I don’t know about you, but personally, I don’t like the winter that much. It’s cold, it’s dry and it’s dark. I’d much rather be on the beach but I think the closest I’ll get to that here is a steam room at the local gym! In the winter, my skin gets dry, I’m constantly trying to warm up and I just want to soak in every bit of sunlight we get. Although most people tend to feel these symptoms in the winter months, some do more than others. Why is this?
Winter is the season in which the Vata Dosha is most dominant. So, what is Vata you ask? Well, let’s back up and start with Ayurveda, the ancient East-Indian science of health, literally meaning “complete knowledge for a long life”. Sounds like a pretty good thing to me! According to Ayurveda, there are three main energies or doshas: Vata (Air-Space), Pitta (Fire-Water), and Kapha (Water-Earth). Each of these doshas can dominate our particular body-mind type, the time of day and even the time of year! In the Fall to mid-winter, the Vata dosha dominates because of its characteristics: cold, moving, quick, dry and rough.
Some people have a lot of Vata in their constitution (or mind-body type). When they are balanced, they tend to be creative, vital and have a great sense of health and well-being. However, when out of balance, Vata types tend to be plagued by worry, insomnia, dry skin, constipation and difficulty focusing. Ughhh! Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? Well, if they do and they tend to get worse in the Fall or Winter, you may have a lot of Vata in your constitution!
Vata is sometimes referred to as the ‘king of the doshas’ because it drives the workings of the other doshas. You can imagine it like a fan that feeds the balance or imbalance of the other doshas. It’s responsible for all the movement in our bodies and without it the other doshas cannot move. In Ayurvedic medicine, like increases like and opposites increase balance. Therefore, when the cool, dry weather of fall and winter is here and Vata is strong in the environment, the Vata in our constitution has a greater chance of going out of balance. However, the great thing thing about Vata is that although it tends to go out of balance easily, it also can quickly return to balance. Like the wind, it can simply change directions! So, how do we put things back in balance after they’re thrown off course?
Bringing things back together is a matter of using opposites to create balance. To counteract cold, chilly weather, indulge in lots of warm drinks. I suggest boiling up a cup of steamy ginger tea with fresh, grated ginger, lemon and honey! Ginger, nutmeg and cardamom are spices that are good for warming the body and counteracting an imbalance in Vata. So, go ahead and make some mulled cider, it’s good for your Vata! Eating lots of warm, cooked foods including root veggies is also a good thing to include on the menu in the winter. Who doesn’t love a hearty stew when it’s cold outside?
You can also allow yourself to indulge in warm baths, showers or steam rooms. They’re great for warmth and humidity which is lacking when it is so dry! Getting lots of rest and avoiding overstimulation is also a great way to bring Vata back into balance. Spending time reading, meditating, relaxing by the fire or candle light is very calming to an over-stimulated mind (which Vatas tend to come by naturally!). To counteract dry skin, oil massage is a good idea. In Ayurveda, Abhyanga, or self massage with sesame oil or other oils is believed to be good for health in general.
So, I think that creating balance this time of year comes down to this: Follow your instincts and indulge yourself in things that you wouldn’t normally do during the rest of the year. How will you allow yourself to be ‘pampered’? What kinds of things will you do to feel good and make your Vata happy? We’d love to know!
If you’d like to learn more about doshas and how to create balance and vitality through yoga and delicious culinary creations, check out our upcoming Vata Workshop on January 21st, 2012!