Life can be pretty hectic. Work, life, family, friends, fitness, food, fun…trying to fit everything in can be a struggle. And trying to find the right balance between them all can seem almost impossible.
In Indochinese countries (Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Singapore) there’s a shared cultural emphasis placed on balance in all things. That means a balanced diet, a balanced body, balanced emotions and a balanced lifestyle. Much of this ties in to the Buddhist principle of Upekkha, meaning level-headedness, and the influence of Chinese culture and the balance of the elements (Yin and Yang). In ancient Chinese philosophy, wholeness comes when both your Yin (passive, dark and negative) and your Yang (active, bright and positive) are balanced. Just as shadows cannot exist without light – everything in this world is believed to have complementary forces of Yin and Yang, thus finding the perfect balance between the two is fundamental to achieving peace.
We can’t speak for everyone in Indochina (lord knows there’s a lot of road rage in Hanoi) but we find that following the Indochinese example does wonders for our wellbeing. So, if life’s getting on top of you here are a few ways you can work to readdress the balance.
As with many things, we think a good place to start is…
The concept of a 'balanced diet' isn't going to be new to many people's ears. We all know that whether you’re a meat-eater, vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free – you must get the right balance of proteins, fats, nutrients and carbohydrates in your diet to stay healthy. Luckily most Indochinese cuisines use a good mix of fresh vegetables, a little bit of meat or protein and healthy carbs like noodles and rice. But in Indochinese cultures, the idea of balance goes much deeper than just that.
Balancing flavours is not only important to create a delicious dish, but also to have a positive effect on health, mood and wellbeing. That means mastering the balance of sweet, sour, salty, spicy and umami (the five flavours) as well as ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ (warming or cooling).
What you should be eating depends on your health and your temperament. Feeling particularly rageful after a stressful day at work? Put down the Bun Bo Hue (a spicy noodle soup made from ‘hot’ beef and red chili) and reach for a Goi Cuon (a transparent spring roll, filled with cooling greens) – it will help calm down your stressed out body.
While diet has an important impact on how you feel physically, your mind can also wield huge power over your body. That’s where meditation comes in.
There’s something very primal and human about the art of meditation. It’s something that, in one form or another, communities have been using to give them inner peace and certainty for thousands of years – from the sweat lodge ceremonies of the native Americans, to the Sufi whirling dervishes, to the practice of contemplation and prayer in Christian monasteries. But the first reference to meditation as we now know it was made over 5000 years’ ago in Hindu scripture found in the Pakistan area of India.
This means that meditation far predates the Buddha. It has its roots in Vedic Hinduism – but the close geography and cultural cross-over of these communities goes some way to explaining the spread of modern meditation across the Asian region.
The spiritual balance that is achieved through meditation and yoga is a way of feeling at peace with the world. So instead of feeling that some people make you feel good and some people make you feel bad (unbalanced), understand that your happiness springs only from your own state of mind (balanced).
Of course, given the buzzing distractions of modern day life, finding your meditative balance all on your own can be easier in theory than in practice. So that’s why the third element to finding peace is…
The world is full of beautiful places to explore – but if you’re seeking the full spectrum of mind, body and soul balancing activities, a trip to Indochina is incomparable. It’s hard to pinpoint one country which is going to provide everything you need, which is why this region has so much to offer. From the hawker centres of Singapore, to the floating markets of Damnoen Saduak in Thailand, to the Kmer food stalls of Siem Reap in Cambodia, you’ll find good food in every corner of Southeast Asia.
You can be guided on your spiritual path at meditation centres too, like the luxurious, eco-friendly yoga lodges of Koh Samui or the strict, monk-led forest temple Wat Pa Na Khoun Noi in Cambodia, where Buddhist monks guide you through days filled with meditation, prayer, and partaking in offering (where you collect food for the temple).
Travelling through this diverse and culturally rich region doesn’t only offer enlightenment through the things you eat and the skills you learn, it offers the experience of a culture where balance is encouraged. The landscapes are beautiful, the people are friendly and the history is rich and multi-layered – so stray from the beaten path, mingle with the locals and make the most of this extraordinary culture.