Over the past few months I’ve talked a lot about relaxation, and how it’s one of those pieces of life at which I have not excelled in the past. I spend far too much time on the computer even though I had a palapa full of hammocks just 100 feet from my doorstep for months. But in moving to Mexico earlier this year, I tasked myself with expanding my capacity for relaxation. In this transition phase I wanted to use Mexico to look at what comes next for me—where I am, where I want to be, and any next steps to get there. And I wanted to learn balance. Though I post lots of pretty photos of my travels, I sometimes spend upwards of 10 hours in front of my computer, the perk of travel being that after those 10 hours I got to eat delicious tacos.
Balance though. It’s something we all struggle with; I have yet to meet someone who feels they perfectly balance each aspect of work-life-kids-relaxation-hobbies-etc. This is true for long-term travel as well.
So, relaxation. Living in San Pancho, Mexico was a gift to myself of time and space to process and plan, but perhaps more than that, to simply exist and live in the current moment. I failed at finding balance more days than not, but the successes, the times when I slowed down to enjoy meals and friends, are some of the sweetest memories and sweetest successes of my time there. And I credit most of this positive mental shift to deciding to slow down. I gave myself permission to relax and do less and it pulled me from my funk. And since it was so successful, I thought I’d share the lessons my little beach town taught me, a manifesto on the art of relaxation. :)
Accept the Art of the Hammock
Hammock-time just screams for a good book. I spent a lot of hammock time reading on my Kindle, working my way through a heap of travel books in my queue. While in Mexico I read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, The China Study, The Gifts of Imperfection, and No Touch Monkey, among about 15 others. (Heads up: a review post is in the works for some of the travel and non-travel books I’ve read and loved recently.) The key here was to put everything down and prioritize hammock time, to include it in the list of things that needed to get done, not just the “if I time” list.
- Find a shady spot
- Hearing distance from the ocean is ideal
- Keep an iced beverage within reach for maximum relaxation
- Resist any form of sightseeing—just hammock time
Learn the Art of Play
My more new-agey friends term it “getting in touch with my inner child,” and you know … that does pretty much sum it up. I had my time in hammocks these past five months, but I also spent dozens of hours volunteering with the kids at the community center and hours with the playing puppies in San Pancho. I spent my time in laughter and joy. Though I plan to share more about my time volunteering here, the short of it was days of singing songs with them, coloring pictures, and making egregious errors in my Spanish that left us all in stitches more than once. By seeking out those people and parts of life that still have carelessness, joy, and wonder, I could hijack some of that for myself. :)
- Hunt down kids or puppies (bonus points for the two together) and volunteer, chase a dog on the beach, etc.
- Join a beach volleyball game, they always need another team member
- Ride a bicycle—made me feel 10
Embrace the Art of Friendship
The new friendships I fostered by staying in one spot created the best recipe for relaxing and de-stressing. I counted on the faces and friends all over town as a surest way to let go of any anxieties I had (have) over where my life is heading next. During my periods of rapid travel it’s difficult to make the sort of friendships that last longer than the location. These fast friends are fun; they are genuine as well, but they often lack the depth of friendships formed over months instead of mere days. Fast-friends are an integral part of travel—these people who come into my life over a couple of days ensure that travel is rarely lonely. But part of relaxing into a new place is having the time to go deeper than the surface questions “how long are you here for” and connect.
If the surest way to keep stress at bay is by surrounding yourself with good people, I succeeded there. San Pancho is a unique town in that it harbors an eclectic mix of expats and locals. I am grateful to this town for the evenings spent in conversation listening to the wonderful local bands (like Pantera Fantasma and Dos Bertos), beach bonfires, and afternoons sipping hot copomo discussing philosophy, life, and love.
- Say yes to meeting up with friends
- Set a weekly meetup at a coffee shop
- Join expat Facebook forums for your town
Practice the Art of Good Health
If sleep, exercise, and good food are essential I won the battle on two of the three. I loved having a kitchen and I made use of the Friday organic market in nearby Sayulita. It seems counter-intuitive since I always post yummy food photos, but it’s actually hard to consistently eat healthy on the road between the packaged snacks and eating out every day, so markets and a kitchen are ideal for feeling healthier. Now add to that lots of sleep and it’s golden. San Pancho was a cinch on this front because the town closes by well before midnight and the roosters start crowing by 7, so that was a solid block of sleep each night.
Exercise is a tough one. On the upside, I ride my back everywhere. Downside, it’s not a very big town so “everywhere” doesn’t add up to much. My friend Victoria taught yoga in the park—it was lovely but the only word to adequately describe my attendance would be “sporadic” (and she would probably use the word “rare”).
- Shut down the computer and do something (anything) active
- Integrate more greens into your diet (they really do make a difference, and smoothie-it up if you can’t handle some of them in regular form)
- Cut out sugars and packaged snacks
Immerse in Art of the Nature
Travel puts me in direct contact with diverse landscapes—I’ve hiked the tallest mountain ranges in the world and swum in the clearest waters on earth. And it’s in Mexico that I began to practice mindfulness and live in each gift from nature around me. It’s a town tradition here to take in sunset on the beach, and they are doozies. Some of the prettiest I’ve ever witnessed, and each one different from the next. This ritual alone, of sunsets on the beach was my favorite part of the past six months. Finding that connection to nature and coupling it with friendships as we all sat at the water’s edge each night took away some of the last tinges of sadness I had over personal things that happened last year.
- Take a hike, swim, or long walk
- Just sit somewhere and observe what’s nearby
- Be present in the moment by spending some nature time solo
Technology is my biggest failure point. And the same thing for many traveling friends. If I’m not careful, I find myself sucked into mindless hours in front of my computer screen, not always even productive time if I answer the addicting lure of Facebook. So while you think I’m sightseeing in this great place, sometimes I’m actually Facebooking with my other “traveling” friends. And there’s something wacky about that … so in this guide to the art of relaxation, cutting out screen time is a must.
And now that I am home in Florida, I’ve been working on incorporating more of these into my home routine too. In between visiting friends I have actually driven to the beach here. I live 15 minutes from the beach but sometimes it’s years between visits for me, and that’s a shame. I’m working on being more mindful, more balanced. How about you? Anything you struggle with as well in navigating that balance?