I’m composing today’s blog from Montauk, New York, which is DECIDELY more quiet and peaceful than it was in Mysore, India! I miss India terribly of course, but it’s great to be home with my family and teaching my devoted students again.
Today’s blog is about what it’s REALLY like to transition home from a major trip of study in India (specifically after study at KPJAYI in Mysore). Even if you’re not planning on going to India yourself, this blog will help you transition home after attending any kind of retreat (yoga, wellness, meditation, or any kind of life changing trip). There’s always a bit of a reentry period, and it can be really intense and intimidating. At times, you might feel like your life is totally turned upside down. I’ve been through these transitions many times and I’m here to help. As you know, I came home from my 8th trip to India about a week ago and it has been a smooth settling in process thus far. That’s not an accident.
So let’s talk about it! Here are some of the most common questions I’m asked when I transition home from India, as well as my best tips to make your transitions home from big, life changing trips much easier.
Tip #1. How do I handle jet lag?
To start with, many people ask how I handle jet lag because the India to NYC time difference is 9.5 hours ahead (not to mention the 30 hours of door to door travel coming home). Coming home from India definitely is a big transition. It can feel a little bit like coming home from Mars and nobody else understands how you feel. A bad case of jet lag can add a lot to that. Jet lag is not an issue for me, but this is not because I’m some kind of bionic human. I don’t get jet lagged and the reason for that is a great tip that I received from a student who was a flight attendant about 10+ years ago. She found out that I was about to travel to India for the first time and took me aside and said, “Listen, the best cure for jet lag, to prevent it altogether, is to fast on the airplane.”
Now, I’m not a doctor and I can’t tell you if fasting is right for you. But I took her advice and never had jet lag again after that. So, what I do when I’m going to India or any other place in a different time zone, is I eat a solid meal before I get on the plane. I try to take a night flight so I sleep a lot during the flight (because when you’re sleeping you’re not getting hungry) and I hydrate like crazy. I take a lot of B vitamins, as well as vitamin D, vitamin C, which help the immune system and balance electrolytes. I can’t stress enough how important it is to stay hydrated mid-flight! I feel great when I land and I adapt by jumping into whatever time of day it is at my destination. If I land at home at lunch time, I eat lunch. I get right into the daily schedule and I don’t to go to sleep until it’s night time local time (or at least early evening).
Again, fasting on an airplane is not for everyone, but it 110% works for me to prevent jet lag. If jet lag is a challenge for you, I highly recommend trying it, IF your doctor says it’s okay and if it’s something that you feel like you’re up for doing. I find it to be indispensable and again, I haven’t had a case of jet lag in over 12 years.
Tip #2. How long do I wait before returning to work?
How long do I wait before going back to work once I’ve arrived home? I’ve taken eight trips to India and I’ve found that for me, the easiest way to transition is to give myself a day at home and then jump right back into work. I don’t take on a full work schedule right away. My first day back I teach one lesson and that’s it. For me, reconnecting to my purpose at home helps me to transition back into daily life and I helps me feel centered. In 2009 I spent three months in India and spent an entire week at home before returning to work. This did not work well for me. I felt like I was floundering and a little bit lost before I got back to teaching. I decided that taking a long break at home was not for me. I find it helpful to reconnect to my mission and purpose right away. So, I take a day or two, get settled, unpack, and then jump right back into work SLOWLY, at a pace that feels good for me.
Remember, this is what works for me. Everybody is different. If you have a career which gives you a good sense of purpose, and brings a lot of joy to your life, it can be helpful to start work sooner rather than later, but do it at a comfortable pace which works for you. I didn’t teach five lessons back my first day. I taught one to wonderful students who I love. It felt great to see them. It felt great to get back into the routine and then go home and do some quiet things work/tasks which were easy for me to do. This is my strategy to help me get back to work when I get home from India with a nice groove that is smooth and easy.
Tip #3. What is the HARDEST party of reentry?
What the hardest part of reentry after I’ve had a really big trip to India? Hands down, without a doubt, it is the concept of time and the pace of life in the United States, New York in particular. If you’ve ever been to India or another “high context” society, you’ll know that other cultures don’t have the same concept of time we do.
If in India, for example, you’re going to a shop to buy something and it’s first thing in the morning, chances are the shop keeper is going to open up, do his or her prayers, do some rituals to set the tone and the energy for the day, and if you’re there waiting to buy something you will continue to wait until the shop keeper has finished. You might wait for one minute, you might wait for 15. It’s a sign of respect and nobody is in a rush. It’s just how local culture is. In the United States, you know this does not happen. If you’re at a store waiting to buy something when they open, they will immediately attend to you and give you what you want. The customer is always right in the United States. That doesn’t happen in other cultures and in India you’re going to just wait until things happen organically.
If you’re in India and you’re trying to catch a 10:30 train and the train doesn’t come by 10:45 (or 11….or 11:15) simply take a look around you’ll realize very quickly that you, the American, are the only one is disturbed by this delay! All the local people are just waiting. The train will get there when it gets there and it’s not a big rush. Can you imagine if this happened in NYC? Mutiny! Scandal! It would be newsworthy!
If you’re from the United States you know we don’t wait in our culture. Everything is immediate. Everything is instant gratification. So, going from a society where there is very little concept of time to the US, where we are constantly trying to control time, can be really hard. To make this adjustment, I have to move at a slow pace when I first get home. As I said before, during my first few days I teach one lesson, maybe two, and then I come home. I cook. I practice in the morning to start my day. I don’t socialize much or go to busy places. Last week was cold and rainy while I was settling in. I bundled up at home, I did my taxes (glamorous, I know) and just stayed in. I didn’t schedule any extra meetings. I didn’t over schedule my kids. I just wanted to be with my family and take it slowly.
I do not take on the sense of urgency in the US during my first week (and I don’t subscribe to it in general). In our country if you send an email, you expect it to be answered right away. In India, that just doesn’t happen. I remove the sense of urgency from my day during my transition and it helps tremendously. I do things at a pace which feels good and I can’t let people rush me. Every society moves at a different pace and if you add the processing of a big energetic or spiritual transition to your adjustment to home, it can be really hard. Coming back to a lot of chatter and a lot of chaos and a fast lifestyle pace is enough to overwhelm anyone. Integrating spiritual changes you made while away is something which simply can’t be rushed. Come home and take it at a pace that feels right for YOU. Note: the pace I need for reentry is slightly different after every trip I take, so be present and connect to what you need right now.
Tip #4: Communicate your needs!
A crucial part of the integration process is communicating to others what my needs really are. You might have a process in your head which you know works for you, but if you don’t tell people what you need, it’s not going to be very effective. Before I come home, I give my family and friends a disclaimer, “Hey, I might be taking a few days to unplug and settle into life at home. Don’t be surprised if I don’t answer your email or your call right away.” I might even tell my family, “Listen, I can’t be rushed. This is a big transition so I might just move at a different pace than you. Please respect my process. I will be the best that I can be.” Everyone is always supportive and thoughtful. If we don’t communicate what we need, how are people going to know how to treat us? So whenever you come home from a big experience, whether it’s a meditation retreat or trip to India, you have to tell others what you need in order to ease into your life and integrate your process in a way that feels natural and healthy to you.
Tip #5. Get right into your spiritual work at home. Don’t delay!
You might have guessed this tip already because I was studying yoga for a month. Coming home and integrating ALL the tools of my yoga and spiritual study RIGHT AWAY is a non-negotiable. If it’s a practice day, I get on my mat and practice as soon as I’m home. If you’ve ever studied at KPJAYI, you would know that your first week after a big travel experience requires doing the primary series of Ashtanga yoga only. It doesn’t matter how advanced you are. This means you’re not pushing yourself or working on the hardest bits of your practice right after you land. You are getting on your mat, setting the tone for self care, and cultivating the private space for yourself to continue your spiritual growth. There is no substitute for this!. If you spent a month on a huge retreat for yoga or mediation, then you come home and don’t carry over those tools, it’s going to feel like you’ve gone from Mars back to Earth. Those tools are your anchor which ground and center you in your day no matter where you are. They are still there for you at home, so use them.
Make sure that you communicate these needs to your family and friends as well. You might have to tell them, “I’m going to be getting up earlier for practice before you’re awake. Don’t be surprised.” Just do it. You’ll feel more centered and when you’re happier and more centered, everyone around you is going to be more comfortable with the transition you’re making. They’re going to say, “Hey, I don’t know what she’s doing but it’s working for her. She seems happy”. Great! Carry over those tools. Don’t delay. Make sure this is a vital part of your transition process.
Tip #6. Give yourself a 2 week buffer to process it all.
One of my best tips for transitioning home is give yourself a two week buffer to allow yourself to feel really weird. I know this sounds funny, but sometimes it can be such a huge transition that life at home just feels strange. For some people it’s a culture shock. For me, this time, it’s a bit of temperature shock. India last week was 100 degrees every single day and the nights were so hot and sweaty, I could barely sleep. Coming home to “Spring” in New York where it was rainy and cold, I felt really chilled to the bone and I barely broke a sweat during my practice, felt wrong. Big changes can feel jarring for your nervous system so give yourself a couple of weeks to assimilate into your new life back at home. Be kind to yourself as you shift. Maybe your food situation is different, or your sleep schedule is different. It’s okay. Don’t make any big life decisions in those first two weeks, knowing you’re going to have some highs and lows as you settle in.
Allow yourself to have this two week period as a safe zone. You’re going to do whatever feels good. Let yourself assimilate to life at home and go from there. Don’t worry about how other people react. This is YOUR transition and it doesn’t happen overnight.
Use these tips if you have a retreat coming up, whether it is one day of spiritual study or 3 months away. Integrate your tools, communicate to others what you need, and give yourself time and space to let yourself feel a little weird. It’s a new experience. Thankfully my family knows that when I come home I need some time to process. I always have a few days when I miss India and feel strange not being there.
Be kind to yourself if you’re transitioning from one place to another and know that I’m always here as a resource, so please, don’t hesitate to hit me up in the comments below. What helps you assimilate into daily life after a huge, life changing experience?