Welcome to November!! Kind of hard to believe it’s November here in Tucson since our temps are still in the 80’s….ugh!! I did however just return from a trip to Chicago and it definitely felt like November there! The cool, crisp air and the array of fall colors…..let’s just say I was in heaven!! As I piled on the layers of clothes to stay warm, I realized that just as the earth changes with the seasons, it is important for us to change as well. Balancing the weather outside with your diet and lifestyle choices can be one of the simplest ways to protect and boost your immunity during this time of year. And when it comes to balancing my health, my go to resource is Ayurveda. If you have never heard of Ayurveda, you are in for a treat! I am going to teach you the basics and also share some of my favorite tips for staying healthy and balanced as we enter into one of the busiest times of the year. Are you ready??
Let’s start with the basics. The word Ayurveda (pronounced ay-your-vay-duh) comes from two Sanskrit words; “ayur” which means life and “veda” which means knowledge. Ayurveda originated in India more than 5000 years ago and is considered by many to be the oldest healing science. The primary focus of Ayurveda is to bring balance to your mind and body through the use of food, herbs and lifestyle practices.
Ayurveda has been a passion of mine for quite some time now. After graduating from massage school in 2000, I began working at Miraval, a destination spa in Tucson. While I was at Miraval, I worked with a therapist who trained with Deepak Chopra in the art of Ayurvedic massage. I was so intrigued, not only by this type of massage, but by Ayurveda in general. It just made sense to me and I wanted to learn more. I began studying and learning everything I could and started to apply these principals in my own life.
In order to apply the Ayurvedic principals, you must first determine your dosha. The word dosha means mind-body type. You can take a short quiz here to determine your dosha. http://ayurvedadosha.org/doshas/ayurveda-dosha-test. Although we have the qualities of each dosha in us, typically there is one that is dominant and therefore governs how we balance our energy. Many internal and external factors can disturb our balanced state causing a shift in our constitution. Once we understand how these factors are affecting our body, we can take the appropriate action to minimize the effects and restore balance.
There are 3 main doshas:
Vata is comprised of air and space. If you are a Vata, you have the qualities of the wind…..dry, cold and constantly moving. You tend to be cold when everyone else is hot. You have dryness throughout your body especially in the digestive track. When you are out of balance you may experience cracking joints, gas, bloating, constipation, insomnia, and anxiety.
Pitta is comprised of fire and water. If you are a Pitta, you tend to get hot easily and gravitate toward cooling foods and drinks. You are very passionate and driven. Your appetite is strong therefore you benefit from eating regular meals. When you are out of balance you may experience anger, digestive issues and skin irritations.
Kapha is comprised of earth and water. If you are a Kapha, you have a calm demeanor and a stable, supportive body. You can be sedentary and also have a slow metabolism therefore you have a tendency to gain weight easily. When you are out of balance, you may experience excess phlegm and sinus congestion.
According to Ayurveda, nearly everything exhibits qualities of a specific dosha. The food we eat, the type of exercise we do, the time of day and even the season can all be balanced by looking to the doshas. When the season changes, the climate changes and this can have a significant impact on our bodies. Things like the temperature, wind, rain, humidity and the amount of daylight hours all influence the natural cycle of our body. Digestion, elimination, sleep, even our emotions can be triggered and thrown out of balance by the different seasons. Fall is considered to be the Vata time of year. Cold, dry and windy conditions can contribute to an imbalance if you have a predominance of the Vata dosha. In order to stay balanced, you will want to bring in the opposite qualities – warm, heavy, moist and grounding.
I am predominately Vata so I need to take extra care during this time of year. One of my favorite ways to stay balanced is through food. Lucky for me I love all of the produce that is abundant in the fall and winter. Sweet, salty and sour are the tastes that balance the Vata dosha. Sweet is the most nourishing and grounding so that is the one I crave.
Some examples of sweet foods include:
– whole grains such as oats, quinoa, basmati rice
– nuts and seeds such as hemp, chia, almonds, pecans, pumpkin
– root vegetables such as beets, sweet potatoes, carrots
– winter squash such as pumpkin, kombocha, butternut
– natural sweeteners such as honey, molasses, maple syrup
– healthy fats such as ghee, coconut, nut butters
– fruits such as cooked apples, avocados, bananas, figs, dates
Sometimes, sweet food can be difficult to digest. Adding spices to your food can help with digestion. These are some of my favorite spices to use:
– Coriander, Cardamom, Cinnamon
– Fenugreek, fennel and nutmeg will keep you calm and help you sleep better
– Cumin can be very good to counter balance dryness
If your craving for sweet food gets out of control, that could be a sign your body needs some more healthy fat. Vata and Pitta people can enjoy more fats in their diet this time of year. Be sure to choose healthy fats like ghee, nut butters, coconut oil and avocados.
One of my favorite things to incorporate into my diet is an Ayurvedic supplement called Chyawanprash. It is a jelly that has different herbs, ghee and honey. I put a spoonful in my smoothie in the morning, but you can also put it on toast or a cracker. I have even eaten straight out of the jar. It is delicious! I buy a brand by Lotus Blooming Herbs. If you are interested in trying it, let me know. I just bought a case and will be carrying it in both of my offices.
Dry skin can be a real problem in the winter. In order to counteract that dryness, using warm oils such as almond or sesame can be very nourishing and grounding. Ayurveda recommends “abhyanga” which is self massage. Now you may be thinking that sounds like a lot of work, but it is pretty easy to incorporate into your daily routine. I keep the oils in my shower and before I turn on the water, I take a few minutes to massage the oils into my skin. My joints pop a lot due to the dryness so I rub the oil in circular motions around all of my joints. Once you have finished the massage, you can start your shower. Let the warm water help the oil to penetrate your skin. Try not to use soap to wash your body. Just let the water remove any excess oil. Your skin will have a beautiful glow afterwards.
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can challenge your daily routine and throw you off balance. Add in a few extra minutes in the morning to do some gentle stretches or breathing exercises. Go to bed by 10:00 p.m. and get extra sleep whenever possible. A short walk or a gentle yoga class can be very grounding. And, remember to be gentle with yourself…..the payoff will be huge!
I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions or would like to learn more about Ayurveda, let’s chat! Until next time, be well and stay balanced!