Ayurveda for Your Summer Vacation
by Brian Leaf
My wife, Gwen, loves to travel during the summer—the more exotic the better. Her ideal trip: a walking tour across China. She’d try every new food. She’d thrive on the unfamiliar experiences and days of interminable rambling. She’d end the trip feeling younger and more fit than ever.
I would probably accompany my wife on this trip, but it would not leave me feeling younger and more fit. On the contrary, it would almost certainly leave me ungrounded, exhausted, and (as long as you’re asking) quite flatulent.
Which makes perfect sense—at least according Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old traditional medicine of India. Ayurveda teaches that we’re not all built the same. We have different strengths, gifts, challenges, and stressors. What’s unhealthy for one person can be therapeutic for another.
According to Ayurveda, every person is a blend of three proclivities, or doshas, described as ether/air (vata), fire (pitta), and water/earth (kapha), and, in most people, one of the doshas predominates. Folks like me, for whom the vata dosha is dominant, are usually slim, creative, quick-thinking, sensitive to cold, and sometimes anxious. We’re the ones complaining about a drafty window and asking if yesterday’s tuna is still good. We’re finicky eaters and we thrive on routine. Basically, we don’t travel so well.
People for whom the fire dosha, pitta, is dominant tend to be fair-skinned, intense, and sometimes overly critical or angry. They’re fine travelers but dislike heat and direct sun. At the seashore, they’ll be the ones under the oversized umbrellas.
The kaphas in the lot are usually sturdier and more grounded, but can sometimes feel stuck in a rut. Travel, changes in routine, and adventure keep them feeling fresh.
Thankfully, the best part of Ayurveda is that by implementing changes to diet, exercise, and routine, we can minimize our challenges and maximize our strengths. Ayurveda teaches me that I can remain balanced and be a better, less whiny, less gassy travel companion by staying warm; eating cooked foods with a bit of spice; calming my anxious mind by looking over the day’s schedule each morning; spending quiet time in nature; and avoiding caffeine, wheat, sugar, and processed foods. This can help me stay relaxed as I deal with the stress and unpredictability of being far from home and out of my usual routine—and make me a more functional parent during the 24-hour-a-day family time that vacation brings.
And what about the other dosha, our fiery friends, the pittas in the room? Larissa Hall Carlson, Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, has these tips: Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water (add lime to make it even more refreshing) or coconut water. Choose cooling foods and herbs like cucumber, watermelon, juicy berries, aloe vera, mint, and cilantro. Avoid overly oily, fried, and pungent foods. Avoid overstimulation to the senses: Turn down lights and choose music that is soothing and relaxing. Try cooling pranayama such as nadi shodhana (alternate-nostril breathing) and sitali (the cooling breath). (To practice sitali, inhale through your teeth or curled tongue and exhale through your nose.)
Ayurveda is, in a sense, the instructional manual for our bodies. It helps me understand why Gwen thrives on travel, why it makes me constipated, and what I can do to change that. My redheaded pitta pal, Zach, can use Ayurveda to stay cool even when he compromises with his wife, Rachel, and has to spend three days at the beach. I’ll use Ayurveda this summer to stay grounded on our vacation, and Gwen will use it to stay vibrant—even though we’ll only make it to Cape Cod instead of China.
Brian Leaf is a Kripalu Yoga teacher and author of the memoir Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi: Cloth Diapers, Cosleeping, and My (Sometimes Successful) Quest for Conscious Parenting.
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