Whether you a planning a 2 week getaway to a faraway country somewhere in Africa or hoping to at least get 2 hours to yourself on the weekend, changing the environment has the potential to increase your awareness by leaps and bounds.
I spent the last week in Russia visiting my family. Every time I go there it feels that something inside of me changes. During this trip I was more aware of all the internal developments, trying to observe and analyze them. What I came up with seems to be relevant to any trip because any change of the environment makes us more aware and therefore allows us to learn more about ourselves and the world.
Here are a few tips on how to make your vacation an “awareness increasing” experience:
- Wonder around and look for new places. You are likely to see things that you would not see at home. Whether it is going to a local cathedral, a museum, a music performance, or a local park it will help you learn more about your surroundings and yourself. Take a moment to reflect on the way a new place makes you feel, the emotions it arouses, the thoughts it brings to your mind. During my visit to Moscow I went to a photo exhibition by an American photographer Anthony Suau. The photographer portrayed a very pessimistic picture of the US. It was a rather single angled view of the events starting from Bush’s inauguration, 9/11, war in Iraq, recession and its gloom consequences. First it made me angry because even though not an American, I was mad to see the reality so perverse. But towards the end, I was able to separate myself from the emotions and look at the pictures through the eyes of one person. It was not more than his sad perception of things. It didn’t mean that it was true or untrue but it showed that some people see reality in a very different way than I do. It is a reminder to be patient and listen to others to see the world through their eyes. Take a chance and explore unusual local things whenever you can, even if it is in a different NYC neighborhood from where you live. You might get some interesting insights besides getting a cultural update!
- When in Rome, eat like Romans! And when in Chinatown, experiment with authentic Chinese! Try local cuisine anywhere you go. Savor each piece, try to notice new flavors and smells. When you are done pay attention to the way the food makes you feel. Going to a different country and switching to a traditional local cuisine for several days will make you more aware of the effect that food is having on your body and mind. While in NYC I eat mostly a very healthy diet of greens, fruit, seeds and other wholesome foods. However, during my visits to Russia I end up on a dairy and bread rich diet (still healthier than traditional Russian diet of potatoes, meat, and mayonnaise). It completely changes the way I feel inside my body. Suddenly I felt sleepy, heavy, less excited to go running or just be active. According to Ayurveda these changes are easy to explain and were to be expected. Kapha rich foods such as yogurt, oatmeal with lots of milk and sugar, white floor, nuts, and cream create a Kapha state. Kapha can be slow, heavy, depressed but it is also peaceful, stable, strong, and mindful (maybe that’s why I was so patient and aware of all the changes in my body). I will write more about Pitta, Vata, and Kapha types of vacations later since it is a very interesting topic to explore!
- Monkey time. While visiting a new country, keep an open mind about the way locals are acting and communicating. This part is more subtle and you will need to pay attention to the way natives act in their daily life situations. Next time when you travel, make sure to spend some time outside of a touristy area with true natives and observe their behavior. Are they easier going and more hospitable (Indians), more reserved and formal (England), does every person try to give you a hug while standing in line because they have no idea about your need to maintain personal space (Careful: might happen in Russia!). Observing cultural behavioral differences will make you more aware of the way you behave in your everyday life and maybe wonder where this behavior came from. Is it because you want to do it this way or because you were taught to behave in a certain way by your culture and parents? It will also allow you to understand common misconceptions and beliefs about your own culture created by foreigners. Everything is relative. This experience may make you more comfortable in your own skin no matter where you choose to be.
- Walk, run, or lounge but Be Present! Traveling to a new place will make you more aware of the effect certain activities have on your body. Even though I walk at least an hour a day in NYC, I walked more in Moscow! My body felt the effect of it: it felt very light, almost weightless, without the feeling that my quads were pumped with blood as it happens at the end of the day of teaching and doing yoga. Walking is good for everyone and considered a universal exercise by Ayurveda, by the way. Choose a place where you can get some sightseeing done (which means that you can even stay in NYC!) and walk there. There is no better city to aimlessly walk around than NYC, you will never get bored! Walking will make Kapha types feel lighter, take the agitation out of stressed out Pittas and even out disturbed Vatas. Beach vacations on the other hand may make you more aware of the effect that lounging and swimming has on your body. Kaphas, make sure you get some walking on the beach done so you don’t feel sleepy and tired from too much resting. Pittas don’t overindulge with sun to avoid skin irritations, rashes, or flashes of anger. Vatas, sun is good for you to warm up but don’t forget to stay hydrated and eat lots of watery fruits and vegetables. Think about possible activities for your next vacation and turn any trip into an Ayurvedic retreat!
- Be a tourist at home! If you ever decide to go home, keep a little bit of a tourist inside of you. It will help you to maintain a fresh perspective and notice small things that busy New Yorkers tend to run by. Why do you think all the tourists have their mouth and eyes wide open in NYC? Because it is unusual, beautiful, mesmerizing, one of a kind place in the world and to make the most out of it, you should keep it in the back of your mind every day! Getting home after a vacation is always very exciting! Being away from home for a few days gives you a fresh outlook on your ‘at home life’. You look different on your apartment, the food that you eat, people that you spend most of the time with, your daily routine. It might also make you appreciate certain things that you stopped noticing: your comfy couch, your favorite tea shop on the corner, a quick delivery to your door from a vegetarian restaurant, or the best health food market. Talking of which, I can’t wait to go to Union Square Farmer’s market and Whole Foods…
Safe travels and lots of adventures on the way!