This season Mother Nature has shown us what a huge impact she can have on our vikruti (current state of balance). Before the weather dropped to the 30’s, I remember walking down Hood Street toward Cedar Springs Road to start my day seeing clients and as I was taking in the colors of the Fall, I was awestruck by a long train of wind carrying leaves. It was beautiful and swift. Right then I said to myself, “Vata is here and she is going to bring about rapid change”. Sure enough, a few days later the weather turned from the high 60’s to mid 30’s, then to the high 70’s and now low 50’s. This is vata at her best– change.
The magnificent science of Ayurveda proves itself with each seasonal shift. Living an Ayurvedic lifestyle means living with Mother Nature, attuning yourself inwardly to her beauty both destructive and life-giving.
The vata dosha is imaginative, on-the-go, and has an active mind. It is also dry, light and cold. Vata moves like the wind and changes direction often. When those with a vata nature lack a consistent schedule it disturbs the body’s internal energy or prana. This leads to anxiety, nervousness, feelings of overwhelm, insomnia, constipation, dry stools, bloating, gas, and dry skin. Vata does best when stable, regular routines help to channel and focus their large, natural amount of energy, prana. With structure vata types are able to accomplish a great deal within a very short period of time and can be more productive than any other doshic type.
In Ayurveda, seasonal eating is primarily beneficial for prevention. A vata pacifying diet is best during the early Fall which will prevent vata from becoming aggravated in the Winter.
If vata is aggravated in the winter, a vata-pacifying food program may prevent overflow or minimize symptoms.
Vata is balanced by foods that have a sweet, sour and salty rasa (taste). Foods should be heavier and nourishing and moderately spiced. This is the season for spices and all spices are good for vata as long as not taken in excess – ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, fenugreek, etc. Food and drinks should be taken warm, never ice cold, raw or uncooked as this will support a strong agni – digestive fire. For those with more vata in their prakruti/constitution, they do best when they eat more frequently, 5 times a day. Food should be taken in small amounts as to not dampen the agni. Meals should be taken at the same time each day.
Yoga should be practiced in a warm environment with slow and calming asanas with a connection and awareness to the earth. Keeping vata grounded to prevent excess mobility is essential. For example, tree pose (Vrksasana) and mountain pose (Tadasana) root your feet into the ground, reducing anxiety and overwhelm. Warrior I and II are also beneficial, helping to ground you while building strength in the thighs, lower back and hips which are main regions of the vata dosha. Since vata is prone to constipation, standing or sitting forward bends that compress the pelvis are healing.
Fast-paced vinyasas or flow sequences can aggravate vata. Slow movement supports the joints while quick movements increase mobility, creating dryness. To make a vinyasa more vata-pacifying, move deliberately and slowly, extending the length of time that you hold each pose. Moving through transitions between poses, with conscious awareness rather than rushing on to the next pose will help you to remain present.
Finally, vata types benefit from doing a long, deep corpse pose or savasana – at least 15–20 minutes. Keep a blanket nearby so that after your practice, you can cover the body allowing you to contain the heat from your practice.
One of the most common signs of a vata imbalance is difficulty falling or staying asleep. Too much creative energy, anxiety or worry is surging through the mind and the body becomes restless. Rest is rejuvenating and has heavy and stable qualities that help to balance the light and mobile tendencies of vata. It is important to go to bed and wake up at or about the same time every day. A general rule is that we are in bed by 10:00pm and wake with the sun, sunrise! Establishing proper bedtime routines can be life saving!
Avoid tv, computer, phone, or any stimulating activities an hour prior to bed. Instead, spend the last hour before getting into bed doing one or more of the following: do a warm herbal massage, take a warm bath, meditate, curl up in bed with a warm cup of chamomile tea and a book.
Vatas do best with oils that are warming and calming – think sweet and spicy! The sweeter the oil the more nourishing and the spicier, the more warming. Blending oils can help you get both qualities vata needs. Sweet oils such as sandalwood, jasmine, chamomile, or lavender mixed with spicy oils like cinnamon, rosemary, patchouli, or basil can be beneficial. You can put these into a diffuser to create an aromatic environment in your home or room. You can make a room spritzer by adding a few drops of each a spicy and sweet oil to a spray bottle of distilled water. You can add oils to your bath water to get that nice relaxing and warming sensation while bathing.
Studies show that the sense of touch can bring just as much healing as the food we take into our bodies. A lead researcher, Dr. Tiffany Field from the University of Miami School of Medicine states that, “touch is the first sense to develop and the last to fade even after sight, hearing, smell and taste have faded with age”.
Benefits of touch:
- reduces aggression
- stimulates growth and development in children
- improves sleep and alertness
- reduces pain, depression and stress by reducing cortisol levels, a hormone that rises when we are under stress.
- increases dopamine and serotonin, two brain chemicals that improve mental outlook
- improves the immune system and increases T-cells that fight cancer and viruses
Ayurveda massage with herbal, warm oils is called “snehana” which means, “to love”. The daily application of oil to the body builds self-love. Abhyanga (ayurveda massage) daily can be life changing for those with a vata imbalance. The primary qualities of Vata are dry, light, cool, rough, subtle and mobile. These qualities are opposite to those of the warmed, herbal oil. The great teacher Sushruta said, “The deranged vayu [Vata] of the body is restored to its normal condition by the help of Udvartana (oil massage).” Sushruta Vol.2, 24:28.
It is important to consider the type of oil you choose for massage. Vata benefits from warm, heavy, moist oils such as sesame and almond.
Vata Pacifying Abhyanga
It is best to do the abhyanga in a warm place to avoid getting cold. I like to turn the heater on in the bathroom or place a space heater in the room.
The oils should be warmed (not hot) prior to application. You can do this by putting a cup of the oil into a squeeze bottle and place it in a warm water bath in a pan on the stove or in the bathroom sink filled with hot water.
Sit or stand on a dedicated “oil towel”, an old towel or bath mat that you don’t mind getting a little oily. I like using a bath mat and then I just roll it up after each use.
Without being in a hurry, lovingly and patiently massage the oil over your entire body for 10-15 minutes,beginning at the extremities and working toward the center of the body. Use long strokes on thelimbs (long bones) and circular strokes on the joints. Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise,circular motions. In the morning, I like to do more fast vigorous motions to stimulate lymph and circulation and in the evening I do it more slowly to promote relaxation.
To apply the oil to the crown of your head, put about a quarter size amount of oil into your hand and using the pads of your fingers massage your entire scalp in circular strokes. Sometimes I do a “hair oil bath” about once per month where I drench my hair in the oil and leave it over night in a towel – great for beautiful, shiny, strong hair!
Lastly, put a couple drops of warm oil on the tip of your little finger and apply to the opening of the ear canals and to the opening and inside of the nasal passage.
I hope these recommendations bring you warmth and grounding energy this season!