By Monica Bloom
If you have felt like doing nothing but wrapping in a cozy blanket, lighting the fireplace and cozying up with a good book, it doesn’t mean you are lazy or crazy or anti-social. It means you are doing exactly what the season is driving you to do – it’s good for us to hibernate this time of year! We need the rejuvenation, the slowness, and the stillness because it’s vata season.
Vata dosha is the energy of movement. Vata is responsible for all movement of the body, so it’s involved in…everything. Vata energy governs fall and the first part of winter. And at this time of year, the surrounding nature of vata is dry, light, cold, subtle, moving (windy) and rough. While that is happening outside, those qualities increase in us too.
Our skin, hair and nails tend toward dryness or splitting and breaking. Our bodies are colder. And our mind can feel like it’s racing and unsettled due to the light and mobile qualities of vata.
Because nature is larger than us, the season will drive our tendencies, so we need to make sure we are keeping in good balance with the season.
In Ayurveda, like increases like, so we use the opposite qualities to stay balanced. A simple example is, if it’s cold, we need to warm up. The opposite qualities of vata are oily, heavy, warm, dense, still and smooth, and those are all vata-balancing qualities.
During winter, to maintain our balance in mind and body, we want to bring these vata-balancing qualities into our food, exercise, daily routine, mind and emotions. The goal is to slow down, create a reliable routine, embrace and practice stillness, and keep ourselves grounded.
Sounds pretty good, right? If the world is moving fast, light and cold around us, we need to stay steady, warm and cozied, not jump into the fray. Three cheers and a permission slip for hibernation!
1) Get enough sleep. Low quality or quantity of sleep is one of the fastest ways to imbalance vata because the body doesn’t get the stillness, heaviness and restoration that it needs. If we don’t get enough sleep, the energy of movement will keep increasing and we can end up with all kinds of problems including insomnia (it’s a cause and an effect), constipation, anxiety, moodiness, racing mind, scattered thoughts and overall exhaustion. Tip: Go to sleep at the same time each night so your body keeps a rhythm.
2) Heavy, warm, comfort foods. In general, foods during vata season should be warm, heavy, and wet (saucy, oily, soupy) to counterbalance the cold, light and dryness in nature. This is not the season for salads, rice cakes, or raw vegetables because those foods are too cold and dry. Anything that is too cold or raw will dampen our digestive fire, increase the dry, light and cold qualities within us and can cause vata problems like bloating, cramps, gas, constipation and constant snacking. Practice: Foods like hearty soups, stews, and warm comfort foods are fantastic choices to satisfy and ground our minds and bodies.
3) Bring on the oils! Oil in our foods and oil on our skin keeps us from drying out on the inside and outside. Using oil on our skin acts as a barrier which keeps us warmer and skin will also feel soft and look younger. Dryness is the cause of early aging but oil fills in the dry “cracks” and creates a suppleness so we look more youthful and radiate a nice glow.
Practice: Warm up some expeller pressed almond oil on the stove (not too hot) and massage on your hands, arms, feet and legs before going out into the winter cold. Notice how the cold doesn’t reach you and how soft your skin is! Promotes circulation as well.
Using oils in our food is important too because the outside of our bodies is a direct reflection of the inside. Ideas: Dip slices of baguette in olive oil. Drizzle olive oil on warm vegetables, squeeze a little lemon and sprinkle salt and pepper. Swap out butter for ghee and spread ghee on your toast or English muffin, or melt in oatmeal.
4) Steam. Oil + steam is a magical combination! Oil balances dry. Steam (warm, wet, heavy) balances cold, dry and light. Practice: Start up a hot shower and let the bathroom steam up. While that’s going, do a warm oil massage starting with your feet, all the way up to your head. When the room is steamed, turn off the water, and breathe in the steam while the oil soaks into your skin (5-10 minutes). Then, shower off. Notice how your mind settles into a space of peace and calm. Notice how your body feels soft, yet strong and flexible.
5) Reliable schedule. If we practice doing the same things at the same time each day, we don’t have to constantly reinvent. Reinventing takes thinking and energy and if we do that every day, all day, we will get exhausted. Keep the simple things simple so that your mind has room for more influential and challenging tasks. Practice: Wake and sleep at the same time each day. Eat lunch at the same time (bonus points if you bring it from home) and exercise at the same time. That’s it. If you build the rest of your schedule around these simple practices, you will feel grounded, clear, and vibrant.
6) Consistent yoga routine. This is not the time of year to do intense, fast-moving exercise. Hooray! We feel like hibernating anyway, so this is perfect. This is the time to keep our feet planted on the ground while bringing full intent and connection between our bodies and minds. Sweating regularly is beneficial (it’s a waste product), so practice a challenging yoga session a few times a week and balance it with some restorative yoga. Getting close to the ground while lengthening, strengthening and slowing down really helps calm vata energy. As a bonus, we actually settle and focus our minds when our bodies do the same.
Don’t these things sound luxurious and almost too good to be true!? The fast-paced lifestyle most of us are used to wears us down. These practices will help rejuvenate and build the body while freeing the mind to let go of a flurry of decisions to focus on what really matters. So go ahead, make a cup of my chai, grab a blanket, and cozy up for some R&R.
Monica B’s Chai
I concocted this recipe on my own because I was saddened by the powdery stuff at coffee shops called “chai.” I believe the secret ingredient is black pepper which gives it a rich zing.
12 cardamom pods
8 black pepper balls
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 tsp. of ginger
3 black tea bags
Crush the cardamom, cloves and pepper. Fill a pot with 3 1/2 cups water, 2 cups organic whole or coconut milk. Dump all spices in the pot. Turn on medium heat and bring just to a boil then remove from heat. Add 3 tea bags and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain into a mug, add brown sugar if desired. It will be rich and milky.
Author of In Your Elements: A Blooming Ayurvedic Guide to Creating Your Best Life and creator of heymonicab.com, Monica Bloom is an expert at tucking Ayurveda neatly into a busy modern life. She grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on beer, cheese, fried things and Green Bay Packer football games on Sundays. She currently works a job-job with a 2.5-hour daily commute in tech-crazy San Francisco and comes home to an endearing husband, a spritely toddler, two dogs and a cat. She practices Ayurveda while juggling the busy-ness of life and has been actively sharing Ayurvedic wisdom since 2008. If she can incorporate Ayurveda into her wonky-busy schedule, you can, too.