Category Archives: Wellness

Mai Tais With the Sun

Tomorrow is the start of October, and usually I love this month. It’s glorious. The changing leaves. The variations in temperatures. The sky is a different kind of blue. Autumn, and October in particular, is pretty, though I’m not a fan of everything suddenly becoming flavored with pumpkin spice (that starts on September 1 for some reason, when the American Northeast decides everything should smell and taste like pie).

This autumn, the changing skies feel more ominous to me. Today was a very gray, gloomy day in the greater New York City area. Everyone wore black and carried black umbrellas. It felt like a funeral for summer. Today reminded me of my three years living in Seattle. In Seattle, I would become very depressed starting every November, I’d stay balled up until about April, and then between May and October I felt fine. I couldn’t figure out why. Then we moved to Washington, D.C., where winter seems to last seven weeks, crocuses pop up in late February, it’s generally sunnier, and suddenly I felt okay.


I have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and last winter was my first winter managing things without medication. Folks, it’s hard. You feel dysfunctional for about four consecutive months, that’s one-third of the year where you don’t feel like yourself. It’s only September 30, and today I had to use my light box for over an hour. Just a month ago, I was on a beach in Los Angeles trying not to get skin cancer.

I do all the things they tell people with SAD to do: I sit in front of my light box, which I named Helios. I do yoga, I dance, I bike if the roads are dry, I lift weights, I don’t hide in the house all day, I meditate, I meet up with people for lunch/dinner/drinks. I go outside. Last January, I remember sitting on my front step in 25-degree cold sipping hot coffee just because the sun was everywhere that day. The lack of sunlight is more than just a mood thing for me; ongoing darkness sends my thyroid into overdrive, which sends my body into a state of stress, which causes my heart to sometimes skip a beat—usually while I’m trying to fall asleep—which sucks because winter makes my insomnia worse. No pun intended, but there’s a snowball effect, with the physical following the mental. Darkness makes me anxious.

I was born in the Snow Belt. I grew up in a house where everyone yelled, where fallen apples or too much snow covered the ground most of the year. I lived in upstate New York until I was 22 years old. Summers were hot and short; winters were long and bitter. I believe my restlessness and need for travel began there in my childhood home, two miles from that moody Lake Ontario shoreline; I can’t recall a time growing up when I didn’t want to be somewhere else. And now, on this overcast day, as I watch neighbors’ Halloween decorations go up, as I overhear people revel in that “crisp fall air” vibe, I feel incredible isolation, for all I want to do is head to Mexico before Trump builds that wall, eat tacos, read on the beach all day, and dance at the clubs all night. This year, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Bahamas and Cuba, two late-spring trips within just a few weeks of each other. Let’s just say the Caribbean (and Mexico) is medicinal.

Last October, I went on a press trip to Mexico and noticed a change in my body chemistry while there. The trip was annoying, but my body felt calm. Sunshine flooded me. I came home four days later, daylight savings kicked in, which meant it was now dark by 4:30 p.m., and once again, I was huddled on the sofa trying not to think about death.

When I say sunshine and palm trees give me the feels, I mean it—literally. We are looking to move to Los Angeles, but that won’t happen until 2018, so I still need to cope with the Northeast for another year and a half. I would probably do very well with a Colorado winter—that state gets so much sunshine year-round it’s like someone smiling at you all the time. As I keep telling people, it’s not the snow or the cold that bothers me—I love to ski! It’s the lack of sunlight, the cloud cover, even the lack of color in the sky. The heaviness of this kind of weather sends my serotonin tanking. Today, I had practically every light on in this house just to counter the darkness outside, and we’re less than two weeks into autumn.

This fall and winter, I am armed with more strategies, now that I have a sense of what to expect off-meds. We are going to Florida in December. I am visiting a friend in Arizona in February. I am chopping up winter into more bite-sized chunks, unlike last year where I thought stubbornness and focus would help me slog through the entire season. Instead, I huddled at home. Nature showed me who’s boss—again. This time, I plan to soak up whatever sunlight I can wherever I can, and store it like a camel. I’m even getting on a plane to seek out sunshine, and I hate flying, but I figure a trip somewhere will take me out of the spiral that is SAD. And then in mid-March, we set the clocks forward and daylight will start to stretch into 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m. That’s when I feel the tension subside, negative narratives melting with the snow. Longer days mean more possibilities. The sun signals psychological relief, even optimism. And then we get to June when the sun lingers until 8 p.m. or so, like some dinner date where the conversation is going so well that you lose track of time, and you say “Yes! You’re still here! Let’s order Mai Tais!”

Seeking Enlightenment in the Berkshires

To me, and perhaps to other New Yorkers, the Berkshires look like the Catskills; those same soft blue ripples of rock rising and falling to the north. Yet the Berkshires have a very different narrative than the Catskills. Today, the Catskills feature some of the Rust Belt deterioration that dominates so much of upstate New York, peppered with farms, ski resorts, struggling businesses and some of the hippie fervor that took root there decades ago and just kept growing. The Berkshires is more matronly, posh, stately, pastoral and charming like Vermont, more connected to New England with its white spire churches reaching toward the sky.

While the hippies were farming in the Catskills, across the border, the healing arts crowd were setting up camp and eventually gathered enough resources to hang up a shingle and offer yoga classes and workshops on positive energy. This place is called Kripalu and it’s located in the Berkshires in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The building was once a Jesuit seminary that sat vacant for over a decade, but you’d never know that by the full parking lot, the constant soundtrack of wheeled luggage, the buzz from the cafeteria and the heavy silences coming from the very full yoga and meditation classrooms.


Everyone comes to Kripalu seeking something. There’s a spa, dancing, yoga, meditation, music–almost anything that will help you achieve happiness and calm is offered at Kripalu. Unfortunately for me, this act of seeking kept me indoors the whole time, so I missed out on the beauty that is the Berkshires. This was my first time to the Berkshires and Kripalu, yet what I got over the weekend was just a sampler plate of what’s there. I signed up for a weekend meditation workshop with David Nichtern, who deftly uses humor to teach newbies who can’t sit still how to chill out. On a cold winter weekend, my meditation class was packed. There were men, women, young people, old people, psychologists, entrepreneurs, military wives, empty-nesters, people coping with chronic conditions and people coping with losing loved ones. We all sat on our cushions, eager to let go of what had brought us there.

Berkshires 2

Getaways at Kripalu tend to focus on interiors, *your* interior. It’s not a typical hotel getaway filled with distractions. Amenities at Kripalu are a little different; there may be beds, but this is a nonprofit institution that depends on donations, so while there is spa, this isn’t fancy-pants stuff. Weekend workshops include food, but when you hear the word “cafeteria” you brace for the worst. The exact opposite happened at Kripalu. The food was delicious and inspiring. I ate kitchari every day and looked up recipes on how I could cook it at home. I was a regular at the “Buddha Bar,” which was where the vegans hung out. There was a gluten-free bread basket area. I ate dahl and saag, butternut squash and quinoa, chick peas and kale. The tabletops offered pink Himalayan salt and the beverage counter offered organic white tea. There’s even a silent breakfast–you are required to enjoy breakfast in contemplative silence (I recommend it). Coffee addicts were out of luck; Kripalu’s cafeteria doesn’t serve coffee so the line at the small cafe across from the gift shop was always long in the morning. But I’m fine without coffee. I’d return to Kripalu just to eat.

And that’s what I think of when I think of the Berkshires; a serene winter weekend cocooned in a facility perched on a hilltop, where the views were amazing, the building felt like a mental institution, and the food was worth second helpings. Kripalu’s accommodations are very spartan so if you’re the type of traveler who requires a certain level of comfort and privacy, dorm-style vacationing may not be for you. I’m not even sure it’s for me. Sharing a bathroom with a hallway full of middle-aged women and a few twenty-somethings gave me recurrent flashbacks of college freshman dorm life. I’m fine without a TV in the room, but I prefer a private bathroom instead of the corner sink I had in my dorm-like room. Kripalu does offer more adorned rooms at higher prices, and next time, I might just pay a little extra to not have to remember my room key should I have to run to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

But I also need to go back to see the Berkshires, for all I experienced of the region either came from looking out the window while in meditation class at Kripalu or looking out the window during the drive there and back. I missed out on some fantastic hiking, pastoral New Englandness and town square boutique-y charm. There’s a writing workshop held at Blantyre in the Berkshires I might look into, but that event will likely also keep me indoors writing (and probably doing some yoga and meditation). I believe the Berkshires are more than a pretty view through a window, but it may be a while before I get to find out.

Because Winning Is Fun

I’ve never written about my serial spa quests here, but, well, I’m a spa gal. I like massages and scented candles and rose petals floating in foot tubs and facials and fuzzy slippers to wear while I’m enjoying all this stuff. Forget getting my nails done every other week at some local nail salon. I’d rather put money for that $10 manicure or $35 pedicure towards something that really counts, like a deep-tissue massage or a vitamin C facial, which I did last August when I stayed at InterContinental The Clement Monterey.

We all need to unwind, so while you squirrel away your hard-earned cash for your next spa treatment, as I am, toss your hat into the ring and win a chance at a spa getaway in Palm Springs, California, a place I am extremely eager to visit (if you go, please tell me all about it)! My friends at CheapOAir are holding a contest, and all that’s required of you is to sign up. Easy-peasy, right?

This is the part where I say, “Wait! There’s more!” In partnership with Qatar Airways, CheapOAir is also having another contest; an opportunity to win two tickets to Kathmandu, Nepal, a city filled with historic temples, amazing vistas and the aptly named Garden of Dreams. Travel contests spark the fun kind of “what if” questions to think about when you’re commuting and twiddling with your smartphones. Sign up. To quote Tyrion Lannister, “life is so full of possibilities.” There are too many awesome reasons to travel, and winning a contest is just one of them.