Leah Abraham

Changed By Travel: Leah Abrahams

Photo: Elizabeth Hay Photography

Photo: Elizabeth Hay Photography

The summer I turned 18, I had the life-changing opportunity to go live and work in Costa Rica, on a small sustainable farm located near the surfer hub Dominical. My friend’s sister had traveled to this same farm a few summers prior, and I fell in love with her tales of a simpler life: fresh mangos picked off the trees, daily yoga sessions in the garden, and fresh, organic meals every night. The deal looked like this: Travelers were to perform several hours of work each day in exchange for free room and board. Before departing, I knew there would be plenty of farm work involved, but for some reason I pictured this element as somewhat of an afterthought— a supporting plot line to the scenic trip I would be taking. 

The farm was breathtakingly beautiful: Acres upon acres of lush greenery, cascading waterfalls, and tropical wildlife surrounded me at every turn. But shortly upon arrival, I quickly learned just how much manual labor was required in a given day. On day one at the farm—after being roused at 5:30AM by the sound of roosters—I was tasked with making cinnamon from scratch. Using a machete, I was instructed to shave the bark off several trees, and transport it in wheelbarrows up a steep hill. Although stimulating at first, I found that after merely an hour my arms were burning, my skin was sunburned, and I was ravenously hungry. I couldn’t believe that I had six more hours of work ahead of me — all I could think about was a cold shower, a nap, and clean sheets.

Our tasks on the farm ranged from shoveling manure and transporting up to fifty pounds of supplies to chopping down trees and picking fresh peanut plants. For the first few days, exhaustion overtook me and deeply tested my resolve. But by day four of five, I noticed a subtle but major shift: My energy levels were increasing, even though the work was getting more challenging. I wasn’t hitting my mid-day slump anymore, and I was waking up fully energized and clear. This, I realized, was the product of having developed a daily routine: rising with the sun each day and going to bed as soon as it set was putting me more in sync with nature, and giving me a natural energy boost that I hadn't experienced since I was a child. I quickly became hooked on this new feeling I was experiencing: I thought about the days that I needed coffee just to get out of bed in the morning and vowed never to go back to that state.

It has now been 10 years since the summer on the farm, but the importance of cultivating healthy and mindful habits has stuck with me. I learned that the rituals we followed in Costa Rica were similar to those of Ayurveda, a 5000-year-old traditional medicine system from India: Sleeping from the hours of 10pm to 6am for sustained energy, eliminating caffeine, eating a nourishing, mostly plant-based diet, getting sufficient exercise, and learning to take restful breaks. In Costa Rica, a common saying is "Pura Vida" or "pure life" and this is indeed what we cultivated by following some simple yet profound daily practices. 

We worked hard on the farm, and yet when our bodies grew tired, we rested. This taught me the importance of listening to my body, as opposed to pushing through and drowning out its messages with sugar or false energy boosts. Years later when I entered the corporate world, as my co-workers began to reach for energy drinks or coffee when the 3pm slump hit, I knew that the best re-charge was actually to do less, and I would take a brisk walk around the block or spend 10 minutes meditating. I still to this day wake up around 6am without an alarm, and try employ a "lights out" by 10pm rule in my home. The lessons I learned on the farm not only helped me to become #changedbytravel by shifting my perspective, but also taught me how to attain ultimate productivity and focus thanks to the cultivation of a healthy, regimented lifestyle.

Get Grounded in Your New Hood: 5 Mindful Moving Tips

IMAGE  VIA

IMAGE VIA

I am born and bred New Yorker, but two years ago, I made the decision to pack up my life and move across the country from Brooklyn to San Francisco, motivated by a new job, a rekindling of a romance, and most significantly, by a deep desire for a big adventure. My love for New York City runs deep, but I was longing for a change of scenery, and the glamorized “left coast” felt like the perfect place to make some new memories.

Moving across the country—at least logistically—was far easier than I thought it would be: I packed, sold what couldn’t be transported, booked a one-way ticket, and went. But emotionally, the move tugged on my heart strings as I underestimated how difficult it would be to leave my east coast tribe. Now that it’s been two years I can say confidently that I love my life in California.

Life transitions are never easy, but leaning on my wellness practices helped. These are the top five things I learned, which work not only for a move, but for any major shift we experience in life. 

  • Ditch What You Don’t Love: Only things that you absolutely love should take up space in your life. From the teachings of Marie Kondo: If it doesn't spark joy upon touching it, it isn't worth holding on to. This made my packing extra light (I boarded a plane with two big suitcases!), but unpacking was also a super pleasant experience because I had a true affinity for every single item that I kept.

  • Walking—Do a Lot of It: The best way to see a new city is by strapping on your sneakers and exploring. About a month into my move I challenged myself to take a solo trip to a new part of the city each week. These excursions help me navigate my new home and helped distract me when I would start to feel homesick or overwhelmed.

  • Focus on Present Sensations: I tasked myself to keep my thoughts focused on present sensations. Every time I caught my thoughts spiraling I would encourage my mind to come back to my surroundings and focus on what I was seeing, feeling, smelling, and hearing. This practice kept me focused and mindful while exploring my new 'hood and allowed me to notice all the little details that would have previously eluded me—from the cherry blossoms in Golden Gate Park to the sand dollars on Ocean Beach. This mindfulness practice was extremely beneficial during my move, but it can help you stay grounded no matter the transition.

  • Find Creative Ways to Discover Community: Finding like-minded individuals to spend time with is one of the most effective ways to make a new place start to feel like “home”. I used Meetup to find events related to my passions and met tons of people with similar interests. ConsciousCityGuide is another great resource for events in the health and wellness space—both platforms have enabled me to find my new tribe. 

  • Embrace Free Time: After living a jam-packed life in New York City, I found it jarring and often lonely to have a less than full social calendar. However, once I shifted my mindset to gratitude for all the free time now available, I began to appreciate the freedom to pursue creative passions I had previously been neglecting—from daily journaling to watercolor painting. 

Have you experienced a major transition in life where your wellness practices helped ground you? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below. - Leah Abrahams

6 Immunity-Boosting Travel Tips

IMAGE  VIA

IMAGE VIA

We’ve all been there: You’ve been counting down the minutes until your upcoming vacation, only to be knocked out by a cold or virus merely hours after arriving at your destination. Contrary to popular belief, flying won’t make you sick – but a compromised immune system will, and the recycled air in airports and airplanes is a prime place for germs to spread. While hand and seat sanitizers can work wonders while in flight, a healthy immune system is the best way to combat sickness, particularly leading up to long travel day. Scroll down for our top six pre-travel supplements, elixirs and lifestyle hacks to keep you healthy in-transit and beyond.

VITAMIN D:  Vitamin D is crucial to activating our immune defenses, according to research from the Mayo Clinic. Although our bodies produce Vitamin D when exposed to the sun, it can be difficult to get adequate amounts during the long winter months. Supplements are a great way to boost the immune system, just make sure you look for at least 600 international units (IU) per day when choosing one. Prefer to go the whole food route? Fatty fish, cheese and egg yolks are all rich in Vitamin D. Bonus: Vitamin D can also help aid in digestive health and brain health—a win-win. 

CHAGA MUSHROOM ELIXIR We’re huge fans of Four Sigmatic’s superfood mushroom beverages, and when it comes to boosting immunity, and we swear by the Chaga Mushroom Elixir mix. One packet contains extremely high antioxidant properties that support your daily wellness, energy levels, and protect your immune functions. Simply throw a packet in your carry on, ask the stewardess for a cup of hot water and voilà—you’ve got yourself an instant immunity elixir. 

MAINTAIN YOUR ZEN: Your first line of defense against illness is adopting a healthy lifestyle, and this means doing everything you can to reduce chronic stress. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, can alter the immune system and suppress digestion when consistently activated. Help keep stress at bay by adopting a consistent yoga practice, practicing daily meditation and developing deep breathing techniques. The great news is these practices travel, which means staying zen on the road is doable. 

EZC PACK: When it’s time to bust out the big guns (think: it’s been a long flu season and you’re boarding a red eye flight), we turn to this kit of heavy-duty Echinacea, Zinc and Vitamin C supplements. Starting this tapered pack five days before travel will enhance your body’s normal immune defenses and help you stay healthy amidst a plane of coughing strangers. 

PLENTY OF SHUT-EYE: Lack of sleep can wreak havoc on our immunity and leave us susceptible to colds and other viruses, our founder Linden Schaffer knows all about this and upped her sleep game when starting Pravassa. She details this along with the science behind sleep in her book Living Well on the Road. While all our bodies are different, getting between seven to eight hours of sleep per night is key and a non-negotiable in the days before you travel. Your immune system will thank you! - Leah Abraham