Thursday, September 21, 2017

On the road: Asian health practices

Travelling in Asia transports visitors from one adventure to another, and can teach them more than they realise — a whole atmosphere of ancient patterns that are more important than ever. Much of what travellers learn about healing in Asia is scientifically valid and easy to follow.

Here are some things I learned during my frequent trips to Asia in the past six years. Eastern philosophies and symbolism are traditionally based on balance and integration: Just consider concepts such as yin/yang or shiva/shakti, and practices such as yoga, acupuncture and massage. Asian and Western notions can be integrated for the well-being of ourselves and the planet.

During my trip it was a profound joy to visit markets and spas; float down the Mekong and view houses on stilts and elephants on pathways; observe orange-robed monks walking at dawn with their alms bowls; visit temples with naga guardians; and attend cooking, meditation and massage classes. In Yangon, it was a pleasure to visit the bustling Indian and Chinese neighbourhoods and sample the cuisine.

Small meals

My entry into Asia was Tokyo, a fast-paced, glittering city with many old neighbourhoods and polite people. I went to a restaurant in the Sozenji Temple area for breakfast: soba (buckwheat noodles), tofu and seaweed. It was natural and delicious — and just the right amount of food. But that was almost always the case, from Japan and South Korea to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

At a yoga centre in Kolkata, India, I met an ayurvedic doctor who said that a meal should be what can fit into your cupped hands. In Chiang Mai, I went to a cooking school where the head chef encouraged moderation and lots of spices (more on spices later).

Pad Thai (stir-fried noodles and vegetables), whether bought in a top restaurant or from a sidewalk vendor for 20 baht (65 US cents), was always a light meal that was just right. In Yangon, a vegetarian lunch (dal, rice, vegetables, bread) at a biryani restaurant cost just over a dollar — what a deal.

If we eat real food, as opposed to processed industrial food, we might be satisfied with less; if we buy less and make less, we can stay thinner.