When I was a child, I was given a book that completely blew my mind. It was like a documentary with five children, from the five continents, describing their life. I found it absolutely fascinating. My mother always told me that when asked what I wanted to do later in life, I never hesitated: “I want to live abroad”. I’m convinced it’s because of this book.
I always wanted to travel. However, my neurologist advised me against long distance travels, arguing that for someone with MS, travelling can be very difficult. He was right. I get easily tired when traveling. My body aches after road trips. I’m exhausted after flights. Ayurveda has helped me understand why but also taught me ways to enjoy traveling with MS.
Ayurveda & MS
For those who are not familiar with Ayurveda, let me briefly explain this traditional vision of the world.
According to Ayurveda, everything in Nature can be described according to its various properties – light, cold, dry, subtle, rapid, slow etc. Everything can thus be categorised. So for instance there are three primary life forces (called doshas), namely Vata, Pitta and Kapha. They can vaguely be translated as Air and Ether, Fire and Earth/Water. These three life forces are also present in our body. If these three forces are balanced, there is health. If there is a strong imbalance between these forces, there is disease. But external factors also are characterised by their primary life force, the elements. So our body is influenced by its “natural” characteristics but also by lots of factors such as the food we eat, the season, the time of the day.
According to Ayurveda medicine, MS is a Vata disease. In other words, MS creates an excess of Vata in the body, and this weakens the nervous system. Vata excess can lead to joint pains, dry skin, memory loss, insomnia, grief and fear etc.
Ayurveda & traveling
The problem is that traveling -especially plane trips- further increases the elements of air and space in the body and mind.
As a consequence, people who suffer from a Vata excess, often feel even more anxious after long travels. They might feel constipated or unable to sleep properly or have joint pains.
- What can you do?
The Ayurveda answer is “pacify Vata”! In plain English, I would say “Have a break. Relax!” Prepare well in advance – rushing at the last minute will make everything far worse. And make sure that you are nurtured, physically and emotionally.
- Yoga can help
You can indeed use yoga to reduce Vata imbalance. So practise before traveling, during if you can and afterwards. I recorded such a sequence for ekhartyoga including poses and props to feel more grounded, less anxious: Click it to watch the Sequence on EkhartYoga.
Here are some suggestions: practise alternate breathing, standing or seated forward bends, reclining hero pose, child pose, supine twists or the corpse pose. Practise slowly, mindfully, avoid quick movements. Relax.
Silence. Stillness. It also pacifies Vata. And the good thing is that you can practise it anywhere, even on the plane, without disturbing your neighbour!
- Getting enough sleep.
To prepare for my next big trip – to Bali in two weeks- I asked my GP to prescribe me some sleeping tablets. Although I often have sleeping issues, I never take sleeping tablets. I practise yoga, I drink herbal tea, I use an acupressure mat, anything but chemicals. But in this case, I am ready to make an exception because I know how crucial it is for me to get enough sleep after an 18 hour long flight. Since I’m nearly 50 and as a consequence more likely to get Deep Vein Thrombosis, I cannot take the tablets during the flight but I will take them for the first two nights of holidays, to help my body restore its natural biological clock.
I have heard that melatonin is affective for reducing the symptoms of jet lag but I haven’t tried it myself as it is not available in the UK.
- What else can you do?
Before departure, you can treat yourself to a nice massage, with warm oil, such as sesame oil. It helps to pacify Vata.
For the flight, ensure that you have nice healthy snacks like crunchy flaxseed crackers – Click here to view the recipe– or some homemade muesli bars like my favourite Olympia Muesli bars: Click to view the Muesli Bars recipe. Make sure you drink lots of water or ginger tea. You should also feel comfy on the plane even if you don’t have a lot of space. Why not add a few drops of lavender oil on a nice shoulder wrap and bring it with you?
And last, but not least, take a really nice book with you. For my part, I think it will choose “Living Beautifully” by Pema Chödrön. I cannot think of a better way to start a holiday!