Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health
Instagram: @kripalucenter | kripalu.org
Winter is here and Ayurveda can help you boost your resilience. From an Ayurvedic perspective, says Lauren Gernady, Academic Coordinator for the Kripalu School of Ayurveda and an Ayurvedic Health Counselor, stress aggravates the subtle energies of vata dosha—the quality that governs movement and the nervous system. When vata is out of balance, symptoms such as digestive distress, dry skin, achy joints, anxiety, low energy and irregular, insufficient sleep patterns begin to set in. To tame your vata dosha before and during winter, says Lauren, try these self-care strategies.
Follow a daily routine.
To boost your stress resilience, develop a healthy lifestyle routine when winter hits, and stick to it as you head into the new year. At a minimum, go to bed, eat your meals and wake up around the same time every day. “Routine is vata’s best friend,” says Lauren.
Spend time in nature.
Studies show that spending time in green spaces, such as forests, can reduce stress. Blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and stress hormones all decrease faster in natural settings, according to researchers. From an Ayurvedic perspective, says Lauren, spending time in nature is “a balm for our nervous system.” On a mental level, she says, “it increases sattva, a quality of the mind associated with purity, serenity and truth, and reduces rajas, a quality of the mind associated with agitation and disturbance.”
Try a relaxing form of yoga.
Yin Yoga, for example, is a soothing practice that allows the body to slowly and safely release deeply held tensions. Pressed for time? Try Viparita Karana, or Legs Up the Wall, for 10 minutes after work or at bedtime. This pose is the perfect antidote to the stresses of the winter season, says Lauren.
Exercise in moderation.
If you’re already suffering from a vata imbalance, resist the urge to do high-intensity exercise; it can exacerbate the mobile qualities of vata and make you feel more out of balance, Lauren warns. “Instead, opt for a form of exercise that is slow and steady, preferably one that takes you outdoors and does not involve loud pounding music, which can aggravate vata,” she suggests. “Take a stroll or a gentle hike with a furry friend, go for a mild jog, sign up for a moderate yoga class or take a meditative swim.”
Practice Nadi Shodhana.
Often referred to in English as Alternate-Nostril Breath, it’s a deeply calming form of breath management, or pranayama, which balances the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Nadi Shodhana also deactivates the sympathetic nervous system—the system that monitors our “fight or flight” response—and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs our “rest and digest” response, so that we can approach winter stressors with equanimity, Lauren explains.
Eat in a loving, relaxed environment.
The kind of company we keep—and the conversations we have—during meals can positively or negatively affect our ability to digest and assimilate our meal, says Lauren. According to Ayurveda, if we eat with angry people in a tense, negative environment, our bodies may produce ama, a subtle form of toxic residue that is considered to be the breeding ground for disease. Instead, surround yourself with positive, loving company at mealtimes, or eat peacefully by yourself. “Your stomach, and your spirit, will thank you,” Lauren says.
Drink tulsi tea.
Try substituting your morning cup of coffee with a mug of tulsi tea. Regarded in Ayurveda as the “queen of the herbs,” tulsi, or holy basil, is a powerful adaptogen that is said to uplift the mood, aid in digestion and strengthen the immune system. “Adaptogens help the body adapt to stress while normalizing the effects that stress has on the bodily processes,” Lauren explains. Steep one bag, or one teaspoon of loose leaf tea, in a cup of boiling water. Infuse for five minutes, strain and enjoy.
Give yourself an Ayurvedic oil massage.
Massaging yourself with warm, herbalized oil every morning—known in Ayurveda as abhyanga—is a phenomenal way to soothe the nervous system and ground aggravated vata, Lauren says. It nourishes and moisturizes the skin (which can be dry during the cold season) and may facilitate the release of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that can lift your mood. “That’s why abhyanga is often referred to as the crowning jewel of Ayurveda,” says Lauren.
Do a mini-detox.
To stoke your digestive fire before a feast, try a gentle three-day cleanse with kitchari or a simple diet of cooked whole grains with steamed veggies. “Think of it as a mini-vacation for your digestive system,” Lauren says.
Take a ginger bath.
Draw a warm bath and add ¹⁄³ cup powdered ginger and ¹⁄³ cup baking soda. Mix well, then let stress melt away as you soak in the bath for 15 to 20 minutes (unless you find yourself overheating). To further calm vata, dim the lights and unwind with soothing music. This is a great bedtime practice. Sweet dreams!