Self-care is more vital to maintaining health and wellness now than ever. It’s our very own set of survival skills. Like any set of skills or tools, our self-care routines require fine-tuning to work to their full potential. That’s where we can tap into the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is the world’s oldest system of health, dating back at least 5,000 years. It places emphasis on balancing mind, body and spirit to achieve optimal health. When this system was evolving, humans weren’t distracted by screens and social media, 24/7 news cycles, overwhelming schedules and Black Friday sales that start in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner. We were able to thrive in harmony with nature and its elements (fire, water, earth, air and ether) by adapting with the seasons and our changing needs.
Doshas: Your Natural Mind-Body Type
Ayurveda groups the five elements into three combinations that shape everything from our physical environment to our physical and mental well-being. These combinations are called doshas:
While we all have traits of each dosha within us, we were born with a dominant dosha (or combination). Yet, the dosha in the driver’s seat may change based on our emotions, experiences, and even the seasons.
After Thanksgiving, many of us notice a palpable shift in the pace of life. The days start running together, the weather gets cooler and colder (theoretically) and chaos is in living color. Before long, winter is here. Winter is governed by Vata in the cooler and drier months, and Kapha during the colder damper months. An abundance of Vata can leave us feeling restless and frenetic, calling for mindful routines and warmer energy. Kapha imbalance can lead to lethargy, sadness, overeating and bloating. Stimulating and high-energy activity can help get Kapha in check.
[BONUS: Take Yoga International’s Dosha Quiz, here!]
Getting Back to Balance
With a little knowledge and discipline, we can use Ayurveda to help us override the negative effects of our schedules and the seasons, and find that coveted harmony that our early ancestors enjoyed. This time of year, you may not feel like you have the room for another item to check off of your list. But making time for yourself enables you to make time for the other people and priorities that are important. Put self-care at the top of your holiday giving list with these three tips to balance Vata and Kapha over the next few months:
1. Follow a natural rhythm for your day.
In Sanskrit, dinacharya means “to be close to or follow the day.” Schedule your tasks around the sun’s rhythm to help steady your energy. Aim to wake up each day around 6 a.m. as the sun rises. This is the start of Kapha time (6 a.m. to 10 a.m.), where you’ll benefit from grounding practices that help you cultivate and maintain peace, such as yoga practice or meditation. Tackle your most taxing tasks and eat your primary meal during Pitta time between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., where you have the most mental and digestive power. Use Vata time (2 p.m. to 6 p.m) for creative tasks or planning. If you hit an afternoon slump, take a walk outside to connect with the earth. (Coffee will only fuel anxiety!) Kapha time comes around again from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Help your body unwind from the day with yoga, a light and easy-to-digest dinner, relaxing activities like taking an evening walk or reading, and unplugging from technology early. Aim to be in bed by the end of Kapha time to avoid getting a second wind from Pitta that can keep you from falling asleep.
2. Consume warming foods and drinks.
Cold and raw food can extinguish our digestive fire, which Ayurveda holds as the key to health. During the late fall and winter months, it’s especially important to eat warming foods that keep that fire sparked and steady. In-season soups, vegetables and stews, as well as grains, are good options. As far as beverages, go for herbal teas and warm water with lemon rather than ice water or soft drinks. CCF tea is a simple, budget-friendly Ayurvedic staple. To make it, combine equal parts cumin, corriander and fennel seeds. Strain one teaspoon of the seed combination in a cup of hot (but not boiling) water. Enjoy between meals to avoid snacking and packing on the winter pounds, or anytime you need a mindful moment.
3. Create a self-care routine and stick with it.
If your morning ritual consists of flying out of the bed, brushing your teeth while getting dressed and making coffee and lunches, hustling everyone out of the house and huffing to work, the rest of your day is set up to follow suit. Getting up a few minutes earlier to take time for yourself can bring you lasting calm. Find a routine that works for you and one that you can commit to. A sample routine may look like:
- Awakening just before sunrise;
- Spending a few moments to softly and quietly stretch to gently awaken the body;
- Heading to the bathroom to get rid of yesterday’s waste;
- Brushing your teeth and oil pulling (swishing unrefined coconut oil in the mouth to cleanse it of toxins. Don’t forget to spit the oil in the trash so it won’t clog your drains);
- Enjoying a cup of warm water with lemon, chai or herbal tea, taking a few deep and reflective breaths between each sip; and
- Moving on to the rest of your morning.
Breakfast should be warm and nutritious, but still light enough not to send you into a food coma. And, it should be consumed while sitting down (preferably not while driving!). Even if your routine doesn’t incorporate all of these things or look exactly the same each morning, having a ritual will help you stay grounded, on-task and in-tune.
Achieving your Highest and Healthiest Self
There’s a reason why Ayurveda goes hand-in-hand with yoga: they both work together to help us cultivate health from the inside out. Your yoga practice can help you stay grounded during the swings and chaos of the season, too. Practice during the times of day governed by Kapha (6 – 10 a.m. and p.m.), adding more heat and rigor than usual. Getting out of your comfort zone will help you get out of your rut. It will also help to break up the excess Kapha that may accumulate in the body in the form of slow energy and digestion, sadness, increased mucous and more. Sun salutations are a great way to start the day. Other poses to incorporate into your practice to balance both Kapha and Vata include:
- Garland Pose
- Twisted Chair
- Child’s Pose
- Seated Twists
- Warrior 1 & Warrior 2
- Seated or Standing Forward Bends
If you’re fired up and ready to make small but meaningful changes to soothe your seasonal shifts, check out our next Self-Care Sunday on December 10th from 4-6 p.m. YIY teachers Kandace Stewart, RYT-200, and Caroline Miles, RYT-200, will further explore how to use Ayurveda for a seasonal self-care overhaul, including yoga, meditation, oil pulling, tongue scraping and more. This workshop will also highlight how to use essential oils with Nicole Moore and include self-care swag bags! Registration is $25. Check out more info here.