It’s tough to keep a routine when traveling and this was no different when I spent a few weeks in Mumbai, living with three generations of a traditional Marathi family in a home just outside of the city center. Usually when I travel I rent my own room or apartment. This time I decided to live among six adults, two kids and many daily visitors. My room doubled as a living room space and I shared a bathroom.
I was the guest of honor in this home and as my time was also short-lived, there was a desire to spend time quality time together. While this was a life-changing experience I’ll always hold dear, the reduced amount of solo space coupled with living under someone else’s roof where there are differing routines established, presented a challenge for my personal wellness.
At first I felt both exhausted and lazy having everything done for me (literally they wouldn’t even let me clear my own plate at breakfast). Now at the end of my time in Mumbai and with this family visit, I feel a wealth of wellness. It isn’t my usual formula: I’ve gained several pounds (I call it over-the-top-turned-muffin-top hospitality). That said, this differing brand of wellness-lived happened for me when I learned to balance what I need with what was being offered.
Here’s what that routine shake up looked like:
I meditate every morning. For me it’s a solo activity. In this house, not much is solo activity. This means that writing or internet browsing is often coupled with conversations and company.
The first-thing-when-you-wake-family-routine consists of filling up on fruit. And that’s not breakfast; a hearty breakfast of dosas or poha (rice flakes) is being freshly made while you fill up on fruit. This routine was the biggest shake up for me and tricky to avoid. If I didn’t eat the fruit that was brought to me at my bedside, the questions seemed nonstop. Bridging the language gap and trying to explain my own routine proved frustrating as I found myself coming across as ungrateful and perhaps even rude. This was the polar opposite of what was true for me, I’d never want to appear ungrateful.
Sharing food was a key way that the family shows love. Cleaning plates is a tradition passed down from Grandma who. all her life, had insisted that the family clean their plates as this shows gratitude.
When I would finish something on my plate I’d be offered more. Very often I’d just be given more or the famous words, “Just try. One bite,” which led to four bites of four different dishes. Within two days I noticed my pants weren’t fitting as well.
So, as they say in India: what to do? Here’s what I learned about how to find balance and wellness in an unusual circumstance:
- Invite others into your practice. If you can’t do it solo, see what a shared experience could be. Instead of solo meditations, I had the pleasure of leading the family in a meditation on their rooftop. I also got to spend time meditating with Mama and the kids which led to singing together (bhajans) – it was not only peaceful but completely unique and memorable!
- Share some of your preferences. Pick a few things that you can sprinkle into your experience that promotes your own wellbeing whilst still honoring the space you’re in and sharing. I chose these words: coffee first. Now instead of being served fruit first thing in the morning, I get some time with my coffee and no food.
- Create alone time. The easy answer is to wake up early and do a wellness routine. I haven’t found this possible in Mumbai because of the late night culture. I did find a gym nearby and have gone for two hours every day. I don’t work out hard, but this guarantees I have some time to clear my head when I don’t take the 3 hour round trip to a cool cafe in the city.
- Make learning your wellness. If the circumstance is unusual, there is most definitely a lot to learn. Ask questions. Learn about things you’re interested in. For me, it’s culture and food. I could write a blog series on what I learned about different Indian fruits and vegetables! Curiosity keeps the mind young. A young, active mind is just as important as a fit body.
- Let yourself flow in the experience. You’re somewhere unusual doing something different! Shaking up your routine is an immense opportunity for growth. Once I let myself flow in the family life experience, my position as guest of honor turned into daughter, sister and auntie. I became part of the family and I am forever a part of this family in India. I’ve had both Mom and Dad take me to a doctor appointment, my brothers look after me when we go out dancing at night, my sisters make sure my favorite fruit (the chickoo) is always on my plate and we even had a family slumber party at their farmhouse. And when I get married one day, I’ll have guests of honor at my wedding including a personal henna artist!
- Make a plan to get yourself well in the areas you’ve let go in the flow. Allowing myself to experience the extraordinarily yummy home cooked meals and hospitality meant that my body expanded too. When I released into letting this happen, it was easier on my morale knowing that I would do a cleanse following my time with the family. I set myself up for total success booking a cleanse at The Sanctuary, a retreat center in Ko Phagnon, Thailand.