Five Ways to Travel Better with Ayurveda

Glowing health usually requires balance, moderation, and routine. But variety is the spice of life—travel enlivens the spirit and new adventures feed the soul!  However, many travelers find it difficult to happily hop around the country (or the world) without feeling some common travel woes, like disturbed sleep, poor digestion, constipation, or mild anxiety.

From the perspective of Ayurveda (yoga’s sister science), most travel discomforts are due to increased vata dosha, the energy governing all movement in the body-mind. Despite constitutional differences, everyone has vata dosha, which supports movement in the respiratory, circulatory, nervous, and digestive systems (and elsewhere). When vata is in a healthy state, these systems run smoothly—breath is fluid, elimination easy, thoughts well communicated, etc. But when the momentum of external travel increases the momentum of internal vata, the emotional result is feeling wound up, scattered, forgetful, or anxious, while the physical symptoms can include gas, bloating, fidgeting, restlessness, or dryness. These challenges can too quickly tank a great vacation.

Ayurvedic techniques can help. As a traveling yoga teacher for more than a decade, I’ve found these simple self-care practices make travel easier and much less stressful on both mind and body. Next time you’re living out of a suitcase, try a few of these time-tested tips to boost your travel happiness!

  1. Mindful Eating: Food trucks and street food can be the very best finds on a trip but, in the excitement of the crowd, it’s easy to forget the tenets of mindful eating. Ayurveda teaches that how we eat is as important as what we eat. To properly savor and digest all that deliciousness, slow down, take a seat, savor the aroma, and chew thoroughly—rather than gulping while walking. Making sure the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” system) is in charge during a meal is key—so maintain mindfulness on the road for a happy belly.
  2. Abhyanga: Vata also governs the sense of touch, so if you toss and turn all night while sleeping in a new place, it might be the sheets! Put an invisible shield of organic oil on your skin and you’ll rest easier. After a relaxing shower, soothingly rub a thin layer of oil over limbs and torso (one ounce is usually enough), using long strokes over bones and circles over joints. Spend a few extra minutes massaging the low back, feet, and ears—all prime massage locations to reduce stress and support a good night’s sleep. Try coconut oil when it’s warm, almond oil for temperate climes, and sesame oil in cold locations. (Avoid during fever, flu, or pregnancy.)
  3. Triphala: If mindful eating and staying well-hydrated aren’t enough to keep your digestive system on track, you might explore Ayurveda’s ancient formula, triphala.  Made of only three dried Indian fruits (tri=three; phala=fruit), this tri-doshic formula supports digestive and eliminative health, and is widely considered safe and effective. Try taking two tablets before bed during travel. I never travel without it! (Avoid for diarrhea, dysentery, pregnancy, or if on blood thinners. Always consult with your doctor before taking any Ayurvedic herbs.)
  4. Garshana: Although excess vata dosha tends to be the main cause of travel discomfort, if you’re traveling during springtime (kapha season) and indulging in excess food, beer, or gelato, then excess kapha can accumulate, too—leaving you with sluggish digestion, water retention, or foggy thinking. A simple Ayurvedic technique to restore balance for excess kapha during travel is garshana, a dry exfoliation massage with silk gloves (vegan gloves are available, too). To remove dead skin, improve circulation, support lymph decongestion, and provide a warm sense of lightness, briskly scrub the skin three to five times in each area, with long strokes over bones and circles over joints. Follow with a brisk oil massage, using just a little oil to ensure that the skin remains silky soft after the scrub. Rinse the gloves and hang them to dry like a washcloth—they’re easy to fit in a packed suitcase. (Avoid if you’re pregnant or have a skin infection.)
  5. Aromatherapy: You don’t need multiple cups of coffee to stay alert and bright on long car rides. Eucalyptus, mint, and citrus aromas are lovely for refreshing the mind. If you find the trip more stressful than exhausting, try lavender or sandalwood. Carry a small bottle in your bag and take a few deep whiffs as needed. For ease, I always travel with a Neti Stik—a cotton swab soaked in aromatherapy—easy to sniff and no spilling! It’s a quick way to change your mood, revitalize your mind, and maintain presence for all the precious moments of a trip.

Find out about upcoming yoga and Ayurveda programs with Larissa Hall Carlson at Kripalu.

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Larissa Hall Carlson, E-RYT 500, MA, 20-year Kripalu faculy and former Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, guides retreats, directs trainings, and provides Ayurvedic consultations across the country.

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