The life of a dancer, especially a freelance dancer, is accompanied with a suitcase being constantly on the alert. The dancer doesn´t even take some of the things out of the suitcase, it´s not worth it. Traveling holds the same part of our life, as does a warm up before training. Many of us cannot imagine our profession without traveling. However, this chapter is for everybody, because every one of us travels from time to time, and so we all fall out of our common rhythm. It hits some more and some less. What does it depend on?
When we are young, we don´t feel some special intervention to our organism during and after traveling. Usually, a young body adapts to changes very fast, it doesn´t feel any notable tiredness or health issues. We mostly feel pleasant excitement from discovering the new. But this latency of consequences is tricky. Based on my communication with many dancers and actors of movement theatre from all around the world, I point out, that with rising age every one of us starts to look at traveling differently. While we are young, we are craving possibilities to travel, when we are older, we feel that traveling is draining us more and more. We start to calculate the time we spend traveling, and begin to think more about the relaxing or recovery days and how to organise them. The journey for us is not only some common relocation, for us, traveling starts to be work itself.
What is happening during traveling?
Firstly, let´s look at it with the eye of Western scientific perspective. When we go very fast in a car, bus, or train, not even speaking of airplane, our nervous system knows that it is being exposed to danger. Thanks to its ability to supress feelings, the brain overcomes it of course – it is a way of adaptation of the organism to new conditions and it was given to us so we could survive. We are trained for it from childhood, we teach it to small babies, when we are buckling them into their car seat. But the body knows by itself, because it has the vestibular system which tells the body what speed it is moving. So, the body is naturally afraid, afraid in the deep subtle structures, and so obviously a reaction of our system must happen. The majority of the time we are tired because our body needs to compensate the stress with a total shutdown. So that is why resting after travel is reasonable.
During flights through time zones, something even more serious happens to our system. What is known as “jet lag” is a state of total scatter of our body´s daily rhythm. During it, our circadian rhythm is disrupted, which is one of the biorhythms. It takes approximately twenty to twenty-four hours, depending on the individual and the conditions. This rhythm is responsible for managing physical functions, for example, alternating between sleep and vigilance, regular changes of body temperature, secretion of hormones, or blood pressure level. This rhythm is directly dependent on the amount of daily light. If we stint ourselves from the amount of this light with a “jump” through a time zone, or on the contrary, we prolong it, it will influence the secretion of the sleep hormone -melatonin, which is responsible for the feeling of sleepiness and it allows us to fall asleep. If it is disturbed, we have problems. Our natural circadian rhythm, which we were functioning with the past few months, or years, suddenly breaks. And with this, all the physical processes, that are dependent on it, get confused and damaged. The more time zones we cross, the worse the manifestation of jet lag are. We can experience buzzing in the head, muscle or joint pain, we can be grumpy, hypersensitive to light and sounds, lose our appetite, or generally not feel like ourselves. Problems with sleep are a guarantee – during the day we feel strong tiredness and fatigue, and on the contrary, in the middle of the night we wake up. We cannot fall asleep again, and yet, we are so tired that we are not able to stay awake either. Women can experience disruption of the menstrual cycle, which can be prolonged by a week or two. The manifestations of jet lag are generally less with flights to the west, because we actually prolong the day. The adaptation happens faster, but it is also strong. The symptoms are worse and longer with the flights to the east. Depending on the individual, the state of the organism and the number of time zones crossed, jet lag can last one to three days, but in some cases even a week. If I point out that some dancers are flying through four time zones, five times a year, we can all agree that it is really a big challenge for the organism.
How do Taoists look at it through the Chinese medicine?
The ideas expressed in this book are thousands of years old. Airplanes did not exist, let alone the possibility to relocate to another hemisphere of our planet at such a high speed. But traveling always existed, even in ancient China, people were traveling for business long distances also outside of China.
Chinese Medicine cannot measure hormone levels, it did not discover the vestibular system, or circadian rhythms, but it looks at this topic with its own perspective and its own terminology. If we understand it, we discover that it is not far from the Western point of view. Firstly, by traveling we disrupt the phase SOIL in a human. As we know, the phase SOIL is dependent on regularity, on rhythm, and with traveling this rhythmic chain will be broken. The intensity of the break is proportionally dependent on the length of traveling and conditions which we are traveling in, and where we are traveling to. The organs of the phase SOIL, spleen and stomach, must function excessively, so that regularity is reestablished. The second circuit which is influenced by traveling, is the phase WATER – our prenatal source – kidneys. Kidneys, as our deepest source of Qi, are responsible for our deepest and most subtle processes, so for our biorhythms. If it is interrupted, the kidneys must function markedly more, to take us back to our normal biological function. On the topic of fear from speed, we also arrive to the kidneys. Fear from the perspective of Chinese medicine is related to kidneys, it weakens them. Kidneys themselves are the basis of our vitality and our health, and if we over drain their Qi, we are using our reserves. Speed itself is yang. During harmonisation of this state, the kidneys are sending yin to the system. It is yin that in other cases would be used differently, for example for the regeneration of the organism, or blood nourishment. It winds down to over consumption. So, it is logical that after traveling we feel tired. Even though we are sitting on our butts, the system of our body is functioning on full tilt. That is why I am repeating – it is necessary to give yourself deep relaxation after traveling!
Finally, the heart is involved in this process too. As we know, the heart is the residency of our spirit “Shen”, our soul. Even though during traveling our body relocates very fast somewhere else, the soul needs a little bit more time to “catch up” to the body. Maybe it sounds too esoteric, but the well-known feeling of “not being in our own skin”, is exactly what I am talking about. It can be accompanied with different strange dreams. After traveling to the destination, it is necessary to give yourself relaxation, it means not to bother yourself straight away and too much. Then we give the soul time to catch up to the body and unite with it.
The result of all of this is that a person with a strong middle, with good Qi of stomach and spleen, but also a person with good Qi of kidneys, handles traveling better. So, it is logical that an older person who is generally loosing energy, will feel discomfort from traveling.
Another factor connected to traveling.
The feeling of home is incredibly important for a person, it is also important for the phase SOIL in the person. Home is our external centre which we can lean on. There can be times, when dancers don´t have a home, they have it temporarily in the suitcase. It requires from them a big dose of adaptability. Or they are changing several homes in short period. Or some of them have many homes at the same time, which also requires the ability to adapt because during this time the earthly organs are on the alert.
The older the dancers are, the less they experiment with the absence of home and the deeper and stronger they feel their roots. Rising age is creating for them the need to spend more time at home and if they are supposed to travel somewhere, they make sure it will be as short as possible.
The Second factor which is strongly influenced by traveling is the change of cuisine and so the influence on eating habits and eating needs. In a new place we don´t have our own kitchen, many times we don´t have any kitchen at all and so we cannot eat and refill our Qi according to our needs. It can be “part of the game” of how to manage to adapt in those conditions, but it is undeniable that it excessively influences our state and Qi. So, we solve our nutrition with restaurants. Sometimes it can be freeing, but not always suitable. Since it is not always possible to buy what we need in the shops, we often cover hunger with buying junk food. It is a load for the organism.
Journey is not the right time for work.
Many of us perceive traveling as time for work, time which should be used productively. Because of great busyness, it is often the only time to reply to emails, or to plan our work or private life. Many of us, as soon as we get into the means of transport, open our laptop, look at the screen and work. I note that also surfing or scrolling of Facebook statuses is mental work which is tiring to the organism. We can suppress the symptoms of fatigue very quickly when we are young, however with rising age we start to perceive the journey itself as work and that is why we don´t add any other work to it. Fortunately, the body is sometimes stronger than the mind. Even if we plan work in trains or busses, after few kilometres we fall asleep. In some cases, we are not capable of focussing on work, and so we only listen to music or observe the scenery. The fact that the body is forcing us to sleep during travel, indicates that traveling actually isn´t the right time for work for our organism. That with this relaxed state, our body needs to balance that it has more than enough work with this situation.
Covering tiredness with coffee, or possibly with other stimulating substances, is very dangerous. What does our body tell us when we are tired? It gives us a message that our system is overworked and that if we don´t want it to wear out very quickly, or denounce service, we should respect the voice and relax. During tiredness the kidneys are “screaming” the most, which are the source of our prenatal Qi and they don´t want to use it all. They want to save it for next the years of our life. The body wants to protect us from other exhaustion with this feeling of tiredness. After coffee we feel excitement, however, only with a short effect. In the end we reach our own reserves and therefore we exploit our kidneys. If we do this regularly, we are tiling a way to many illnesses which otherwise wouldn’t have to manifest.
The result of all of this is:
- Let´s travel in a way to have time for rest and relaxation. No work during traveling. After reaching our destination where we are supposed to teach, or perform, ask the organizers for free days, do not perceive them as a luxury. To reach a destination in the evening and start working in the morning is a killer.
- Never fly in a plane the day of the performance.
- Let´s try to think about the possibilities of nutrition before, ask the organizers before and ask them to secure basic conditions for us.
- Keep the hydration mode during traveling.
Some advice to better handle jetlag:
- A few days before the flight, start gradually changing for the time zone where you are preparing to travel.
- If it is possible, fly with a night flight with the arrival to the destination in the early morning.
- Avoid drinking alcohol during the flight.
- Drink enough water.
- Try to sleep during the flight.
- Do not work during the flight.
- As soon as possible after the arrival, move in the fresh air and daily light.
- Do not go to sleep after arrival but try to stay up until the evening of the place of arrival.
- After flying over time zones, secure for yourself a minimum of two days of rest before you start working.
After arriving home from the business trip permit yourself:
- A lot of sleep.
- Passive relaxation, walks in fresh air.
- At least two days of relaxation before you start working again. Even longer according to the length of the journey.
- Eat quality and regular food.
From the perspective of Chinese medicine, we can also help ourselves these ways:
With any traveling, but especially with longer and harder traveling, it is important to dedicate to your centre -the organs of spleen and stomach. One of suitable ways is moxibustion of the point Zusanli – ST 36, so 36th point on the stomach meridian (see picture). You can read about moxibustion in the chapter/blog “Moxa in the dancer´s first aid kit”. It is suitable to start with moxibustion a week or two before a flight, and then continue with it after arrival, too. The choice of nutrition, supporting these organs, is also a good solution of filling Qi. Chinese medicine also offers several herbal mixtures supporting these organs. Strengthening the centre is essential. If the centre is strong, we don´t dig into our reserves from the kidneys. However, supplementing treatment can also help the kidneys through point Yingu KI 10, 10th point on the kidneys meridian (see picture). It is in the furrow under the knee, between two ligaments on the internal sides of the knees. You can push the points or use moxibustion on them shortly. These are the points of our biorhythm. We teach moxibustion at our workshops.
From Zuna´s book “TAO of movement”.