By Karen Mandell
What is Ayurveda?
Ayur = Life Veda=Knowledge Ayurveda = The Knowledge of Life.
Ayurveda is sometimes referred to as the “sister science to yoga.” It is a holistic system of nutrition, medicine and healing.
Autumn is a time of major transformation in the environment around us. And the changes in nature around us always affects our nature inside of us. According to the ancient science of Ayurveda, our bodies are made of the 5 elementals in nature: earth, water, fire, air and space. These 5 elementals within us create three energy elements called doshas. The 3 doshas are called vata (air/space), pitta (fire/water) and kapha (earth/water) with some dominating more than others depending on the individual. The balance of these 3 doshas are often affected by changes in the seasons, lifestyle routines, diet and life events. Fall with it’s dry, cool and windy weather is referred to as Vata season, so we have a tendency to have excess vata in our system during this time. Those who have an excess of vata naturally in their system can be especially susceptible to the change. Excess vata can sometimes breed anxiety, fear, the inability to stay focused or on task. So we need to find balance by adding more of the Kapha or Earth element into our system.
You may notice some of the following if your Vata dosha is aggravated or over-active:
- A general shift in energy
- Feeling excess or hyper energy, nervousness, anxiety,
- Inability to concentrate or finish a task
- Insomnia and perhaps excessive speech or movement, such as fidgeting a lot.
- Feeling “spaced out,” or stressed.
- Physical changes such as constipation, cracking joints, stiffness, dry skin, dryness of membranes (eyes, nose) and lack of appetite.
I myself am vata dominant dosha type and have a tendency to take high energy multi-tasking to its extremes! This may sound great as I can get a lot done, however my excess energy often leads to the inevitable crash-and-burn as my adrenals become depleted. Or, they cease to shut down at night and I can’t sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to a weakened immune system and even more “scatter-brained” lack of focus. I need extra attention during fall to ground myself and reduce the abundance of vata in my system. So, I use the tools of Ayurvedic principles to alter my daily routine, diet and asana practice to adapt to these changes. Vata dosha types in particular needs a steady routine to stay grounded and focused.
Sleep is the foundation of staying connected to nature’s rhythms. Ayurveda recommends a bedtime routine suitable to maintain balance. For Vata imbalance it is suggested that you avoid late nights and over activity after 8 PM. Lights out by 10pm is best. The best quality sleep is from 10 PM – 2AM. These 4 hours are a Pitta time and recharge your batteries (helping you build prana.) Try to get 8-9 hours of sleep during fall. This will help keep vata balanced.
Make sure to eat a warm breakfast (rice/oats/quinoa cereal with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger and vanilla almond milk.) Do not skip meals. This aggravates vata the most, resulting in too much space and air in the body. Eat every 3 hours. Nuts are great for Vatas to always have with them and a great autumn snack (oils soothe their dry nature and the protein keeps them calm.) Stick to warm, cooked foods. Spice is also helpful for digestion. This means less salad and raw veggies because it’s too cold and light and difficult to digest, which can result in gas and bloating for people who are already vata dominant. Take advantage of the delicious seasonal squashes and root veggies to create soups and stews rich in spice and flavor. These are healthy and nourishing comfort foods! Try warm chai tea and spiced mulled cider to help keep your digestive fires or agni burning.
Excess vata can sometimes make us feel restless, irritable and less present in our moment. It can make you unable to feel your feet on the solid ground, almost like we are blowing around in the wind along with the leaves. Like we are chasing something that we cannot catch up to. So we need to adjust our physical routines, our yoga asana or any other exercise routine we may have to help us to slow down a bit and feel grounded. An emphasis on standing poses and balances during yoga asana can help promote focus as well as energetic balance to the root chakra, Mulladhara, which helps us feel more grounded. We hold a lot of vata energy stored in the hips so hip openers are also helpful. You may want to include some Yin yoga or Restorative yoga to your practice which will add more kapha, earth element in the system. By slowing down, connecting to the breath and reconnected to the self and the moment, everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.
Life is full of transitions, and our challenge is to stay steady during these times. I hope these Ayurvedic suggestions will help you keep your feet on the ground this fall.
Karen is a yoga instructor at Yoga in the Heights in Jersey City. She will be teaching a restorative yoga workshop on Saturday, 9/262015, at 2 pm.