Chapter 2: AYURVEDA, IMMUNITY + SELF CARE
This chapter explores more of our mind body connection with autumn, and offers some insight into Ayurveda-inspired tools to take care of ourselves.
Shall we dive in?
Welcome autumn, Vata season!
In Ayurveda, yoga's sister science, there are three doshas or consitutions: Vata, Kappa and Pitta. A dosha is quite simply a type, and there tends to be on or two that dominate our physical and mental energy at any given time. We're all a mix of constitutions but in as autumn tends to represent the vata dosha, season, we might find we see signs of it increasing.
The vata elements
The Vata dosha is comprised of the airy elements of wind and space (Ether) and governs all movement in the body and mind, which makes sense when you think about Autumn, it's a changeable season: windy and drying with lots of movement in it! In really simple terms, you might think of vata being responsible for things like the flow of breath, digestion an elimination, your pulse, and communication throughout your mind and nervous system.
When balanced, Vata is a sharp and brilliant creative energy, charged with sparks of expressive majesty.
But if imbalanced, particularly in excess, it carries energy that's quite, well, scattered and all over the place. Unstable. Ungrounded.
The physical signs of excess vata include insomnia, stiffness, aches, wind (!), poppy joints, dry skin, constipation and anxiety. Our immunity can feel compromised as our energy is scattered - and autumn tends to be the season where people get a little under the weather as the seasons change. Sound familiar?
So to balance vata at this time, it can be a great idea to focus on slowing things down, focussing your energy on one thing at a time, restoring and replenishing the body. We can benefit from routine, repetition, a consistent rhythm, grounding, being warm and deeply nourishing ourselves.
Vata in Action
Vata can be a physical thing but it's also very much connected to the mind - for example, those moments when you might feel a bit anxious or finding you have a lot of thoughts and ideas and your energy is all over the place making it difficult to focus on one thing at a time and writing too-long sentences to describe it?
Or being slightly over enthusiastic and carrying a pack of a4 paper rather than your ipad when reading the news?
...Yeah, that’s excess Vata in action.
HERE ARE SOME IDEAS OF WAYS YOU CAN EXPLORE REGULATING, GROUNDING AND BALANCING VATA
- Vata is irregular, dry and crispy, so the best guide to balancing it is to do the opposite. Increase the oilyness. Get heavier with foods. think soups, stews, and so on.
- Stoolwatch - it´s not uncommon for constipation to rear its head. Um, or not. So staying hydrated is so vital. Drink up and whilst at it, warm water is a good way to go. Teas. etc. More ideas below for a couple of warm immunity boosting recipes!
- Watch out for the stuff that creates a spike in your energy levels and increase the erraticness. Look for the slow burning stuff. Sustainability and longevity are the order of the day.
- We can benefit from routine, repetition, a consistant rhythm, grounding, being warm and deeply nourishing ourselves. Blankets out. Thick socks and gloves at the ready (a sign of Vata imbalance is cold hands and feet because you guessed it, vata is behind circulation too!)
Sleep, rest + nourishment
Balancing vata for me this means working on getting more rest. Sleep is your friend! ...I learned that late in life though, so if you struggle with that, rest assured (pun intended), there are some things you can do to help yourself out.
ACTIVITY: Sleep log
Sleep is one of those things that requires us to surrender. So as soon as we begin to start worrying about how much or how little we get, it can begin to get a little evasive. So it might help to consider how much you're getting right now. Logging your bedtime and rising times for a few of weeks should offer you some insight and also take into account hormonal shifts that may occur. I also find it useful to note down significant things like, if i´m traveling, have a particularly big project on, whether i'm stressed or not, and also if i've eaten something unusual in my diet and also drank alcohol. By logging some of things, you can begin to examine what triggers might be preventing you from getting enough rest in your day. There´s also more ideas in chapter 3 for supporting a healthy relationship to sleep.
Stress is surely one of the biggest factors in lowering immunity, so doing what you can to stress less is going to have a positive impact on everything! Sleep, productivity, mood and efficiency! So reducing stress can be the best thing we do for ourselves to reduce excess vata! Lots of ideas in the next chapter for this!
It's a good time to take a BATH. If you have one. And you feel like it of course. Add a heap of epsom salts for the road and anything to make it feel good (my go-to is epsom salts and a couple of drops of my fave essential oil, faves include rose, sweet orange and fennel).
Attempting to uphold a daily meditation practice can help out energy and stress levels, and avoiding stimulants like coffee and sugar can also help with balancing excess vata (less spikes in energy). It doesn't mean depriving yourself of things you want, rather being extra mindful about how you take care of yourself during these transitional times.
My physical yoga practice shifts in the seasons and according to how i´m feeling day to day, but in vata season i tend to seek out more stability, so having my practice at the same time every day has been really helpful. Sunrise if possible (i know, it's asking a lot, but that tends to be the quiet time where the winds are still gentle, and also before everything has gotten going).
Sequence-wise, grounding my energy through standing warrior postures, as well as taking a softer touch to them is useful. Flow feels good to me in the mornings, more repetition and such as the warrior bunch and some standing balances, as well as twists and core focussed work which is a nice way to warm up and rinse out when things get a bit nippy.
In the evenings a more sedetary practice is a good way to ground the energy of the day, so taking the opportunity to turn in, building warmth slowly, giving yourself longer periods of time to melt into position can be helpful.
Also worth noting here, the things that work for me, might not work for everyone else.
So remember, it's your practice.
Amp up your version of yoga, babes.
I've added a range of classes below that are vata-balancing, so feel free to try them out and see how you go!
VATA BALANCING YOGA PRACTICES
RESTORATIVE YOGA PRACTICES
I'm always reluctant and wary of anyone who tells anyone else what to and what not to eat. So as a rule, i would say, eat the rules and whatever you want.
However, in Ayurveda, there are suggestions about what foods increase and decrease vata. If you've ever had those yogi teas or pukka teas you've probably seen the dosha information on the package that lets you know what teas are useful for what dosha.
So in terms of food, in the autumn, think: grounding. So literally stuff that you can dig up -
- root vegetables: beets, pumpkin, sweet potatoes.
- Slow releasing energy grains like quinoa, oats, perhaps as a porridge and flavoured with maple syrup, some cinnamon and even some cardamon if you're feeling fancy.
- Sweet, mildly spicy sour and salty flavours are good ways to help you feel more grounded.
- You might also take an additional supplement like ashwagandha for stress and anxiety in particular, and chywanaprash is a useful morning boost (and immune system strengthener).
Remember, there's not a one-size fits all approach to what is deemed "healthy" so please do your own research!
And here's a couple of warm tonics to help you on the way!
A recap: some quick suggestions to balance vata
Oiling nostrils. Especially if you are flying anywhere.
Oiling your full body with warm oil. Sesame, almond or other. Massage your joints in a circular motion.
Keep neck, wrists and ankles covered.
Switching from cold crunchy salads to more warming foods. Get the crock pot out. Stews. Soups. Curries.
Same with liquids. Switch to warm ones. Teas. Warm things.
Slowing down and try to minimise multitasking where possible.
More nurturing. Earlier nights. Increase self care.
a vata balancing manifesto
i propose a manifesto of being for this week (or as long as you need it):
✨ Get on that couch and snooze if you need to!
✨ Crawl under the desk for a cheeky roll around!
✨ Dance in your pants or nothing at all because it helps you “ground”! - hehe
✨ Eat all the things your body wants!
✨ Snooze a little more if that’s what your body needs!
✨ Take yourself to bed early with a great book or five!
Give yourself permission to say farewell to guilt, force and resistance.
Stay connected to yourself and what you need.
FOR FURTHER READING
ON VATA AND AYURVEDA
- Neal's Yard on Healing Foods
- The Book of Ayurveda, J. Morrison
- Ayurveda, S. Morningstar
- The Handbook of Ayurveda, S. Godagama
- Yoga for Your Type: An Ayurvedic Approach to Your Asana Practice, Frawley/Kozak
- A Pukka Life, S. Pole