I felt even more grateful that these lovely people were in my life.
  • 11 am: After taking half of my gear outside, I became too enamored by the beautiful sunny day to spend it sitting or dancing in the air-conditioned ballroom. After checking with my roommate that she’d be OK with me missing her dance in the afternoon, I said some other goodbyes. One couple told me I should have taught a morning yoga class; I agreed and hoped to offer something the following year.
  • 3:30 pm: I wrote this blog, feeling like yes, I could attend another dance event, AND remain true to my yoga practices. In fact, as with anything else in life, YOGA JUST HELPS YOU LIFE.
  • 7 pm: I found out my roommate placed 5th, and that a dear friend came in 1st place. I texted them both back with a big smile on my face, sending them my love as part of celebrating their success, and knowing that my value as a person had nothing to do with whether I placed in a dance competition.

Note: July 2012 repost.


A Corporate Getaway – How Yoga and Meditation Super Charge Your Team

Copyright: http://www.123rf.com/profile_nyul

Note: This is a guest post from Aliza Unterberg. Some of you know I worked in a corporate environment for over 15 years, and that I love to travel! Although I haven’t personally visited this place (yet), please consider it (or something like it) if you are in a position to influence your corporation’s sponsored health activities. Remember, your employees’ health and happiness affects everything they do!

You know that feeling when you come home after a full day of work then instead of doing all of your errands you just want to crash? You are in a constant need of a massage and fatigue just takes over you? Is there too much stress in your life? How do you get rid of these issues?

The short answer is to relax your body, but what does that entail? Many people suggest exercise in the morning in order to get the juices flowing to energize you. But if you’re anything like me, you would rather hit the snooze button and sleep for that extra half an hour before starting your day. Starting to move your body seems scary because committing to a routine of exercises seems daunting. Luckily for you there is a way that you can improve yourself while not having an overbearing workout.

Chances are that you are not the only one at work who feels this way. There must be at least a few colleagues at your place of work who know EXACTLY what you are going through. What you and your colleagues need is a corporate yoga retreat. Not only will it jump start you on becoming healthier but it is a bonding experience that you can share with people like you. In addition, it is much easier to start working out when you have a support group. Whether it is one or 20 people joining you, the fact that others are challenged just like you will motivate you and in turn you will motivate them as well.

A yoga retreat will take you away from work for a few days so you will have the time to really let loose and learn to take care of those issues that link to stress both physically and mentally. At the retreat you will learn key elements in how to control your body and mind, at least as a starter set.

How can yoga help me? I’m glad you asked. By practicing yoga you are creating an environment for your body where you improve your circulation and balance, strengthen and stretch the spine and legs amongst other parts of our body, learning to breathe correctly, and more.

Good circulation is a key ingredient to feeling better. By sitting at a desk all day your blood isn’t getting proper circulation. Similar to sitting on a 12-hour plane ride without moving, your body will become sore and uncomfortable. Yoga offers positions that by doing them even as a beginner will improve circulation to problem areas. Good circulation and balance can ease those back and leg aches from sitting at your desk. Similarly, strengthening the spine and legs are for those hunched in front of their computer screens for hours at a time. Many people don’t realize that by the lack of posture you are seriously damaging your neck and back. Yoga will work on posture and by strengthening these areas you wont feel the need to get that massage after every day of work.

Now I know what you are probably thinking, “I know how to breathe, yoga can’t help me there.” Right?! You are right and you are wrong. True you are a living being and are only like that because of breathing. However, by controlling your breathing you can sufficiently lessen stress and tension as well as improving bodily movements.

When it comes to practicing yoga, similar to other exercises you can start small. Doing a few poses each morning will have an affect on you sooner than you think. From there you grow and strengthen yourself and you’ll find that the more you do physically the better you will feel mentally.

This seems like a lot to take in and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Yoga is an extraordinary practice with endless benefits. That is why a retreat is a perfect place to start (or to you yogis out there to continue). This experience will immerse you into the beautiful culture of the Zen and give you the proper jumpstart you need to do it on your own at home.

One such place to do this is the Samahita Retreat on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand. There you can relax, meditate, and even explore the rest of the island. Koh Samui is a tropical paradise that you must see at least once in your lifetime, so why not for a reason such as your health? Whoever said not to mix business with pleasure, obviously never did yoga.

About Aliza

Aliza Unterberg is a design student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. One
of her biggest passions and guilty pleasures is to travel the world and learn more about it.

4 Ways to Not Lose Your S**t While in Traffic

When I moved to Austin a few months ago, a local friend warned me about the traffic here. Being from Boston–where over the course of the past 13 years I honed my wicked Massholian driving skills–I casually brushed off his warnings much like I’d flick away a buzzing insect. Now, 5 months into adjusting to life in Texas, I will say that I’m still quite puzzled by how people drive here. I honestly don’t get it, and I’m pretty confident that it’s a large contributor to the traffic issue. But, I digress.

There have been times when I have felt stressed while in traffic; several local clients of mine have also expressed that driving is a source of lots of stress and tension for them (especially if they’re Yankees like me). So, here is some advice about how not to lose your s**t while in traffic, regardless of where you’re commuting to or from!

  1. Find ways to experience pleasure / fun: this is actually my favorite strategy, which is why I list it first. An example of a safe way to do this while driving (or rather sitting in a parking lot that should be a highway) is to put on some awesome music. I prefer the up-beat, old-school, belt-it-out variety, but you may prefer more relaxing, new-age, meditative tunes, or listening to that book you’d never have time to sit down and really read.
  2. Generate compassion for other drivers: this may be the most difficult, and also the most rewarding technique. Instead of thinking of what “that guy/gal” isn’t doing right, try to imagine all the ways they are just like you. Maybe they’re tired, hungry, or just had a fight with their partner. Maybe their minds are on their jobs, or thinking about doing something more fun. Another way of doing this is recognizing that it’s not THEY who are traffic; to them, YOU are traffic!
  3. Practice breathing: so many of us breathe shallowly throughout the day, and we are more prone to it when feeling stressed out. Breathing deeply engages the parasympathetic nervous system, increasing our oxygen intake and helping us feel calm and centered. Yet, we don’t often have time to sit down and focus on our breath in meditation. As part of your daily self-care, use the fact that you’re sitting (especially when you’re not moving) to try a simple breathing exercise like counting your breath: e.g. “one” on your inhale, “two” on your exhale, “three” on your inhale, and so on. Don’t force your breath, just notice how it is naturally. And when you lose count, notice that, and begin at one again. (Check out Andrew Weil’s site for some other useful breathing exercises–though be careful of which ones you choose to engage in while driving! You never want to feel lightheaded or overly distracted.)
  4. Create a mental gratitude list: we often read that listing things we’re grateful for can help improve our mood and improve our relationships, among other benefits. But taking time to do this in a journal (at least for me) rarely happens. So, why not use the time in traffic to start listing off all the things you’re grateful for? You can start with your current day, or look to your past, or even run through your intended future plans. Or you can think about people, places, or things. For more ideas, check out 60 Things to Be Grateful For in Life.

We tend to think of being “stuck” in traffic as negative, but each of the above strategies ask for a shift in our perspective. More specifically, traffic gives us time to enjoy and engage in practices for stress reduction. Since most of us find it difficult to include time for self-care as part of our typical day, traffic offers this to us. (Think of it this way: it’s like when you’re run down because you’re doing too much, and then you get sick. Your body actually forces you to rest and slow down.) So, if we re-frame the time we spend behind the wheel, traffic is actually a gift!

How can YOU make your experience of being in traffic a gift today? If you have another idea to share, please let me know. We can use all the help we can get. 🙂

How to Prevent Jet Lag: A Remedy Reviewed

Before our recent trip to Belgium and Amsterdam, I decided to try an Ayurvedic remedy to prevent jet lag. Typically whenever I fly long distances with more than five hours of time difference, the first couple days are really rough. My whole body feels incredibly heavy, it’s difficult to focus my mind, and I get dizzy. Since we often do trips that are “three days here, three days there,” being in this state can really impact my enjoyment of the new scenery! Here’s my story and assessment of how well this simple Ayurvedic remedy worked for me.

How to Prevent Jet Lag
The remedy I tried was from the book, “The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies“, by Dr. Vasant Lad. Dr. Lad attributes jet lag to an imbalance of vata in the body, specifically excess vata. (For those not familiar with Ayurveda, vata is one of the three doshas or constitutions, is represented by the element air, and is characterized as light, dry, cold, and mobile. Given that the activity of flying has many similarities with this dosha, one can see how balance might be tipped in the vata direction when traveling.) The goal with this remedy is to reduce vata to bring the body back into balance.

Dr. Lad’s remedy consisted of three parts:

  • Taking 2 capsules of ginger with a cup of water an hour before flying
  • Drinking 2-3 cups of water at intervals of 1-2 hours while flying, and avoiding caffeine
  • When arriving, rubbing warm sesame oil on the scalp and the soles of feet, and drinking 1 cup of hot milk with a pinch of nutmeg and ginger

How I Used the Remedy
Unfortunately in the rush to pack, I didn’t get the ginger capsules but I had ginger, so instead I cut a few big slices and ate it raw. I know that may sound gross, but I’d done it before for a cleanse and I got kind of used to it. The only challenge was whether to eat it before flying at all, or just flying the long flight (we had only an hour or so flight to JFK and then a 7 hour flight to Brussels). I decided to wait and eat it right before the long flight.

I always drink lots of water and avoid caffeine, so that part was easy. I’m not sure whether I did it at intervals of 1-2 hours, but every time my water bottle was empty, I asked the flight attendant for a refill.

Before dinner, I started my hunt for hot milk, and found it in the Jazz Cafe at Hotel Navara, where we were staying in Brugge. The bartender didn’t ask any questions as I happily poured my Ziplock baggie of ginger and nutmeg into the cup. I will say I did much more than a pinch, and probably would have had a smoother drink had I used less. Still, it was very tasty (and I don’t usually do dairy, especially whole milk)!

Before bed, I rubbed (room temperature) sesame oil into my feet and scalp. I suppose I could have run the container under hot water to warm it up, but I didn’t.

There was an optional step that advised travelers to drink tea made of equal parts chamomile, mint, and jatamansi, but I didn’t do this. I didn’t have time to get the loose tea, and wondered if it might invite inquiry at security.

How Well the Remedy Worked
For reference, our first flight left Boston around 4 pm EST on Friday August 31. We boarded our connecting flight from JFK around 7 pm EST that same day, arrived in Brussels Saturday September 1 around 9 am CET, and then spent a couple hours getting to Brugge via the train.

I didn’t set any expectations up front about what I expected from the remedy, which makes it a little more difficult to gauge now that I’m home. But I will say this: my husband voiced his tiredness and overall readiness for bed hours earlier than I felt the need to sleep. At 8 pm CET on Saturday we decided to turn in, and I was up reading for about an hour after he’d already gone to sleep. I did fall asleep easily, but woke at 1 am, getting confused about the time and doing a half hour workout in the hotel gym before I realized it was two in the morning! Slightly embarrassed (with no one to witness it), I went back to bed and slept like a baby. The following day I felt fine and we went to bed at a normal time (somewhere between 9-10 pm CET), but I woke again at 1:30 am CET. I intentionally went to the gym this time, hoping to repeat the success of the prior day. Unfortunately, this time my workout backfired and I ended up sitting up until dawn and reading books on my iPad, because I was too wound up to return to sleep. That day of course I was very tired, but the rest of the trip I was fine.

What Traditional Medicine and the Scientific Community Says

  • The medical community understands jet lag to be a disruption of the body’s natural circadian rhythms, which is in line with the core principles of Ayurveda. Doctors offer similar advice about staying hydrated with water and avoiding caffeine when flying.
  • Drinking warm milk is typical grandmotherly advice, but the belief that it’s the tryptophan in this beverage that makes one sleepy has actually not been proven. Rather, like a warm mug of chamomile tea, the medical community only references that the act of drinking something warm and soothing comforts us and therefore helps with relaxation before bed. So drink up the milk and/or the tea, taking it in with all your senses. (Which by the way, is another very Ayurvedic thing to do!)
  • Ginger is typically associated with relieving an upset stomach and aiding in digestion. In Ayurveda it has many reported benefits, including being good for lubrication of the joints and for circulation, which could be helpful when one is seated in a cramped airplane for hours. (Stretching regularly, of course, is also recommended.) WebMD mentions ginger as a way to treat muscle soreness and low back pain, likely because of its ability to reduce inflammation. I can see how that would be useful after sitting in the airplane seats, which don’t appear to have been designed for anyone I know.
  • Another “non-FDA approved” aspect of this remedy is the topical use of sesame oil. Ayurveda recommends sesame oil quite a bit, especially for self massage to promote general health. There are a few studies that show the topical use of sesame oil might be “useful,” particularly as an ingredient for alleviating knee pain from osteoarthritis and inhibiting the growth of malignant melanoma. Unrelated I know, but if there’s some evidence circulating for such conditions (which in my opinion, are much worse than something like jet lag!), I don’t doubt sesame oil’s power. It’s also had many uses throughout history. Plus, who doesn’t love a massage?

My Blog, My Soapbox
Like anything else, there are conflicting viewpoints about whether techniques like the Ayurvedic jet lag remedy I described above really work. Without scientific research, many such remedies are looked upon with skepticism. Here’s my personal view:

  • these remedies have been around for thousands of years and are in line with nature
  • more scientific studies are being conducted about yoga and meditation, showing they really work–I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future, many more “unproven” techniques are supported by data. I’d rather not wait, and experience them for myself in the present.
  • many of them are easy enough to try (though you may have to shop around for supplies)
  • given the list of side effects listed for prescription and over-the-counter medications these days, I don’t worry much about taking herbs
  • whether its a placebo effect or not, if it works for me, I’ll continue doing it
  • if it doesn’t work for me, I’ll try something else, no big deal!

The caveat of course, is if one is sensitive to certain things, has existing medical conditions that require medications with which herbs might interfere, or is worried about side effects. One should always talk with their health care providers about what they’re doing to make sure a remedy is safe to explore (but don’t be surprised if they don’t think it will actually help!).

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