The Ultimate Cure to Jet Lag
We've tried everything — Ambien, power naps, obscene amounts of coffee — all to no avail. Desperate and sleep deprived, Chelsea Bengier turns to her last resort: meditation.
Shit, shit, shit. The clock ticks to 5:24. Dodging cabs, I dash across the crosswalk toward 8th Street in downtown Manhattan and burst through the door of MNDFL just three minutes before class begins. People look up at me (I guess I broke their serenity), then go back to sipping their artisanal tea and chatting quietly in the seating area. There’s a discarded pile of shoes by the door — a pair of Jimmy Choos on top of neon-colored Nikes and men’s loafers — and I shyly slip off my pumps. Inside, the boutique meditation studio is all blond wood, whitewashed brick and edison light bulbs. There’s not a Buddha statue in sight, just rows of succulents and stacks of books like The Power of Now and Peace is Every Step, written by the instructors.
My body is still on 10:30 p.m. Madrid time, where I had vacationed three days earlier. I’d been struggling through the week — falling asleep at my desk in the middle of the day, waking up at 4 a.m., downing endless espresso shots (and I’m not even a coffee drinker). It is my last-ditch attempt to shake off the jet lag blues.
Full disclosure: The closest I’d ever gotten to meditation prior to this was listening (and laughing my a– off) to F*ck That: An Honest Meditation, which is basically a meditation tape for people with anger management issues. And, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was skeptical of joining the New Age-y half-hour session — but the class came recommended by a friend, so I decided why the hell not.
A bell rings, and everyone shuffles silently down the hallway to the classroom, dropping our iPhones and Androids in the "Unplug Bin" on the way. We took our places, squatting crisscrossed on round pillows and square cushions. The teacher, Sara, sits comfortably in loungewear and round gold glasses, with four Tibetan singing bowls at her feet.
"Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth with an ‘aahhhh,’" she says. The room reverberates with a collection of angry "aaahhhs" as my fellow New Yorkers release all their pent-up workday hell in one word. It isn’t the calm "ommm" I’m used to hearing during savasana at yoga.
Fifteen minutes in, I’m fidgeting like a 6-year-old. God, these jeans are tight. Shit, I still have to unpack my suitcase! … Did I leave my sink running?! I steal a glance around — I just can’t resist; everyone is zen and trancelike, sitting still with their palms open, and eyes closed (good students that they are, taking instructions very seriously). Focus. You got this. "Turn inward and listen to your body relax. Go to your stomach," Sara says as mine growls loudly, pleading me to feed it. "Then follow the movement deeper…"
Her soft words soon fade, replaced by the echo of the singing bowls. My shoulders stoop and my spine slumps. My head hangs heavy and for once, all my scattered thoughts are silent. I nod off, drifting in and out of consciousness. What seems like seconds later (in reality, 15 minutes), I wake up and stretch at the end of the class, feeling energized and more rested than I have in weeks. Power naps be damned, I’m hooked.
Why do I feel so rejuvenated? What’s the secret? I consult the expert, MNDFL co-founder and Chief Spiritual Officer (no, that’s not a typo), Lodro Rinzler. Here, he gives me the lowdown on how meditation can kick jet lag’s a–.
So, why meditate?
"It’s scientifically proven that meditation will boost your immune system, increase productivity and release stress," he says. "Nowadays, it’s not just your spiritual hippie friend telling you to meditate — it’s your doctor or therapist."
And can it really help with the side effects of jet lag? "People often think of energy as, ‘Oh, I’ve got to caffeinate!’ But that’s just a temporary boost," Rinzler explains. "If you meditate regularly, you start to feel like you naturally have more energy day-to-day because you’re allowing your body to let go of the stress it carries around."
Okay, well, I dozed off during class — great for my jet lag but not meditation, right?
"That’s not surprising," he laughs. "You’re not really supposed to fall asleep, but the point of meditation — especially for people who are jet lagged — is to rest the mind, and the fact that you dozed off means you’re calming down, and as a result, you sleep better."
Is it beneficial to meditate on the road?
"Of course it is! Running through airport security and being packed with other people on a plane is mentally exhausting."
So, when do you meditate in transit?
"When the plane takes off and lands," he says. "Getting in touch with your body and feeling your breath is very grounding in the midst of a high-energy time, particularly for people who have anxiety around flying."
You’ve published five books on meditation now and have had many tours around the country. How do you keep up the practice while traveling?
"I always bring something from my at-home meditation space, often a little statue of the Buddha, that I put in the hotel room to set the mood," he says. "Of course, other people may not want that kind of religious iconography (and we certainly don’t have it at MNDFL!), but they could swap it for a candle, an incense garden or anything that makes the space tranquil."
And how often should we meditate? "I mean, 12 hours a day would be great," he laughs. "But I recommend people start with 10 minutes daily at the same time, over a long period."
That night, as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, I catch myself focusing on my breathing. In and out. In and out. And I sleep the best I have in days.