At the time of year when the natural world is withdrawing, turning inward and conserving energy our cultural traditions pull us in the opposite direction. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the demands on our time tend to increase, as our natural inclination is to slow things down, retreat, and perhaps curl up in front of a warm fire to read a good book. We instead are often called to ramp things up- extra shopping, holiday parties and gatherings, sending holiday greetings to everyone we know, or one of any number of frenzied holiday activities that seem to pile up at this time of year. This disconnect between what we are naturally called to do (slow down) and what we feel we “have” to do (speed up…do more….) can leave us feeling off kilter, out of sorts, depleted. Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, can not only help us understand why, but also what, we can do to navigate this challenging but enriching time of year.
Ayurveda teaches us that “like” increases “like” and opposites balance. Therefore, at a time of year when we are transitioning from one season to another and the qualities of the Vata Dosha are predominant (variable, dry, cool, and unstable) we heighten those qualities when we are unsettled and unstable in our own routines and behaviors. We can generally regain our balance through activities and behaviors with the opposite qualities, in other words, stability, predictability and calm. I am not suggesting that you forego Christmas shopping or the office holiday party but instead to approach these and other activities with an awareness of the relative cost and what you can do to maintain your equilibrium. The Ayurvedic toolbox offers a number of tools to help us navigate the seasonal shift.
Routine: Establishing a daily routine (Dinacharya) goes a long way to help us not only set our day but leaves us feeling stable and steady as we prepare for whatever our day may bring. The top nine Ayurvedic practices for establishing a routine as laid out by Kathryn Templeton (Yoga International, Nov. 19, 2013) are: 1st, Wake up with the sun (same time every day). 2nd, Scrape the tongue. 3rd, Neti Pot. 4th, Nasya Oil (in nostrils). 5th, Drink warm water with lemon (or lime). 6th, Sesame oil on gums (swish in mouth). 7th, Evacuate bowels. 8th, Abyhanga-brush skin/ self-massage with warming oil. 9th, Meditate/yoga practice. Attempting to begin a routine with all nine practices may be overwhelming so even choosing a few of them and trying it for a week or so will make a big difference.
Diet: When things are unstable, cold, and dry in the natural world it can leave us feeling the same way. We can balance that by ingesting warm, filling, moist foods- think hot soups, stews, and cooked root vegetables as well as drinking warm milk, chai or hot tea and minimizing dry, cold, raw food.
Yoga: Adjusting our asana and meditation practice can also help us find balance. During early winter when things are dry, unstable and variable and we have the added activities and pressures of the holidays, a calm, grounding asana practice can go a long way to help us find and keep our center. Developing or enhancing a routine meditation practice will also help regain equilibrium.
The beauty of the winter season is ours for the taking especially if we take the time to adjust our routine, our diet, and our yoga practice so that we can find and maintain our balance and enjoy the gifts that this time of year has to offer.