Even though I should know by now, the intensity of the Vata season always takes me by surprise. Vata is one of the three ayurvedic doshas, or very roughly, constitutions, and here’s my quick stream of consciousness rendering of the qualities it embodies: quick nervous mind energy, everything speeding up, too much all at once, inconsistency, mutability, insomnia, dryness, wind, and cold. Fall is the beginning of the Vata season, and I am moving into the Vata time of life, which starts at around 50.
The organs of Vata are the large intestine and the skin. The predominant quality is dryness. I often start noticing my eyes feeling much dryer this time of year, and my stress levels going up. I also experience joint pain and digestive issues this time of year, that don’t give me trouble the rest of the time. This is usually the high time of work for me as well. In this age of so much information flying around, I need to take steps to remain calm and focused, and to get a sane amount of sleep. I am a combination dosha, Vata-Kapha, but I find especially at this time of year, it’s the Vata energy that I need to address to stay healthy.
Here’s what works for me:
Refraining from the computer or tv after 10pm. This one is very hard for me, as I like to watch movies late at night. I used to stay up with my mom watching old movies when I was very young, and I love the feeling of being a night owl, of having a time when there are no demands on me. Sadly, I need to slowly retreat from this. I’m not there yet, but I do notice a marked difference in my ability to sleep deeply when I turn everything off at ten. Not sleeping long enough adds to a Vata imbalance, which makes it harder to sleep: it’s a vicious cycle.
I am also working on waking up earlier, something that’s never been part of my routine.
Slowing my yoga practice. It’s important that I keep my practice regular, but that I practice less strenuously. I have a monthly subscription to my yoga studio, but can’t drive myself crazy by trying to go to every class. This isn’t the appropriate time for that. I focus on grounding in my practice.
Here’s a video from Banyan Botanicals, a reputable Ayurvedic herb company:
Meditation: I try to meditate once a day, early in the morning. The semi-guided meditation that I’m enjoying right now is Sally Kempton’s “meditation on a sound” from her Beginning Meditation: Enjoying Your Own Deepest Experience cd. Since my mind is jumping around more than usual, it helps me to have some guidance. It doesn’t seem to get old for me. You can get an idea of her style at her site, where she has a free short meditation instruction.
The most important thing is to meditate regularly, for as long as you’ve set your meditation time for. It’s not as important how long you meditate, or how untrammeled your mind is while you’re there. Noticing your squirmy mind is part of the process.
Yoga nidra: One of my yoga teachers offers this practice after her class. It is one of the most deeply relaxing things I’ve experienced. It’s a guided practice you do while lying down, but not sleeping. During this overstimulated time, it’s great to watch new students experience it for the first time, so relaxing.
Pranayama: Alternate nostril breathing.
Routine in general: I have never been one for routine, but am embracing it now. I notice that I really like to sit in the same place at the same time everyday. This will never be easy for me, but it is comforting.
Abhyanga, or full body daily oil massage. This is a practice I resisted for some time, telling myself, “what kind of difference could that make?”
I can’t count the things I formerly scoffed at that are really, really helpful. I use raw sesame oil, I’ll mix or infuse with herbs and/or essential oils.
I usually let my herbs infuse in the sun, shaking the oil every day for a couple of weeks. But this is great when you don’t have that kind of time. The latest version I made has turmeric and blue chamomile essential oils mixed in. While it’s recommended to do it in the morning, that’s often too hard to fit in with the rest of my routine, so I usually do it at night, it’s a great way to slow down. If I’m having joint issues, I’ll rub castor oil on my aching knees, instead of the sesame oil. I’ll take an epsom salt bath afterwards, very relaxing.
Here’s a video that shows how to do it:
Here is another video that mentions specific marma points to cover. I don’t know if I’ll ever get that specific, but it’s a good way to remember any bits you might be missing. I use quite a bit more oil than she does, but I think I have quite a bit more body…
Oiling the feet is important for sleeping. Just make sure you don’t slip in the shower!
Diet: Eating well-cooked foods with an oily or soupy characteristic. Here is a post I did on healing foods for autumn. My diet has changed since then, but I’ll address that in another post. According to Ayurveda, this is not a good time to eat lots of salads or raw food, especially if you have a vata imbalance.
Herbs: I like drinking warm coconut milk with a pinch of ashwaganda powder, pinch of garam masala, pinch turmeric and nutmeg in it before bedtime. If I want to mix it up, I’ll add coconut oil or ghee, vanilla extract, extra ginger. Sometimes I use regular milk. I’ll use a little stevia or sometimes honey to sweeten it, but never heat the honey. Tinctures are not great right now with an excess of vata, as the alcohol in them is drying. Try to find other methods of taking herbs if you can. That’s going to be a separate post! I also take a couple of castor oil capsules internally before I go to sleep.
Ashwaganda is a true adaptogen. Here is a beautiful post from Michael Tierra about how amazing it is it is.
Here’s a quote:
Given the fact that for better or worse, more people are living longer in the world than any other time in its history, trying to save enough money in long term retirement accounts for a comfortable old age and at the same time sensing real concerns at the thought of dwindling governmental entitlement benefits, it seems imperative that everyone grow their personal supply of ashwagandha and learn how to prepare and take it. — Michael Tierra
There are many other herbs, practices, etc, that can be tailored to your unique combination of doshas. It’s very rewarding to visit an ayurvedic practitioner; they can tell you a lot about yourself. Many of these practices sound so simple, but they are very effective. I have noticed much improvement in my sleep even after writing this article and doing abhyanga more often, really practicing what I preach. What a gift!
Lotus Image: By Photo (c)2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) (Own work (Own Picture)) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html) or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons