Is your social media feed flooded with pictures of people vacationing? I love the look of happiness on their faces. After all, these past 16-18 months have been traumatizing. Have you noticed how many of us admit, “I need a vacation after a vacation?” Do you feel slightly disoriented after your trip?
What Happens When We Travel
Travel is associated with the vata dosha. Made up of the air and space elements, vata governs all movement in the body. While travel can birth new ideas, teach us about the world, fuel creativity, and bring joy, it also takes us away from our regular routine. Change of routine creates irregularity in the mind and body. Also, vata governs all movement in the body — be it muscles, respiration, excretion, heart rate, and the flow of thoughts and emotions. There is a rhythm and regular cycle to all these movements. Excess movement such as long car rides and airplane travel, as well as talking and moving and irregular sleeping habits, can upset these functions, causing stress.
What Does Vata Imbalance Look Like?
When you experience stress, the sympathetic nervous system — the body’s “fight or flight” emergency-preparedness system — becomes activated, and stress hormones such as adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and cortisol flood the body. Vata imbalance can show up as dry skin, mouth, and hair or too many thoughts racing through the mind. Vata can also increase anxiety and fear as well as constipation and bloating. You might have trouble sleeping. Joint pain and body aches are another symptom of vata imbalance. Struggling to focus is another sign of vata vitiation. These common vata imbalance symptoms may all result from changes to the nervous system and hormone levels.
How to Take Care of Yourself After a Vacation
1. Make time for quietude: Vacation means a heightened sense of existence unless you are at a silent retreat. We overlook the need to rest and rejuvenate while away. Being in new places or seeing family and friends is great, but the non-engagement can easily become exhausting. After your trip, make time for stillness and silence.
2. Minimize travel: At the end of a long travel day or vacation, one may feel spacey and out of sorts. Here is why: Being on the go and the car ride increase the air and space elements in the body and mind along with vata’s mobile, light, dry, and subtle qualities. Upon returning home, see if you can avoid commuting for a day or two.
3. Don’t hustle for a few days: Make sure the first week back from a trip, you have time in your schedule to recalibrate. Vacationing in the pandemic world is stressful. Period. Depending on the part of the world you visit, people have varying relationships with masks and vaccines. Whether we like it or not, fight or flight mode has become the operating medium. Give your mind-body time to feel safe and rested.
4. Eat warm, cooked meals: By the end of your trip, your digestion might feel a little off. Skip the chips and raw foods or those smoothies. They aggravate vata dosha. Cut down on alcohol and caffeine. Eating erratically is a done thing on vacations, but that will also throw off your agni, which is digestive fire. A hearty soup or khichdi or any simple one-pot meal seasoned with seasonal veggies and spices can help heal the digestive system after the onslaught of vacation indulgences. Khichdi is delicious to eat and easy to digest. It also helps eliminate toxins from the body.
5. Get in a soak: The hyper-stimulated nervous system responds well to warm water soak. Even if you have 15-20 minutes, plan to soak your body using bath salts or Epsom salt or a few drops of essential oils to lower the vata. Relax with a hot bath instead of mindlessly scrolling social media or watching TV.
6. Don’t forget mental flossing: The mind can feel distracted from traveling. The new sights, smells, situations, staying up late, etc., though very exciting, are stimulating and ungrounding. They can feel like an assault to the nervous system. Meditation can calm and nourish the mind. It can help ground you and increase your focus.
7. Practice abhyanga: The art of anointing your body, from head-to-toe, with warm oil is called abhyanga. It’s an Ayurvedic massage. Oil is heavy, sticky, and grounding, which is the opposite qualities of vata. Ayurveda teaches us that like increases like and opposites increase doshic imbalances. The absorbed oil in the body calms vata and nourishes the nervous system. After you return from a trip, make sure to do daily abhyanga for a week. Coconut oil is great for hot climates and our current pitta season.
8. Sleep on time: We all try to push our bedtime limits when on vacation. Honestly, sleep is often a neglected component of every person’s overall health and well-being. When we sleep is when the body flushes the toxins, recharges the mind, and repairs itself. Research has linked getting enough sleep to better concentration, productivity, and cognition. It takes a few days to get back into respectable sleep hygiene after any trip. Get into bed before 10pm. Regulate your bedtime and morning wake up. Our routines stabilize us and support our circadian rhythms.
9. Listen to your body: Don’t rush it. Pay attention to what your body needs. Observe what centers or agitates you. Don’t skimp on self-care. The Ayurvedic approach to countering vata imbalance involves slowing down, being more mindful, eating slowly, following a schedule, minimizing erratic lifestyle, breathing smoothly and deeply, and learning to ground the feet into the floor. For example, two days after every trip, I don’t get into excessive workouts or socializing or spending long hours at work. This is the time my body refuels and recharges and the vata balance feels restored. I find gentle yoga very centering and calming. Getting adequate rest may also help prevent excess weight gain, heart disease, and increased illness duration.
“The Ayurvedic route to great health involves two simple steps: Doing less and Being more.” ~ Shubhra Krishan