One of my favorite teachers is the peaceful, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thích Nhất Hạnh, a man who has devoted his life to promoting truth and peace. He’s a wildly influential man, generous with timeless wisdom. His insights are profound, yet seemingly simple, and delivered with a reliable accessibility to both spiritual seekers and those simply looking to enrich their lives.
At the core of his teachings, he explores the relationship between sacred and profane experience. In his book,The Miracle of Mindfulness, he shares, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
He reminds us that there is an underlying element of benevolence, what some might call sacredness, woven seamlessly into the rich tapestry of our everyday lived experience. The secret to happiness, according to Hạnh, is shifting our individual perception so we’re able to connect with this beauty, which is naturally infused in our day-to-day, mundane activities. It is there for our taking, a meeting with nature’s gifts, offered freely, when the mind is able to find stillness. If we dive deep, rather than skimming the surface of understanding, we will eventually see that the sacred and mundane are not complimentary pairs, but rather, they one and the same.
In Tantra yoga, this revelation is called Madhu-vidya, or honey knowledge. It’s an awareness that everything—person, place, thing, and circumstance—is an expression of the “divine” or the “great mystery”, and is therefore, miraculous. By embracing the ebb-and-flow of life and the full spectrum of our humanness, we open a portal into divine connection and receive the gift of life’s “sweetness”. It’s a vital step on the path to reclaiming our sense of individual wholeness and the natural rhythm that underlies the entirety of existence. It is a way of tapping into life’s bounty and profundity, while maneuvering through the joys and pains of an ordinary life.
It is a state of mind, rather than a change in circumstance. It is our ability to move with life as it moves--to dance elegantly, in perfect time . It’s an aligning with nature’s perfection and the revealing of our own true essence, as part of the larger picture. It only exists in the present moment and is the very heart of yoga.
I call this living flow.
There are many paths towards cultivating this awareness. Hatha Yoga and meditation are the contemplative practices that have guided me towards an embodied relationship with this flow, and happened effortlessly as I forged a solid relationship with my own mind-body's inner wisdom. With practice, I believe, these techniques have the capacity to serve as a reliable source of inner guidance for anyone on the path to optimal well-being. Eventually these create fluidity, strength, balance, and space in the mind-body; they open clients to the truest sense of interconnectedness with an all-encompassing web of life.
By guiding my students towards a life of flow--self-observation, presence, intention and mindfulness--I hold the door open for them to discover what I believe matters most in life: A sense of their own genuine human fulfillment. My aspiration is to encourage a natural shift in the quality of their everyday experience, like my yoga practice has so graciously done for me. I want to see them tap into that great, interior reservoir of stillness, and watch the way it fundamentally changes the lens through which they view life. For their mental chaos to become clarity. For reactions to turn into thoughtful responses. For an essential underlying harmony to bubble to the surface of usual perception. And, yes, for the mundane to start showing splashes of something colorful and sacred. Because really, is there anything else?
Stepping away from the habitual has always set me free. Getting out of my box and heading into the unknown is something I find both soul-stirring and seducing, as I know it holds an enormous potential for growth. What I’ve learned through experience, in fact, is that it has the power to unleash a cascade of events that guide me back to myself. With change, I expand. I wake up. I become brighter as my awareness heightens and my senses come back to life. In the moments when my light has dimmed, and I feel like a less-than-vital version of myself, I know there is something valuable waiting for me if I choose to respond. So I do…because to me, this freedom is where life begins.
It’s no surprise then that I’ve taken to a life of travel, and that it is one of my most valuable tools for coming home to myself. It’s as essential to my well-being as my yoga mat. It’s a reset button, my reboot. My secret weapon of ego-destruction, if you will. To some, travel is a form of escapism. To me, the opposite is true—it is an opportunity to bravely dial-in to my present moment reality with eyes wide open. It offers the chance to shed light on my unnoticed blind spots as I navigate the rhythms of daily life. It gives me a surge of vitality and inspiration, and the unshakeable knowing that I am fully embracing this unbelievable experience of aliveness. The gifts of the open road are, indeed, bountiful.
What I’ve learned though, is that just like the rest of life, this abundance doesn't flow with ease if I fall personally out of balance. It all starts with me. In order to fully receive it, it is essential to have an internal compass, a strong mental reference point from which I can safely explore my world but return to over and over again with confidence. While this is no monumental revelation—most of us realize that “balance” is key-- it can be easily forgotten and the precursor to internal distress when we are on the constant move.
Ayurveda, the holistic sister science of Yoga, posits that all aspects of our being--physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual--work together to create a state of existential harmony. Our bodies, just like the whole of nature, are made up of the 5 elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Space), which exist in different combinations called doshas.
The 3 Doshas are:
1. Vata (Air, Space)
2. Pitta (Fire, Water)
3. Kapha (Water, Earth)
These doshas manifest in different variations in each of us, and are the very foundation of our Prakruti, or individual blueprints. They are constantly fluctuating with our environment and lifestyle choices, moving in and out of balance. As they shift, it affects of our bodies in inevitable ways. According to Ayurvedic practitioners, we achieve our most optimal health when we understand this relationship and adopt lifestyle habits that support it.
Understanding this interplay within the body or it’s roles in maintaining equilibrium is a complex system that can years of study to entirely grasp. What is important for our purposes here is comprehending how this relates to the body when we are in constant flux. In this way we have a better chance at being able to shift with our environment as it changes, to be in a balanced relationship with it so we can thrive.
We’re looking for smooth operations. All the way.
So, yes, travel does all the things. The GOOD things. It stimulates and excites. It rouses, it refreshes, it energizes. But all of that change is precisely why it can also aggravate Vata Dosha. You see, the inherent quality of Vata Dosha is mobility. Again, think air, think space. It is responsible for physiological aspects of beings like respiration, movement, heart rate - also, less tangible mental processes like thinking and emotional regulation. Yes. See the issue here? The act of travel-ING (moving at high speeds by land and air, stepping out of routine, leaving the comfort of our home sanctuary) can cause mind-body stress and upset our healthy biorhythms. It can leave one feeling mentally cloudy, even anxious, and cause the onset of other issues such as irritability, sleeplessness, sluggish digestion and decreased immune support. In other words, it leaves us feeling ungrounded and disconnected.
For someone like me (and many others inclined to a life of wanderlust), with a predominantly Vata Dosha, finding tools for balance on the road is a must. Here are some of the ways, I come back down to earth, when I’m feeling "vata’ed out”. In this way we can enjoy travel for what it is meant to be: A joyful, kick-ass experience in the here-and-now of our lives that anchors us so we can fly.
CHILL BEFORE DEPARTURE
The most unkind thing we can do to ourselves is approach a big trip with a chaotic headspace. Life moves quickly and it can be easy to fall into the mindset that you’ll “relax when you get there”. You will, yes! But it’s best to shoot for balance before you go. Vata’s inherent nature is mobility, remember, so the very act of change can begin to shake things up. Find ways to stay rooted and calm, even as momentum and excitement build, by planning ahead. Start your packing the week prior to departure. Make sure travel documents are in order and that reservations are confirmed early. Choose your clothing and en route essentials the night before. Stay in your routine as much as possible. Rather than running around frantically the night before, how about a home-cooked meal, soft music, and long bath to pave the way towards your soulful adventure? Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
Drink plenty of water in the days leading up to and during travel. Your body will love you (and thank you) for this. The recycled air on planes and constant air-conditioning is drying to the body and can cause overall dehydration. It causes dry skin, but also other Vata imbalances such as constipation, excess gas, poor concentration, and lethargy. Stick to water and try to avoid all diuretic beverages like alcohol, tea, and coffee. One of my favorite tricks for keeping Vata in check is to drink warm ginger tea before I leave and on travel days. (I either boil fresh ginger root at home or put grated ginger in a thermos that can refilled throughout the day). In a nutshell, cold water cools our digestive fire and can further encourage poor digestion, which is already vulnerable during travel.
PACK YOUR OWN FOOD
The body needs time to adjust when we upset our daily rhythm. During travel, we often find ourselves eating (and being fed) at times when we’d otherwise not eat. The body doesn’t understand this timetable. This routine upset, combined with the often heavily processed foods served along the way, can cause a build up of Ama, or toxic residue, in the body. We can honor the body best by eating a solid, grounding meal before we leave home, and packing healthy foods that we can enjoy when hunger strikes. Nutrient-rich foods like nuts and fruit (which are loaded with fiber and water), are great choices. Upon arrival, slowly slip into local cuisine, eating light and warming foods until your system recalibrates to it’s new environment.
RESET YOUR BIO-CLOCK
Regardless of when you arrive, middle of the day or evening, respect the time change. Our circadian rhythm (24-hour clock) can take time to adjust, especially when jumping time zones, so being mindful will do you a lot of good. At first chance, soak in some sunshine and plant your bare feet on the actual earth…dirt, grass, sand, or even asphalt. This will start to reset your internal clock. Even if you’re feeling wide awake at local bed-time, go to bed. FYI, journaling is a great grounding tool. Make it a point to avoid sleeping-in your first morning even if you’re tempted. Rise and shine at the same time you would at home.
ORGANIZE YOUR SPACE
We all know how hectic a disorganized space can feel. Vastu Shastra, the Vedic science of architecture and sacred space (which shares the same origins as Ayurveda), views clutter as an environmental stressor that can upset our sense of internal balance. Think of it as physical “congestion” that can lead to unclear thinking and a hindrance to the free flow of prana or vital life energy. Make your space your own, by unpacking your bags neatly. Clean out your carry-on bags, removing accumulated travel-day clutter and organizing receipts. Become familiar with and arrange your new space. Strip the bed and put on your own sheets (cool colors and natural fibers are best). I always feel immediately secure by bringing a small bag of special items from home - family photos and items from my personal altar - to place around in view.
ESTABLISH A DAILY ROUTINE
Your first day is about re-establishing a healthy rhythm. Yes…and keep it going. Try to continue this thread of routine, as your adventure continues. Don’t get lost in the hustle. As we’ve established, being on the go comes with its physical challenges. We aren’t shooting for rigid here, but predictability can serve as an anchor. The more we can maintain some semblance of our tried-and-true daily rituals, the easier it will be to adapt to the changes as they arise. Maintain sleep and eating schedules when possible. If you have a workout regimen, keep it going. The back-pocket survival tools you utilize in daily life will likely serve you on the go as well.
PRACTICE YOGA AND MEDITATION
Nothing soothes excessive Vata like simple relaxation. Wellness practices like yoga and meditation are the perfect antidote for dealing with the stressors of change. They restore the baselines of homeostasis in the body and recalibrate the nervous system. In general, all yoga is good for grounding, though some practices are better than others. While my typical personal practice is a healthy combination of active and restorative styles of yoga, I tend to opt for calming practices in the early stages of travel or whenever I am in travel overdrive. Fast-paced sequences can be aggravating to the system when Vata is imbalanced and we are, therefore, already prone to anxiety and mind-body fatigue. My favorite travel practice is a very slow, deliberate, Hatha Flow session with longer holds, followed by bolstered Restorative postures.
One step at a time, Love. Seizing the day isn’t about living on full throttle, in constant go-go-go mode. It’s about living mindfully with the heart WIDE open and available to receive. With the best of intentions, we can all get caught up thinking so much about future plans that we forget to enjoy the moment at hand. Stop. Enjoy stillness. Take a look around. Listen. Your journey will be so much more enjoyable if you let go of the need to control every aspect and let things unfold as they will. Seek out simplicity, and most of all, be grateful. Gratitude is a call for immediacy—and binds us to the beauty of the NOW.
May these tips guide you towards your most perfect ebb and flow as you explore. Here's to more life-transforming adventures!
The purpose of the article is to provide information and is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention or cure of any disease. By reading this article, you acknowledge that you are fully responsible for your own health decisions. If you have any personal health concerns, please consult a trained physician or other trusted health professional who can fully assess your individual needs and address them effectively.
There is something magical about early morning. I think we can all relate to the peace that lives in the still of a barely-awakened world. We can recall the sense of vibrant awareness we experience when the mind is uninterrupted and, therefore, the senses are heightened. In these special moments, when the light is soft and life is quiet, I personally feel as though I’ve slipped through the cracks of time, into a space that is open, otherworldly, and time-less. I enjoy it’s quality of freshness and the clean slate of possibility, just waiting to be ignited with a simple spark of intention. It’s ripe with energy and potential and asks nothing of us other than our presence.
The choices we make in these early hours, without doubt, set the tone for the day. They become the foundation of what we’d like to create on the next empty page of our life’s story. One of the biggest challenges, I’ve realized, is holding onto this receptive state of mindfulness as I move toward interacting with my world. I’ve found myself wishing I could savor it’s sweetness forever, only to lose it easily with the sound of an alarm, the ding of a FB message, the waking sounds of my child, or the reminder that there’s work to be done. The mental checklist starts flipping through my mind…and off I go. I get back to business as usual. In a flash, the daily routine begins.
Our routines are essential to our being, of course. They’re fantastic! They keep us on track, providing the structure to accomplish our goals and dreams. They serve as a “container” for life’s reliable chaos and gives us some semblance of control in our world of linear time. Routine is an invaluable tool, but one that can easily start to have the-hamster-wheel vibe if we forget to celebrate the moments that link our small successes.
I try to remind myself that once I’ve lived through a moment, I don’t ever get it back. It’s gone like the wind. Something that has softened (and somehow reconciled) this fact for me, is adding an element of ritual to my morning routine. I’m not referring to ritual in a witchy way, but rather infusing my actions with an element of intentionality. I’ve embraced the art of slowing down, really feeling into my morning. It adds dimension to my activities, giving them texture, color, and rhythm. It’s a way of bringing life to the checklists, energy to my to-dos, and infusing then with both meaning and purpose. I literally create a space where I don’t need to choose between feeling productive and feeling connected, between what is sacred and what is mundane. I remind myself that there is an intersection where I can have it all.
Nature runs on Sacred Time. Our ancestors knew this, and most indigenous peoples continue to let it guide their daily and life-cycle rhythms. They existed in close relationship with the natural world, seeing themselves embedded into it’s very fabric (rather than on the outside looking in, as we often do in our culture). They understood that while there are no clear boundaries, we live in a multidimensional reality where ordinary, linear time intersects with an element of something profound. Linear time is the very valuable world of schedules, plans, and timelines. Sacred time, is the space that exists between the linear moments, that expands and inspires as we absorb into the present moment of our lives. It is the place where art, creativity, love, deep insight, and spiritual connection reside. Sacred time exists in every moment and is available whenever we give it attention.
The Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh expesses it beautifully in his book Peace Is Every Step:
“Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand-new hours to live. What a precious gift!….Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in every¬thing we do and see. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it….We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available. We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house.. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.”
This is what it means to live mindfully--to touch the extraordinary, within the ordinary moments of our lives.
When we begin our days with the intention of presence, when we infuse routine with ritual, we reclaim our rightful gift of sacred time. We feel cared for, connected with life, and as if our inner awareness is in alignment with our outer actions. Sure, the speed of life can pull us into the whirlwind of linear time and we forget. Once the seed is planted, though, it is a place we can return to over and over again. It’s a practice.
Here are some suggestions for making the most out of your magical mornings:
1. Early to Bed, Early to Rise (and Shine)!
If you want an epic start to your day, you’ll need to find a way to capture some of those early morning hours. I recommend going to bed early, so you don’t end up lethargic and lackluster when you’re preparing to seize the day. You’re looking to establish a healthy, quality rhythm to carry you through your daily experience. If you wake up in a rush, mindfulness will likely take a backseat to expediency.
Ideally, I like to rise about 30 minutes prior to sunrise to take advantage of the potent energy of these ambrosial hours. If you’re a night owl, this may be a hard pill to swallow. If you’re up for the challenge, approach these changes gradually and gently. Perhaps, rather than aiming for dawn, make 30 minute incremental shifts, to get there. In any case, try to give yourself at least 1.5 hours to get out of the front door. If you’re juggling children and lovers, I suggest rising a minimum of 1.5 hours before the rest of your household. You’ll benefit immensely from this quietude.
2. Meditate/Breath in Bed
Perhaps, before jumping out of bed, give yourself permission to lie down for a few minutes to acclimate to being awake, access how you feel, and set your intentions for the day. For the ultimate centering, enjoy a few minutes of mindful breathing. One of my favorites is Dirga Pranayama, or 3-part breath, in which we close the eyes and calmly breath into three parts of your abdomen (low belly, low ribs, sternum). Inhaling, we draw the breath to the low belly (just below the navel), then into the low ribcage, and then to the top of the sternum. We move in the opposite direction on the exhale, expelling breath from the sternum, ribs, belly. Let it flow rhythmically and appreciate the way the breath moves freely in the body. Bring awareness to the fact that while the breath is one of the most basic of all bodily functions, it is also the most miraculous. It is none less than the reliable backdrop that carries you through every experience of your life. Give thanks. When you open your eyes, you’ll feel renewed and ready to ease into your day.
3. Avoid Electronics as Long as Possible
We want to approach the outside world slowly and be especially mindful of the energy we let into our inner atmosphere in the morning. We want to dip our toes slowly in the conversations and thoughts of others. Stay unplugged until absolutely necessary. It can be a knee-jerk reaction to jump at every message indicator on our phones and computer, as these devices fuel our impulsive nature and desire for connection. Many of us are, in fact, addicted to the dopamine bursts (which creates a rush of excitement) that we get every time our devices prompt us. Simply keep in mind that interruptions break our present moment flow, pulling us into the past and future. Rest assured that all voicemails, emails, messages, and status updates will be waiting for you safely on the other side when you plug back in. I avoid the temptation altogether by leaving my phone and computer in another room while I sleep.
4. Sit for a Tea Meditation
In a world that glorifies the ability to multi-task, taking it one activity at a time can feel, well, unproductive. However, giving our full attention to the task at hand is precisely what we’re after. The present moment is where we’ll enjoy sacred time. A tea meditation is one of my most cherished morning rituals for arriving in the here-and-now. This is my first waking activity where I get a chance to put my intentions into practice. Even though the steps of making tea (preparing my ingredients, heating the water, steeping the blend, clearing my space, pouring it into the cup) are the same as they’ve always been, the attitude and pace with which I do them has shifted. I’m aware and grateful. When I fold my hands into prayer with a bow, then take my first glorious sip, it feels like something special. As I drink in silence, I try to keep my mind from wandering and simple take in the sights and sounds around me. And the best part is that all this indulgence takes only about 15 minutes.
5. Dry Brushing and Oil Massage
Dry brushing the body is one of Ayurveda’s daily self-care rituals. (Ayurveda is a sister science of yoga that promotes holistic health and wellness). It’s a simple activity of using a dry body brush to massage the entire body. It improves circulation, revitalizes the skin, and eliminates toxins by sloughing of dead skin cells.
Brushing can feels like a ritual act of self-love. When done slowly and deliberately, not only is it pleasurable, but it leaves the skin feeling smoother and vibrant. Simply start at the feet, using circular motions, and work your way up the front and back body in the direction of your heart. Move from the extremities towards center. Spend some extra loving time on the belly, rubbing in counter-clockwise circles. At first this process may tickle or feel uncomfortable, but with practice the tingling and warmth are quite enjoyable for most. Afterwards, I shower with warm (not hot) water and apply moisturizer to keep the skin supple. My oils of choice are coconut, jojoba, and sesame.
6. Move Your Body
Start the day by getting into your body. So often, we live from the shoulders up, thinking our way through our morning experience. Physical movement circulates Prana (energy) and draws awareness down into the body. Hatha Yoga is my chosen practice of embodiment, but anything that warms the body, stretches and stimulates tissues, and calms the mind will do perfectly. Just be mindful that even with great intentions, vigorous exercise can actually cause us to lose touch with what is happening in the body. It disconnects and distracts us from our experience. Make sure the mind and body are in sync, moving meticulously, so you can make healthy choices for your body. Feel every breath and every movement. Treat this time as an inquiry into you body-mind. Once you’re centered, expand your awareness outward and contemplate the beauty and gift of the body you live in.
7. Dive into Something Creative
Now that you’re centered and nourished, make a date with your inner artist. Draw, Paint, Photograph, Write, Sing, Dance….whatever inspires you to get your vital, creative juices flowing! I know some of you believe you have no intrinsic artistic skill, but I assure you it’s in there. Creativity soars in the absence of thought and flows freely when we’re absorbed in the moment. Notice the simple things such as the rhythm of the breath, the subtle movements of the body, your passing thoughts, and the arising sensations. This is about becoming aware of the process of creating, rather than on the perfection of a finished product. It encourages a quality of child-like playfulness and discovery which is free of expectation. We can enjoy a sense of freedom and expansion that arises from being fully engaged in whatever we’re doing.
Experiment with these suggestions and be willing to listen deeply. Choose the ones that makes sense for you. Remember, the particular routine and rituals you choose for yourself are less important than the simple mindset. Happy lives are built upon healthy habits. They aren’t crafted overnight, but rather slowly and steadily with the intention of shining our brightest light.