by Maria Radloff
November 1, 2018
What is your favorite part of the Holiday Season?
Tricks and treats? Turkey and mashed potatoes? Black Friday deals? Family time? Pie and ice cream? Days off work? Ice skating? The first snowfall? Gift giving? Old Christmas movies like Rudolph, Snoopy, and Frosty? Popping the cork on champagne? Attending glittery soirees? The soft glow of sparkly lights lining the streets?
Surely, this time of year is one of great indulgence, for how else would we survive the cold, desolate winter days?
While all this excitement and celebration is amazing, it can take a toll.
Ayurvedically, this is what likely will cause imbalances:
- overeating at large festive dinners
- staying up too late at raucous parties and celebrations
- drinking coffee, alcohol or sugary drinks to excess
- snacking on too many holiday treats and gifted foods
- wearing slinky (but super cute) dresses during this chilly time of year
- exhausting ourselves in preparation of holiday events
- consuming inordinate amounts of sugar and processed foods
- stressing out from trying to do too much
- running an erratic schedule
- skimping on usual routines of exercise and yoga
So wait…Are you the Ayurveda Grinch? You might be thinking.
Not a chance! I’m gifting you the power of Ayurveda so that you can have the most delightful holiday season ever, complete with pies, parties and bourbons!
But we must prepare! It’s already November, so we must be diligent and implement nutrition and lifestyle strategies to help get you happily and as healthily as possible through the vata season. Ah… the key word…vata!
Ayurveda is built on Sankhya philosophy, which is based on a central Creation Theory – a theory that states everything in our manifest world is comprised of five elements… earth, water, fire, air, and space. Vata dosha (one of our three functional energies) is mostly made of air and space, and this means that vata is dry, cold, rough, light, mobile, clear, subtle. And the way we can achieve balance in vata season is with warmth, unctuousness, heaviness, groundedness and routine.
Manage Vata Dosha
Stay warm. Wear a hat, socks, jacket, scarf and a warm sweater! This may sound obvious, but I see a lot of sandal-wearing and bare-headed folks all winter long. Spend minimal time outside in cold, windy weather, unless you are skiing, of course. Then by all means, shred those Black Diamonds! Have a nice stack of warm blankets available. Wear slippers around the house. Perhaps have a nice fireplace or space heater in the house to keep you warm. Drink warm water and teas. Take warm showers. Eat spiced foods that are warming. And get a dog (or three) to sleep in the bed with you, keeping you warm and cozy at night.
Avoid dryness, be smooth. Do abhyanga (self massage with warm oil) right before your shower a couple times of week, leaving it on for 15 minutes. Oil the inside of the nose with nasya oil (sesame oil) in the morning and add a little warm sesame oil to the ears before bed. Prepare for sleep by applying some sesame or brahmi oil to your head and rub some sesame or almond oil onto your feet, putting on socks to keep the oil off your sheets… and to keep your feet toasty warm. Perhaps invest in a humidifier if you live in a dry climate. Drizzle olive oil onto cooked foods. Cook with ghee. Avoid store-bought lotions and lipsticks that can dry out skin more, or clog channels… substitute with almond oil, argan oil, coconut oil, ghee (try Beauty Balm by Banyan Botanicals) or a nice homemade lotion made from ingredients you keep in your kitchen.
Don’t be afraid of heavy. Enjoy heavy foods. Although they can be harder to digest (we’ll address that soon), they will balance vata dosha. Drink warm and spiced milk. Prepare spiced yogurt as your probiotic in the morning or at lunch. Enjoy cooked whole grains rather than salads and raw foods. Cook with oils. Get enough quality sleep. Have lighter exercise and workouts. Move slower.
Relax and don’t take life too seriously. Everything that you think you have to do is in your mind. An overactive mind will lead you to an overactive life. How can you slow down a bit to actually enjoy the holidays? Don’t try to do too much. Work with your pitta dosha (the functional energy of fire) to create a doable “To Do” list, prioritizing the most important things first. Try not to worry. Schedule breath work and meditation every day, regardless how busy you are. Alternate nostril breathing is a great way to bring balance to the mind and body. Sit still for 10 minutes, experiencing the cool breath enter the nostrils and feeling the warm breath leave the nostrils. For the over-achievers out there, please do this twice a day! And lastly, try to let go of control and see how much you can just flow with what the Universe throws your way! Trust that what needs to happen will happen regardless your input.
Build your routine. I know, this is next to impossible, but try anyway. Put all your effort into this category…right now. Create regular sleep and wake cycles, ideally waking up around 5-6am and going to sleep by 9-10pm. Don’t shortchange yourself—get enough sleep so that you feel alert and well-rested upon waking. Create an eating schedule so that you get three meals a day, at the same time each day. Your body should have five things it can count on daily – wake, breakfast, lunch, dinner, sleep. Lunch should always be around noon and all meals should be at least four hours apart.
These tips should keep your mind calm, body nurtured and rested, and soul inspired. They should keep you balanced and even-tempered, amidst all the Holiday Fun you are having!
But, wait, we’re not done yet. We still have diet and nutrition to contend with… After all, I can’t send you out into the great world of gravies, meats and pies without making sure you can digest them.
Let’s build your digestive fire so you’re not feeling heavy, gurgly and gassy after eating all that great food.
Kindle that Digestive Fire
Get a little spicy. Try to cook as much as you can at home, using spices for flavor and to facilitate better digestion. Some great spices that enkindle agni—or digestive fire—are black pepper, ginger, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, fennel, ajwain, cardamom and cloves. You can also cook with bay leaves, oregano, thyme, rosemary, saffron, marjoram, turmeric, mint, and many other wonderful spices in the cabinet. Spices never go bad, but they lose their potency with time. Give yourself an amazing gift this year and update your spice cabinet with fresh, new, and exotic spices to use!
Avoid snacking or overeating. While enjoying generous portions and varieties of food is part of normal holiday festivities, avoid them on regular days. Try to maintain your eating routine as much as possible when you are not socializing or celebrating. Be strict with your eating times and avoid snacks in between. If you need an emergency snack, try to have fresh fruit, juice or something easy to digest that will hopefully pass through before the next meal comes in. This will keep your fire burning beautifully and able to handle the days of excess.
Avoid processed foods, leftover foods, frozen foods. These are total agni-busters. Avoid them if you can. The holidays are filled with amazing leftovers. If they are home-cooked, enjoy them for up to three days later. Avoid reheating things from restaurants or the freezer/can/bag.
Sip hot water throughout the day, and have a big gulp first thing in the morning. Avoid icy drinks at all costs, except for a Bourbon Old Fashioned. (Wisconsin’s state drink, I’ll have you know… and you thought it was beer!) Ice, and liquids in general, are a quick way to put out fire. Sipping hot water (or room temp water) will enkindle agni, stoking it for meals to come. Avoid drinking much liquid at mealtime. Try to go dry for an hour before and after your meal. When eating, it is best to fill your stomach half with food, a quarter with water, and a quarter with absolutely nothing. A great way to start the day is by flushing your system with a cup of hot water and lemon (or lime), and maybe even a bit of honey. But be sure your water is cool enough to stick your pinky in before adding the honey or it will be toxic to your system.
Have a light eating day once a week. This may be a day of just eating kitcheri (a basmati rice and mung bean dish), or other easy to digest foods. You may skip breakfast if you feel heavy from the meal the night before.
Don’t eat after 7pm. This is important to maintain on your non-festive days. Eating too close to bedtime will not allow your food to digest properly. This means you’ll risk accumulating undigested and potentially toxic food, or the food won’t be able to nourish adequately your tissues, which have been working hard for you all day long.
Daily exercise and yoga will turn up the heat. Turn up the burn with exercise and yoga to light that internal heater. Exercise removes blockages, enhances agni, improves overall digestion, reduces lethargy and heaviness and will strengthen the body. If you enjoy yoga, try adding in additional sun salutations. Heating breath, such as bellows breath and breath of fire, are great for digestion as well.
A few more things… Overeating and undereating are equally harmful to balanced agni. Too much fasting can cause imbalance. Suppression of natural urges will vitiate the agni. And emotional eating (worry, anxiety, grief, anger)… all are also hard on the digestive fire.
Take a gentle walk or lie on your left side after a meal. This will help with the digestion process. This will be extremely useful at those big family meals. And the nieces and nephews will love to join you on your walk!
Sneak in a quick little appetizer before your big family meal. Have a teaspoon of fresh lime juice, a pinch of pink rock salt, and a thin slice of fresh ginger twenty minutes before the dining decadence begins. You may also want to bring some roasted fennel seeds to share with your brimming family to help process that spread.
Remember: The key to healthy living is moderation. Have discipline when it comes to your daily routine and eating habits, but make sure to emphasize flexibility when it comes to enjoying life and all its beautiful little gifts and pleasures. The holidays can be a great reward to the end of a year of hard work, dedication and service.
Wishing you a Holiday Season filled with blessings, surprises, warmth and love!