As I sit in meditation these days, I am struck by the feeling of the wind and the cold as it passes outside my window. This is vata season, a time when we can feel ungrounded, destabilized, and scattered. Carole Pearson, one of my students currently doing the 300 hr. ISHTA yoga training, who is also an ayurvedic practitioner, shared with our group a wonderful explanation of what vata is, how it can affect you, and what you can do to balance it out. Carole has been kind enough to let me pass this information on to you.
AUTUMN HEALTH by Carole Pearson
Autumn is seen as the time of year when vata, the dosha which regulates the nervous system, is easily aggravated and can lead to stress. As autumn approaches, with the change of season we can sometimes feel a change in our mental health. The children are back at school the nights begin to draw in, the clocks go back, and the cooler, sometimes, erratic climate can all affect our health, particularly our stress levels. By following some simple lifestyle recommendations and taking some natural treatments we can help to manage our health through this transitional time.
The autumn season is a time when the Air element is predominant. It brings with it more lightness, dryness and coolness. It is a time when ‘the winds of change’ can blow more erratically. In nature, these qualities have a tendency to aggravate vata which is the dosha that is primarily associated with our nervous systems. It also regulates moisture levels in our bodies and is responsible for how relaxed we feel and how well we digest our food.
Hence this time of year is naturally a time for balancing vata and reducing any symptoms of wind, dryness and erratic behaviour. We can do this by implementing some of the suggestions listed below:-
- Massage yourself with warm sesame oil to offset the seasonal tendency to dryness, joint cracking and stiff muscle pain. Wash off in a warm shower. Apply a drop of oil in your nostrils and ears to offset the effects of the element.
- Apply grounding essential oil on the eyebrow centre and throat.
- Have a regular full body massage using ayurvedic massage oils specifically for vata. (Try Pukka Relax Vata oil.)
- Make sure your autumnal diet consists of warm cooked foods that are mildly spiced, sour and salty. These flavours are nourishing and grounding. They also increase moisture.
- Start your day with a bowl of porridge of oats, rice or quinoa, flavoured with maple syrup and cinnamon.
- A daily teaspoon of organic Chywanaprash in the morning will help keep your energy and immunity intact. It is a good remedy for reducing vata and maintaining your inner strength.
- Avoid raw vegetables, a lot of salad, cold drinks, ice, beans, fermented foods and yeast as they cause gas and may upset your digestion.
- Before going to bed try making yourself a cup of organic milk simmered with a pinch of nutmeg and cardamom (you can add a little honey if you wish) and settle in for a good night’s sleep.
- If you find you are waking during the night, oil your feet with sesame oil and put on some cotton socks before going to bed.
Abhyanga is applying oil to the body. Often medicated and usually warm, the oil is applied to the entire body before bathing or showering. For thousands of years people have used abhyanga to maintain health, improve sleep patterns and increase longevity. It has also been used as a medicine for certain disorders. Abhyanga can be incorporated into a routine appropriate for almost anyone.
The Sanskrit word sneha can be translated as both “oil” and “love”. It is believed that the effects of abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth. Sneha is subtle; this allows the oil/love to pass through minute channels in the body and penetrate deep layers of tissue.
Benefits of Abhyanga (applying oil to the body)
- Produces softness, strength and colour to the body.
- Decreases the effects of aging.
- Bestows good vision
- Nourishes the body
- Increases longevity
- Benefits sleep patterns
- Strengthens the body’s tolerance
- Imparts a firmness to the limbs
- Imparts tone and vigour to the tissues of the body
- Stimulates the internal organs of the body, including circulation
- Pacifies Vata and Pitta and harmonises Kapha
Benefits of applying oil to the scalp.
- Makes hair grow luxuriantly, thick, soft and glossy
- Soothes and invigorates the sense organs
- Removes facial wrinkles
Benefits of applying oil to the ears
- Benefits disorders in the ear which are due to increased vata
- Benefits stiff neck
- Benefits stiffness in the jaw
Benefits of applying oil to the feet
- Coarseness, stiffness, roughness, fatigue and numbness of the feet are alleviated.
- Strength and firmness of the feet is attained
- Vision is enhanced
- Vata is pacified
- Sciatica is benefited
- Local veins and ligaments are benefited.
Vata pacifying Abhyanga
The primary qualities of vata are dry, light, cool, rough, subtle and mobile. Most of these qualities are opposite to those of oil. This is why warm oil is especially good for pacifying vata. If your vata is high, either in your Prakriti or Vikriti, doing abhyanga daily can be highly beneficial even life changing. For pacifying vata use organic cold pressed sesame oil.
The actual amount of oil you use will depend on you as an individual.
- Place the oil in a bottle or small dish and stand it in hot water until pleasantly warm.
- Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room, on a towel. Make sure you are protected from any drafts.
- Apply the oil to your whole body, beginning with circular movements around the navel. Then apply oil with long strokes from your feet right up your legs towards the navel. Then up the arms to the shoulders. From here work down the front of the chest to the navel, then down the back of the body from the back of the shoulders to the navel and then apply on the lower back around to the navel. Finish with circular movements again around the navel.
- Optional extra – apply oil to the crown of the head and work slowly out from there in circular strokes. Oil applied to the head should be warm not hot.
- Put a couple of drops of oil on your little finger (or cotton bud) and apply in the opening of the ear canal. (If there is any current or chronic discomfort in the ears, don’t do this without the recommendation of your health care practitioner). A little oil can also be placed inside the nostrils – this is very beneficial if you suffer from airborne allergies and is also very good prior to pranayama practice.
- Leave the oil on for about 20 mins and then have a hot shower or bath. This will push the oil deeper into the tissues.
- When you get out of the shower, towel dry. Keep a special towel for drying off because it can eventually get ruined due to accumulation of oil.
If you do not have time for a full body abhyanga just apply oil to your feet and legs in the same way. This can be done in the evening prior to going to bed. The oil can be left on and you can wear socks in bed to protect the sheets. This is especially good for insomnia.
“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age”. Charaka Samhita Vol. 1. V: 88-89
Carole Pearson can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org