I was reminded by a colleague that even though we don’t have control over many of our external factors, what remains the same is that, for the most part, we do have control over how we take care of ourselves. Taking care of you involves developing your awareness for how you want to feel. I think we get used to feeling a certain way and that those patterns are etched deeply into our psyche as well as our nervous systems, affecting how we respond to the world. So with that, I would like to remind us of ways we can get healthier this season. After all, the healthier your body is, the more you can work on developing skills involving those subtle awarenesses which can bring more light into your personal world.
Ayurvedically speaking, this is vata season. The vata dosha, because its force is the wind element, has a drying effect–think of how quickly your hair dries on a windy day. Movement increases this dosha and anytime a dosha is increased too much, it can create imbalance in the body and the mind. Remember that vata increases as we age and is the dosha responsible for drying us out in general.
Winter marks vata season–as qualities of dry, light, and cold are prominent.
Even if you’re living in the southern part of the northern hemisphere, the weather is generally cooler and drier relative to July and August.
We want to maintain balance this season by reducing vata.
So we call upon the opposite qualities to create this balance.
Vata is relieved or reduced by
Moist (things and foods): think moist air and juicy foods
Heavy (things and foods): think thick blankets and mac and cheese
Warm (things, foods, people): think comforting friends and a hot cup of tea
Routine (which creates stability, calming the ever unstable qualities of vata or air element.)
Start with one thing at a time. Be patient. And cultivate perseverance.
Anything that pacifies the nervous system also pacifies vata.
Examples: spending time in nature, doing things s-l-o-w-l-y, focusing on one thing at a time, practicing deep breathing, and being with people who are supportive.
Vata is always aggravated by anything that disturbs the nervous system and the mind. Remember that too much vata can dry us out physically, mentally, and emotionally, especially when given time. Like the wind blowing on a mountain peak wearing it away over the years, vata is the force that moves the other elements (fire, water & earth) and it is the strongest doshic force. Without vata, we would be lump without blood coursing through our veins or air being moved throughout our bodies. Without vata, we could not sneeze, blink, take a good poo, urinate, have babies or menstrual cycles. But think of what happens when there’s too much vata and the actions above do not stop: instability and depletion are the result. Our bodies also need stability in order to recharge and to rejuvenate.
Remember that doshas are forces and are ever changing. And when the doshas are in balance, the body is given the opportunity to heal itself. So if you’re cold, wear a jacket, and if you’re frazzled, slow down. It is always about balance.
*If you are already warm, heavy, and/or are living in the southern hemisphere where it is now summer, you would balance by moving toward the opposite qualities: staying cool, moving more, and varying or changing your activities.
Healthy tips for vata season
(Or how to stay more balanced through the holiday romp.)
Folks who want to get well must give it effort. Yes, good ol’ discipline. But it’s worth it to at least see what it feels like to feel differently than you do now. Remember to start with where you are and get rid of the bad/good concept that erratically moves the mind, furthering imbalancing vata. It’s all about balance and not about punishing yourself or putting yourself down.
1. Limit your refined sugar consumption or stop eating all refined sugar.
If you want to have more energy and cut down your chances of catching colds and flus, stop eating the stuff made with white sugar. Refined sweets can cause glucose levels to rise too quickly and can lower immune responses making you more susceptible to whatever sickness is going around. Sugar also gives you a false sense of energy. Sugar in and of itself is an empty “food.” Take one, long break from refined sweets then note how you feel. (Without having to go into it–most packaged/refined foods have additional sugars added.) By the same token, after over indulging in refined sweets, note how you feel. It’s more important to make the connection than to judge yourself for being good or bad. Make a rule for yourself and set a goal. Keep a food diary, also noting how you feel at the end of your day. Begin to connect the dots in your mind, “When I eat this, I feel ____.” We want a relationship with our actions so that we have access to the profound and unifying power that can help us change direction.
2. Limit yourself to one alcoholic drink or try replacing with non alcoholic beverages.
Every one seems to respond to alcohol differently. Howie, my herbalist teacher, reminded us that once you feel drunk, your liver has reached a level where it can no longer process the alcohol, putting the body in a toxic or poisoned state.
But if you find yourself having more than one alcoholic beverage, alternate those beverages with water. Water is hydrating, alcohol is not. Also, adding water to your wine is helpful. It’s barely noticeable taste-wise, will lower the alcohol content and will provide more hydration.
You can also sip on sparkling water or non sparkling waters in beautiful glass bottles as an alternative.
3. Take time outs.
Time away from noise, crowds, and being overly stimulated. Remember that prana follows focus. The more the senses are stimulated, the more vata is increased. So balance out those parties by finding quiet time, which is nourishing to the nervous system.
4. Get into a good routine as much as you can.
Vata is inherently unstable. And the instability of vata is always calmed by routines. Even though any routine helps to settle the mind, we want to work on incorporating healthy routines into our lives. Exercising the same time every day is a good one. So is not being distracted while you eat and eating the same time every day. Etch out the time to enjoy what has the potential to nourish you.
5. Remember how important sleep is.
In Ayurveda, sleep is one of the three pillars of life.
Interestingly enough, the body needs energy to go to sleep and to stay asleep. Because many of us are so depleted, we do not have enough ojas (good immune strength) to settle the mind and the body into a deep rest. Taking care of the body and not over stressing in your day will actually allow the body to better relax in the evening. One of the reasons why it’s more difficult to stay asleep when we’re older is because we lack the same stability in the body as when we were younger. Ojas decreases when vata increases.
Not being able to sleep means that the vata dosha has increased in the mind or nervous system. If you should find yourself experiencing insomnia, increase the kapha dosha which has the qualities of heavy and dull.
Dr. Lad et al. suggest the following helps.
Warmed, whole milk.
To the milk heating on the stove (not in the microwave) add one of the following:
* A pinch of nutmeg
*several blanched crushed almonds, a pinch of nutmeg and cardamom. The almonds can be ground in a coffee grinder.
I especially like Natural Vitality product because the fizzy drink is easy to take. Magnesium has a myriad number of health benefits, especially if you’re stressed.
Try Cherries (when they’re in season)
Cherries help mental fatigue and stress. Eating 10 – 20 a day may help to relieve that condition.
There are many soothing teas out there to assist the nervous system and help it to relax. Make sure you have nothing with caffeine after 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon.
Warm oil on the body
Banyan’s sleep easy medicated oil is especially helpful for some. Follow the directions on the bottle–a dab on the top of the head, temples, solar plexus, and bottoms of the feet right before getting into bed.
Get up and eat something, like a warm grain (and not a salad).
Actually this works for me if I get up in in the middle in the night and really cannot go back to sleep. The ideal thing, of course, is having a clear digestive system during the night. But sleep is seen as so important that it overrides that.
Grains also have a sweet quality (the natural sweet taste calms the nervous system and warm settles vata.)
Quick cooked oatmeal with a few dates and whole milk helps my body settle and my mind become less active. Adding ground nutmeg is also helpful as nutmeg has a dulling effect on the mind.
The sweet taste is considered the most ‘earthy’ taste in Ayurveda, containing the elements earth and water. Earth and water help to stabilize wind or vata energy. However, the ancient healers had no experience with refined sugars which, in excess, throws all three doshas out of whack. Traditionally, sweet taste examples were meats, dairy, grains, oil, and nuts. Of course, eating too much of these foods will contribute to weight gain–something that was considered important in days before refrigeration and easy food access. In the winter, the “sweet, tissue builder taste” was available and welcomed–think about hunting for meats and how dried grains can be stored. Salty and sour foods, also considered tissue building, are the tastes inherent in preserved foods– an important process after the growing season was long over.
Having extra weight also helps to hold heat in the body. A good thing when your only way to get warm was to brave the winter winds to get firewood.
I know that times have changed. Still, we always take into consideration
So there is no one size that fits all occasions or all bodies.
And please keep in mind the concept about balance
If your mind is active all day, take time to rest it
If your body is idle most of the week, take time to move it
If you’ve been overeating, make the space for clearing the digestive system by giving it a break from food.
If the mind can’t sleep, don’t stimulate it
If the body is moving all the time, take time to rest it
If you’ve been eating too many refined foods, move towards whole, cooked fare.
With the winds of change ever blowing, stability through enjoying helpful foods and appropriate lifestyle habits will keep us in balance this coming year.
May prosperity of mind, body, and spirit find you this coming New Year and always!