A few years ago I traveled to Alaska for work and returned very late on a Wednesday night. Having been surrounded by water while in Juneau, Alaska, in addition to hiking, flying, and driving from 0-3500 feet elevation a dozen times (which means an abundance of air and ether) over the course of teaching the low back and spine pain class, my internal clock (and everything else) was really thrown off, or what Ayurveda calls elementally imbalanced. In fact, anyone who flies regularly or long distances will be prone to similar elemental imbalance.
What in the heck does “elemental imbalance” mean, you ask?
In Ayurveda and Indian medicine, as well as Chinese medicine, disease and dysfunction are treated by balancing the elements in one’s body and surroundings. In Ayurveda, a person has a “dosha” (pronounced “dough-sha”), or an overall physical constitution. You also have a mental constitution, which is called a guna (pronounced “goo-nah”). Take a free dosha and guna test here.
Back to the Alaska story: For me, I had an abundance of three elements, but mostly I was too high on air and ether, as I mentioned above, which is common when for air travelers. This imbalance (excessive air and ether) can manifest itself with the following signs or symptoms:
- inability to concentrate
- loss of drive
- gastrointestinal distress, such as bloating or slowed digestion
Those of you with a healthy skepticism of the value of balancing the elements, I applaud you! You should question all methods for treating health. I’ll try to give you the short answer to why I believe elemental balancing works.
If we look at a strictly western approach to the unlikely side effects of air travel, we find the dysfunction called “jet lag” is the culprit. Lucky for you, the symptoms of good old jet lag are surprisingly similar to that other cultures deem an excessive imbalance of air/ether:
“Jet lag occurs when biological rhythms are interrupted secondary to rapid transitions across multiple time-zones”, according to John Reilly, professor at the school of human sciences at Liverpool John Moores University in Liverpool, England. Of course, this is what I am suffering from thanks to the days of air travel from traveling to Alaska and back. Jet lag’s technical term is known as “circadian desynchronization.”
Too Much Travel
According to Ayurveda and other holistic approaches, air travelers are not the only ones who suffer from “jet lag,” or “circadian desynchronization.” Anyone who travels, whether by plane, train, or automobile, or anyone who works or multitasks excessively, is prone to have excessive air and ether in their system.
Stop and Smell The Roses (or at least the dirt)
What can you do to balance air and ether elements if you travel frequently or work late? It’s simple actually. Add a healthy dose of the opposite element.
In this case, to decrease air/ether, you would increase the earth element. To decrease water element, increase the fire element.
Here are a few remedies that I use when I have the air/ether imbalance (which is often secondary to my own very busy travel schedule for speaking and teaching):
1. Use herbal remedies. This can include drinking teas which aid in digestion including mint tea, ginger tea or eating ginger candies, lavender or chamomile teas, cinnamon, cardamon, black pepper, cloves or other fire element herbs/spices. The alternative is to use their essential oil forms via massage oils, aromatherapy via diffusing in your home, car, or workplace, nasotherapy (simply smelling them, you don’t have to put them up your nose!), or direct application application. Teas are easy to travel with, so on this particular trip I drank mint tea continuously – before breakfast, and after lunch and dinner, and sometimes for a snack. A smidge of local honey can also assist in calming the respiratory system, which I did use secondary to allergies with the local cottonwood while in Alaska (the last 2 days there was so much cottonwood in the air it looked like it was snowing!). If you are uncertain of what remedies to use, consult me at my website, your local holistic health care provider, or a Chinese or Ayurvedic practitioner to determine what is best for your constitution.
2. Eat sparingly. Digestion is more difficult when your body is shunting blood away from digestive functions to assist in primary functions (like traveling, heavy manual work, dealing with anxiety from travel or work, etc.) Eating less means you are less likely to have digestive upset, including reflux, indigestion, or constipation. When you do eat, choose foods you know that your body can easily digest. For air/ether imbalance – steer away from raw and uncooked foods and move toward some of the following foods below which would increase the earth element, fire element, and/or provide essential oils (such as fish oil or olive oil, which are good for decreasing air/ether). For you Ayurvedic (Indian medicine) purists, I generally eat an “anti-vata” diet while traveling.
- Breakfast – oatmeal with cooked fruit compote, and a small amount of honey, brown sugar, or dairy; mint tea
- Lunch – lightly cooked vegetables (yukon gold potatoes, kale, cooked garlic, for example) and freshly grilled sockeye salmon (it was a leftover from the night’s prior dinner); mint tea
- Dinner – Roasted halibut with fresh chanterelle mushrooms (these had just been picked in the Juneau forest that afternoon! yum!) in a cream of mushroom reduction with Yukon gold potatoes and parsnips
Of course, this diet also highly not just increasing the earth element, but also reflects honoring the climate (damp, arid, cool), location- Juneau, Alaska, and season – early fall. Hence, the presence and high intake of fish (getting lots of omega 3 fatty acids though), root veggies, and teas I consumed while there.
3. Practice yoga postures and breathing to ground you. Practice postures and breathing which will mirror those of the earth element. Heavy, grounded, standing postures such as tree, triangle, the warrior series, as well as squats, low flying arm balances (think crane), and standing poses with a twist (think revolved extended side angle and revolved triangle) can assist in increasing the earth element and also assist with downward flow of energy (apana vayu) which will aid digestive motility (no constipation!). Breathing which should be practiced include uyaii/victorious breath (increase fire element), deep abdominal breathing (sandbag breathing), and TATD breath (if you are uncertain of any of these breaths, please leave a note for me and I’ll elaborate with photos and instructions!) Each and every patient I work with received a unique, tailored prescription of yoga and breathing exercises to balance their constitution.
4. Get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep has been proven to be high risk factor in many diseases, including depression and other chronic illnesses, including early death. A 1997 CNN report even states that lack of sleep is America’s top health problem. The National Commission on Sleep Disorders estimated that sleep deprivation costs $150 billion a year in higher stress and reduced workplace productivity. When traveling west, retire early to bed upon arrival. During flight, try to sleep as much as possible. When traveling east, try to readjust to the day by honoring that time zone (instead of remaining in your original time zone).
5. Hydrate. Drink plenty of beverages that are non-carbonated, non-caffeinated, and non-alcoholic. These impair digestion and alcohol and caffeine also act as diuretics and affect normal circadian rhythm in kidney function (think middle of the night awakenings and trips to the bathroom after a night of imbibing). In addition, dry air during flight increases air/ether and hydration can counter the effects of a dry atmosphere.
6. Don’t multi-task. Scale back on work. (rest instead) Only do what is absolutely necessary during travel and upon the first 3-4 days return home. Following this rule is why my blog has been quiet until today. In other words, I practice what I preach. These are just some of the tips I give and use for the frequent flyer, the multi-tasker, and the workplace executive with long weeks and little vacation. For more information on balancing your elemental constitution to attain ideal health, go to http://www.gingergarner.com/ to learn more. Remember that anything contained in this blog is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult your health care provider to determine what is best for your unique constitution.
*photo taken on August 28, 2009 on the second day of my arrival in Juneau, Alaska at Mendenhall Glacier