Ayurveda, an ancient approach to holistic health, can be a huge help when it comes to the wear and tear travel takes on your body and mind.
It’s happened to the best of us: You arrive at your destination only to realize that you left your vitamins at home. You’re in a foreign country, you can’t get a replacement, and who knows what effect a different product will have on your body. Truth is, however, there are ways to get your body in alignment and feeling good that don’t involve a visit to the drug store. After all, cosmetics and over-the-counter drugs are relatively new inventions—people have been tending to their health since, well, since humans evolved. We turned to practitioners and experts who carry the torch for traditional health regimens to get their tips on how modern-day travelers can bring those ancient tactics to life.
1. An Introduction to Ayurveda
Ayurveda literally means wisdom or science (ayur) of life (veda) and can be generally explained as a system of medicine that incorporates diet and lifestyle. Though it's hard to pinpoint its origins, its tenets have been widely practiced throughout India for thousands of years. It’s more of a comprehensive, thoughtful lifestyle than a series of remedies, not least because many aspects are rooted in the importance of ritual, but there are certainly some elements that a beginner can take up, especially when travel calls for a reboot to the bod.
“Travel disrupts some of the things we believe to be ordinarily in balance in our bodies because our environment changes. Ayurveda is not about a quick fix. It’s about the dialogue to fix imbalances that are environmental, diet-related, and anything else that a shift in circumstances—whether that’s geography or the general stresses of travel—can impose on us," says Shrankhla Holecek, the Los Angeles-based founder and CEO of Uma Oils. "All disease and discomfort emanate from imbalances in the body.” And, she notes, there aren’t products you necessarily need to buy to lead an Ayurvedic life. It’s about fostering a good relationship with the environment and having a solid understanding of your body and the ingredients in things you use. It's about being aware of your surroundings and your place in them.
2. Get Grounded
When you get to a new geography, it’s important to always “plant one’s self.” That can be as basic as taking your shoes off and walking around, ideally in grassy area. “Walk in local grass or sand with feet directly in connection with the earth. It will help deal with system shocks, like jet lag, as it directs the body’s focus to the environment you are living in at the given time you’re a part of it.” Relish the local sun, the local air, and the local topography. They’re all factors that contribute to getting yourself adjusted to your new setting.
Ayurveda treats the feet as one of the most important parts of the body. They are, after all, in immediate physical contact with your setting. Therefore, they deserve specific attention. “Massage your feet with sesame oil. It’s the most grounding oil,” says Nisha Saini, board-certified holistic health practitioner and founder and director of NY Ayurveda & Panchakarma Center. “It calms the feet.”
3. Outsmart Jetlag
But before you can deal with the many things your body needs tending to, recalibrating your mind is critical. Everyone knows the foggy-headedness that comes with landing in a new place—let alone a new time zone. It’s hard to focus on anything else until those mental clouds recede. When Shrankhla lands in a new place, the first thing she does is wash her hair. She recommends massaging your head with oil before shampooing so your hair and your skin will better reset.
4. Eat Local
If Ayurveda is all about getting your body in sync with a new environment, what you eat is clearly critical. Temperature, water quality, all sorts of other ecological factors dictate the region’s food systems, so eating locally can help you acclimate to your surrounds. “Within reason, eating and drinking locally—as long as you feel safe—helps you thrive faster in a new environment, even if it’s only a three-day vacation,” Shrankhla says.
5. Purify From the Inside Out
Some of the most powerful practices are very simple, explains Nisha, who grew up in India with a family that adhered to an Ayurvedic lifestyle from the time she was very young. Incorporating copper into your daily life can have a strong internal cleansing effect, leading to increased metabolism and immunity building. Of course, the question that immediately comes to mind is: Huh?? How do I ingest copper?
It’s quite straightforward: Nisha carries a copper bottle for her drinking water throughout the day. Also, as part of her daily routine, she keeps water in a copper glass overnight to drink the next day. People who observe Ayurvedic traditions also incorporate a tongue-scraper into their daily routine: True to its name, the elongated horseshoe shaped tool scrapes impurities from the tongue, leading to healthier gums and better overall dental health. Nisha also suggests swishing with sesame oil each morning for further purifying effects.
6. Jump-start Your Immune System
Ginger, turmeric, honey, and anything iron-based, like spinach and beets, is said to help boost immunity, so incorporate those items into what you eat and drink as much as you can. Moreover, as Ayurvedic traditions center on ways to enhance the body’s capacity to absorb and process these healthful ingredients, you'll want to be smart about your consumption. Turmeric, for instance, is better absorbed with black pepper, Shrankhla explains, and even more so with food. She recommends making a tea with the spice, black pepper, and almond milk.