I often experience a spike in bookings and requests at this time of year: Autumn and early Winter. We are currently immersed in a season governed by Vata. Vata, in Ayurveda, is a term used to define one of the three doshas – Vata, Pitta, Kapha. Each of these doshas are a combination of elements that are the foundations and building blocks of our forms, natures or constitutions. Vata is the combination of air and ether, and the qualities of this particular dosha are: dryness, lightness, mobility, subtlety, roughness and coldness. You can feel it in the air, and see it all around you. The leaves falling off the trees, the changeable weather, and drops in temperature. We often experience heightened levels of anxiety, uncertainty, sensitivity, insecurity and a sense of being overwhelmed. Physically we may be experiencing a dryness of the skin, aching and cracking joints, cramps and restless and disturbed sleep. These are just some of the symptoms of a Vata imbalance.
Ayurveda is an ancient holistic system known as the sister science of yoga. Its original texts date back 5,000 years, and has been passed down the generations in India and Sri Lanka ever since. In recent years there has been an awakened fascination and exploration into this science from a western perspective. Its approach is to determine one’s true unchanging nature (Prakruti) and to manage the ever-changing environment and conditions of our existence that create fluctuations and imbalances (Vikruti) within us. These imbalances, if unchecked, eventually lead to illness and disorder. It is an incredibly empowering approach that emphasises the maintenance of optimal health – physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Ayurveda literally means “life-knowledge”.
Each individual’s prakruti (nature) will be a unique combination of the three doshas. Put into context, a person who has, by nature, a high proportion of Vata in their constitutional make-up will be more likely to experience an agitation of Vata at this time of year. Equally, if someone were to have a high level of Pitta (fire and water) in their constitution, then the cooler climate may actually be a welcome and balancing change. The subtleties and nuances of Ayurveda can take a life-time of study but even the most basic understandings of the qualities of each dosha and the seasonal shifts and changes, can be incredibly supportive and balancing for every person. Taking into consideration the qualities of Vata, as defined above, there are some very simple day-to-day things that we can do to counterbalance the environmental increase of Vata, such as:
- Avoid dry, cold and rough foods such as raw salad, crackers, iced drinks, and favour warm, nourishing grounding meals such as stews, and sautéed vegetables with spices such as ginger and cumin. Carry a flask of hot water with you and sip throughout the day.
- keeping warm, particularly the hands, feet and head. Wear a hat that covers your ears, particularly if it’s windy outside.
- Slow things down and ensure that you’re factoring in some downtime for yourself. This time of year is certainly prone to perpetuating stress and high demands. Be vigilant and ensure that personal space and rest is being given as much emphasis and importance, if not more so, than completing the extensive to-do lists.
- Be tactile. Vata needs touch and warmth. Hug your loved ones, and take a hot water bottle to bed.
- Abhyanga (warm oil self-massage) is one of the most effective ways of balancing Vata. Use warm organic sesame oil and massage your feet and hands before bed. It is a wonderful self-practice that is nurturing, grounding and encourages deep sleep.
- Go to a yin-based yoga class. The gentle, more intuitive practices encourage an increased awareness of the body, and can help to quieten and still the mind.
So often we can feel off-centre, depleted, or just not quite ourselves. When this happens, see if you can pause for a moment and just acknowledge the qualities of your environment. Today, as I write this article, it is cold, grey, with blustering winds (typical Vata day). I ask myself what I can do to create warmth, vibrancy and stillness and these considerations will influence many of my day-to-day choices. It’s a dance between the outside world and our inner-selves, through which we can discover great peace and harmony.