Essential Self Care
As The Cold Air Descends

November 13th / 2017
Self Care
Last week here in DC, we finally had our first temperatures below freezing. As we transit into winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the leaves begin to shed, the air turns crisp, and the earth shifts into muted colors of brown, white and grey. The cold also brings the beginning of the Vata season, in the ayurvedic calendar. Vata literally means “that which moves” or “air, ” so as a time of change and tumult during these weeks we can also experience an excess of the air element.

That means we can feel unsettled, coarse, abrasive, knotted, stiff, tumultuous, weary, restless, uninterested, temperamental, nervous and/or sad. (And that’s before the holiday parties). In our bodies, we can experience painful joints, lower backache, constipation, dry skin, irregular periods and bloated bellies. These difficulties may be magnified if you are over the age of 55 because over that age vata dominates already.

But most disturbing of all, sleep and good rest become more elusive and more difficult as the cold swoops in. In order to sleep better and move through the busy holiday times, you can take proactive steps to counteract this season and the aggravating effects of the excess air of these weeks.

These recommendations provide a sense of stability, warmth, calm and support during this season of air and wind. That’s the goal.

1 /  Maintain routine

A regular routine of sleep and meals will help to stabilize you during this season. Lights and devices off by 10 pm is ideal. Schedule your exercise and work too. Planning is key during this time of year and doing so is worthwhile. Try to maintain a regular schedule and avoid too much spontaneity, which could aggravate the effects of this time of year.

2 / Minimize stimulation

We use the internet – over the air – to do so much every day. Too much technology depletes us all the time, but especially now we need to minimize distractions and avoid multitasking. Consider a news diet to ration your exposure to too much distress and disturbance. Focus and a methodic approach to our holiday tasks promotes perseverance and endurance. Now is the time to minimize our exposure to  our electronic readers and to more often pick up a print book. 

3 / Exercise

Walking, hiking and cycling are good grounding exercises. Swimming is terrific this time of year too, but take care not to get chilled. The best times to exercise are between 6 am and 10 am or after 6 pm (but not too close to bedtime). When exercising outside remember to breathe through your nose which will warm the air before the cold hits your lungs. If you do yoga, mountain pose, tree pose and staff pose will ground you. Restorative poses and corpse pose provide calm, space and support. The grounding effects of tai chi are also especially helpful. 

4 / Eat with the season

Avoid salads and raw food. Cooked foods are better. Spices like ginger, black pepper, cinnamon and cumin are good, but avoid super hot spices which may be too aggravating this time of year. Drink warm drinks (and avoid ice water). If you can tolerate dairy, warmed milk is with warming spices are terrific. They also blend well with almond or rice milk. Sweet, sour and salty foods are best.  Avoid carbonated drinks and alcohol. Astringent and bitter foods such as cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts, leafy greens, beans, and broccoli, cranberries, apples, coffee and bitter chocolate are all drying foods and should be minimized or avoided all together. The vegetables should only be consumed if well cooked, preferably with butter and in moderation.

5 / Enjoy soothing sounds

This time of year, enjoy calm music that pleases you. Aggressive music might be great on your treadmill, but the season heightens the stimulation to your nervous system, so you may wish to take it down a notch.  Loud noises should be avoided too. Classical music or some beautiful chants can help quiet you. I just downloaded this terrific album Tibetan Mantras for Turbulent Times by Deval Premal and The Gyuto Monks of Tibet which offers beautiful, soothing rhythms. Other sounds to try are binaural wave recordings like those available in this Brainwave app or the Zen app. To learn more on how this sound therapy works and what the scientific research is, read here. (Note that if you have a history of epilepsy or brain seizures do not try listen to these brain waves. And if you have a heart condition or are taking mood altering drugs, please consult with a doctor first.)

6/ Self massage

Regular massage with oil can counterbalance the effects of excess vata. Our ability to replenish is strained by disturbed sleep, and self massage counters that. Specifically, self massage helps counterbalance the dryness of our skin and the pain in our joints. By touching and rubbing our own bodies we can provide needed nourishment during this dry, arid season. To learn more about self-massage, see this earlier blog post of mine, Why You Should Give Yourself A Massage, or check out my instructional guide, How to Give Yourself a Love Rub, that provides absolutely all you need to know about this practice. 

7/ Smell well

Certain essential oils are helpful during this season including nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, saffron, jasmine, geranium, rose, oregano, sandalwood, lemon, neroli, vetiver and vanilla.  You can mix with a heavy, lubricating oil such as sesame, avocado or almond oil and use on yourself or another.  Or you can add a few drops to water in your favorite diffuser in your home or office. Essential oils can relax and soothe the mind and the body and are an integral part of my self-care during this time of year. For a specific blend, check out this soothing concoction. 

8/ Dress warm

This perhaps goes without saying, but we get busy and do not always check the weather before we head out.  Stay warm, especially now during these first cold days as we head into the winter solstice. And by all means, avoid cold damp. Keep your head and ears covered from the wind because the head and ears can serve as superhighways for the wind of the season to create an imbalance in your body. If you catch a chill, warm up as quickly as possible with either a hot bath or sauna. 

9/ Alternate nasal breathing

Called nadi shodhana (nah-dee show-DAH-nah) in Sanskrit, this pranayama practice is very soothing and supports the nervous system and is perfect for this time of year with excess vata. Nadi Shodhana means purification of the channel or flow. Yoga Journal outlines the four steps and a five minute video. The method is very rhythmic and grounding and therefore creates a calm and soothing effect, so a regular habit of alternate nasal breathing can help especially if you are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and/or anxious. Make sure you are warm when you do it. I love to wrap myself in a shawl or scarf or blanket. 

10/  Loving friends & play

Spend time with people who ground you. That may be your family but perhaps not. Move towards those with and for whom you feel warmth. This is the time to gather warmth. Resist over-scheduling yourself with activities and sight-seeing and parties. Set aside time to be idle and relaxed with those who support and love you, perhaps in front of a fireplace. 

Note that if you have to travel, know that travel will increase the difficulties and symptoms of excess vata. Therefore, these recommendations become even more imperative in the aftermath of a journey. 

Experience these next six weeks with grace, composure, energy, rest and health by abiding and practicing at least some, if not all, of these recommendations. 

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Reflection Points ::
Which of these tips will you implement?
Extra Elements of Interest ::
Tips from Dr. Vasant Lad
From Yoga International
Recommendations from Dr. Deepak Chopra
From The Chopra Center
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