What I Brought Back From India

It has been almost two and a half years since I’ve returned from India, the country I’ve spent the most amount of time in outside of the US. I think about it every single day. I brought back a lot literally from India (including tons of dangly earrings, gorgeous scarves, elephant charms that hang outside my bedroom, a plastic rickshaw toy on my bookshelf, and a broken foot). I also brought a lot back philosophically, if you’ll allow me to steer a little bit that way for this post:

An Embrace of the Imperfect

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Living in NYC is wildly rewarding (I have a LOT of fun), but also incredibly challenging. New Yorkers encounter more people before 9:00 each day than most people do in a week and that takes a lot out of us. I’m definitely not perfect (shocker), but when someone is basically sitting on my lap on the G train or when I walk up the stairs to the 7 and there are hundreds of people already on the platform, I try to think back about my realization in Bangalore that despite something’s imperfections, it can still be totally okay.

If there were a two-ton cow in the middle of the sidewalk in midtown or on the boardwalk in Ocean City, all heck would break loose. But in Bangalore, people just deal with it, because it’s all good. During my time in India, I saw so many people pitching in to help push a city bus or taxis that I was in to help get them started. I can’t even imagine any passengers being okay with that in NYC, but it really is okay.

The Concept of “You Don’t Need Much”

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This realization I originally attribute to my visit to Inle Lake, Myanmar, where I saw kids in a stilt village having the times of their lives jumping into the lake with a dozen empty plastic water bottles strapped to their backs instead of using an inner tube to float. But my time in India reinforced this, when I would hang out with the girls in the home I visited frequently and we had a ton of fun with one bouncy ball for the twenty of us. This is something that you know as a kid yourself, and we’ve all absolutely had a month’s worth of fun in the ’90s with the cardboard box from a refrigerator, but to remember this as an adult has been meaningful for me.

Granted, I’d already down-sized my life since all of my things were living in my sister’s basement during my time away from NYC, but in moving to Brooklyn a year ago, I have continued to think about whether I need something before spending my hard-earned cash. I don’t feel the urge to get the latest technology, be it a Google Home or headphones without cords, even though the camera on my current phone is atrocious. I am killing it at borrowing books and audiobooks from the library instead of buying them (though I still will walk into every bookshop I see and browse for an hour). I’m not updating my wardrobe like I used to every season. Because you don’t need all that.

A Rekindled Love for Yoga

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I received a yoga mat and a VHS of MTV Yoga for one of my birthdays in high school from someone who I have unfortunately lost touch with over the years but may see in the future (Hi, if you’re reading!). I of course love doing yoga on the beach at home with NJ Beach Yoga, though I only tend to fit it in once or twice a summer. I was delighted in India that the yoga I took there was so similar to the yoga I’d taken at home, I guess I thought something would be lost in its journey to NJ. Since moving to Brooklyn, I’ve started a regular yoga practice by getting a membership at the yoga studio in my neighborhood, which is a two-minute walk from my home.

Part of what I’ve learned from Ayurveda is that because I’m always working on 30,000 things at once, “up in the air”, and rushing around, I need to make an effort to stay more “grounded”. This includes connecting to the earth literally, like making time to be out in nature, and also even trying to eat vegetables that grow in the ground. It is recommended that I do tons of yoga, during which I am supposed to make an effort to think about my feet and hands being rooted to the ground. I don’t really think of it as a workout but as a way for me to connect with myself more and also to disconnect from my phone for an hour.

An Affinity for Spices & Food for my Soul

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This one was seeded in me in India by the introduction of Ayurveda and a visit to a spice farm in Goa, but blossomed from visiting Divya’s Kitchen and poring over her flawless cookbook, “What to Eat for How You Feel”. I have been to Divya’s restaurant several times since, and I’ve added many of her recipes into my life. A perfect day includes her rolled oats with cinnamon and cardamom, her mung bean soup with turmeric, coriander, and cumin, sweet potatoes with coriander, fennel, turmeric, cloves, and cumin, the calming date milkshake with cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla, and rose tea with real rosebuds. I don’t deprive myself of anything else I might want and definitely bought Girl Scout cookies and McNuggets last month, but if I have free time and the ingredients, this kind of food is what I’m gravitating toward.

For Christmas, the gift I was most excited about was a spice grinder so that I could buy whole spices and have masala mixes on hand to throw into Divya’s recipes easily. My next step will be buying unbleached natural tea bags to make my own teas. Stay tuned.

Having Somewhat of a Routine

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One of the things I learned while working at the Ayruvedic health center was about the traditional Ayurvedic routine, which includes things like waking up before the sun does (which I did in India for a trip to Nandi Hills to see the sunrise and a hot air balloon ride in Goa), washing your eyes with a natural rinse, meditation, and an oil scalp massage. Listen, I’m not a morning person and I have given up on trying to be one, so there’s no way I can do all 19 of these each day, but I do fit in some of them.

This section might skeeve some of you out, but work with me here. You all understand elimination in the “going to the bathroom” sense so I’ll skip that, but it’s also eliminating other things that may have built up while you were sleeping.

Some of you may brush your tongue as part of your tooth-brushing routine, but what is recommended is to scrape your tongue. Undigested food (called “ama”) goes back up to your mouth while you sleep. That shiz is disgusting and is also the root of many health issues. Remove it with a stainless-steel tongue-scraper. Start at the back of your tongue and pull forward 7 to 14 times, washing it off after each time. The first few times you do this, you’re going to be grossed out, but stick with it. This is especially helpful if you’ve had some booze the night before.

Next is nasal cleansing. You can absolutely use a neti pot and breathing exercises and all that jazz, or just blow your nose. Then sip hot water while you do whatever else you do to get ready, as well as throughout the day. After I shower, I do an oil massage which helps my sensitive skin and is another practice that is supposed to “ground” me. The most difficult part of the routine I subscribe to is trying to be in bed by 10 pm, since that creeps toward midnight if I accidentally open Twitter or even toward 3 am on a particularly fun weekend.

I am not a doctor, but I am convinced that THIS ABRIDGED ROUTINE IS WHY I DON’T GET SICK, even though everyone at work has been passing around the same cold since Thanksgiving.

While it will likely be a while before I return to India, since I no longer have unlimited travel days and have many other places I’m dying to see, I know I’ll be back one day. I do have the 10-year visa, after all. Until then, I’m pretty happy in how I’ve brought India back into my daily life.

What have you brought home from your own travels?

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