By Amy Massey
As we re-emerge from lockdown, we are stepping out into the midst of changing times. The seasonal change is upon us as autumn transitions into winter and we are all navigating impacts of coronavirus in our lives and worldwide. Ayurvedic wisdom brings us back to balance with tips to soothe and strengthen body, mind, heart and soul.
Ayurveda (ayur meaning life, veda meaning knowledge) gives us a map of qualities that exist within us and in the world around us. Using principles of nature, an Ayurvedic approach to wellness guides us to a place of balance where healing can occur naturally within our body. It inspires us to live in synergy with the solar and lunar rhythms and cyclical changes of seasons in our world. Ritucharya (ritu meaning season, charya meaning routine) is Ayurveda’s approach to maintaining wellness by aligning our lifestyles with the earth’s seasons.
Each season brings us opportunities to heal and to prepare our bodies for the season to follow.
As autumn’s winds of change make way for winter, we can see and feel vata all around. Vata is an energetic force of nature governing movement. Comprised predominantly of air and space, vata is cold, dry, subtle, light, mobile, and rough. Leaves are drying, floating on cold winds from treetops through surrounding space, we hear them crunch underfoot. As Vata’s qualities peak in our environment, vata is increasing inside of us too. In the human body, vata governs the lower abdomen and nervous system function. If vata is imbalanced, we may notice our thoughts racing, dry skin, fluctuating appetite or irregular digestion.
Uniquely, this year’s cool change is coinciding with our re-emergence from lockdown. We find ourselves in midst of a very vata time. We are meeting uncertainties and rapidly evolving changes in our day to day lives. We may experience feelings of fear or anxiety stemming from messages of risk and vigilance. Or perhaps we are overwhelmed as busy-ness resumes again. As similar qualities come together, their expression is amplified. (In Ayurveda, ‘like increases like’.) So it is understandable if the landscape of our inner world speaks to us of vata prevailing in our natural environment as well as the vata-exacerbating impacts of coronavirus we are navigating in our lives and worldwide.
Take heart! For it is vata, when in balance, that brings us the powerful potential for creativity, adaptability, and healing to arise.
Even in the midst of such unprecedented times, creativity is stirring and calm lingers in us. According to ritucharya, we can balance vata and stabilize ourselves with grounding and nourishing practices for autumn and early winter. As we honour nature’s eternal rhythms, we honour our body’s internal rhythms and strengthen our constitution. Perhaps more than ever before in our lifetime, these principles of long-held wisdom can support us so that our true nature can thrive.
Here are a few ideas for vata-balancing, immune-boosting practices to ground, nourish and soothe:
- Sip warm water throughout the day (boiled then cooled).
- Eat fresh, seasonal foods. Fruit and vegetables picked as they ripen are rich in prana and offer timely support for our microbiome. Feijoas, apples and pears are abundant at this time of year. Try fruit lightly stewed with sweet spices (cinnamon and clove) and serve warm for a breakfast that is beautifully balancing of vata.
- Prepare foods warm, with a little extra moisture. Some easy to digest options include cooked seasonal veges such as beets, kumara and carrot, homemade soups, broths, mung dahl and kitcheri. Dahl made with split yellow mung, kumara, carrot and ginger is a delicious autumn meal, add ½ tsp (or more) of ground cumin, coriander and turmeric to seasoning.
- Spices enhance digestion, bolster immunity and kindle agni in preparation for winter months ahead. Ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and clove are especially pacifying for vata and a pinch of nutmeg can induce restful sleep. You’ll find a recipe for Sweet Spiced Chai following. 😊
- The sweet taste is made up of earth and water elements, grounding and nourishing of vata’s air and ether elements – it’s not all cakes and cookies though! Favour fresh fruits, milk/mylk, ghee or olive oil, nuts, whole grains, root vegetables, mung dahl, dates, raisins, coconut, cardamom, fennel, jaggery, maple syrup and honey.
- Late autumn can be an appropriate time for an Ayurvedic cleanse, for eliminating excess vata and pitta.
- For colder days, find comfort in the balancing warmth of sunshine or spicy chai sipped fireside. Indulge in creative activities to fuel our inner fire, ie crafting, writing, art.
- Enjoy gentler forms of exercise, walking in the sunlight, yoga practices that are meditative and restorative.
- Prana maintains immunity of body and mind. Pranayama such as brahmari (humming bee breath) calms the mind – especially when practiced in early morning hours. Nadi Shodhana protects immunity and begins to bring balance to the five pranas (prana, apana, udana, samana, vyana).
- Make time for stillness. Allowing adequate time for rest and rejuvenation, re-emerging revitalized so that vata’s creativity can abound. Perhaps that means consciously letting go of something too, be it turning away from the hourly news or social media scroll, so you can take a moment to reconnect with nature.
- Apply warm sesame or almond oil to your body, from top to toe (abhyanga). Or simply rub warm oil on your feet before you tuck into bed.
- Prioritise sleep. As Mother Nature prepares for winter’s slumber, so we should too. Switch off lights and computers early to invite a restful and relaxed state before bed (by 9-10pm).
- Listen to the whispers of your body and mind. Be gentle and kind.
This recipe makes your chai spice base for 4-6 cups of chai.
- 600ml filtered water
- 1 inch fresh ginger root, sliced thinly
- 1 inch piece of cinnamon bark, whole
- 5 cloves, whole
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- Pinch nutmeg
- Rapadura, jaggery or coconut sugar to taste
- ½ cup milk/mylk per serve
- Optional: add a few saffron threads to potentise healing properties
Bring water and spices to a gentle boil in a pot on the stovetop for around 10 minutes.
Stir through sugar of your choice to sweeten (I usually use 3 teaspoons of dark jaggery in this base for a mildly sweet brew. Extra can be added later if desired when you serve your chai by the cup).
Warm ½ cup hot milk/mylk per cup. If you’re using cow’s milk, prepare it for ease of digestion by bringing milk to a boil until it climbs the pot.
Mix ½ cup of your hot chai spice brew with ½ cup hot milk/mylk. Sprinkle with a pinch of cinnamon to serve.
For those of us with high kapha, this recipe is also delicious served without milk and sweetener. It’s quite potent so add a little extra hot water to your cup and stir through a ½ tsp of honey to serve (optional, honey is a more balancing choice of sweetener for kapha).
You can store any leftover spice base in the fridge, ready to heat the following day.
About Amy Massey
“Ayurveda has been guiding my day to day for more than a decade now, bringing greater balance, nurture and delight – especially with kitchen healing! As a way of healing, Ayurveda has inspired Somama Yoga & Ayurveda’s offerings of care. My work with women becoming mothers began shortly after the birth of my son, based on the traditions of Ayurvedic postpartum care and therapeutics of Yoga.”