Often in these cold months, we find ourselves affected by what is called “Vata-excess” in Ayurveda (a mind-body health system developed in ancient India which translates as “the science of life”). It can often feel difficult getting grounded in winter. The external conditions of the season — short days, chilly temperatures, and dry weather — directly impact our internal climate, making us prone to feel more frazzled, snippy, and in our heads. Excessive Vata, the air element, is reflected in dry skin and lips, low appetite, anxiety, and scattered thoughts.
The Ayurvedic description of Vata-excess reminds me of the symptoms of anorexia, which I struggled with for many years. Regardless of the season, when I was not adequately nourishing myself nutritionally, I experienced a constant state of frenzy, anxiety, and irritability. I felt total disconnect from my body as I spun circles in my head, calculating calories and ruminating about food. My hair was thin, my skin dry, and my body temperature perpetually cold. I felt lonely and insecure. All of these symptoms are also hallmarks of Vata-excess.
When the body is in a chronic state of stress, the sympathetic nervous system is constantly activated. This system responds to stress by preparing the body for “fight-or-flight” by increasing heart rate, body temperature, and brain waves. When one remains in this state of activation for long periods of time — as we are prone to do in contemporary society — Vata accumulates and a significant toll is taken on our bodies and minds. To help re balance the nervous system, we must awaken the parasympathetic nervous system, which activates the “rest-and-restore” processes that cool, quiet, and slow down the body.
For individuals struggling with chronic stress and/or eating disorders, wisdom can be gleaned from Ayurveda about how to help self-soothe and cultivate ease:
- Drink warm drinks: Make a cup of warm milk with a pinch of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and/or nutmeg before bed to encourage sound sleep.
- Eat warm foods: Try adding roasted vegetables (like carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter/acorn/butternut/delicata/butternut squash) to your meal–making sure it’s a balanced meal that also includes fat, protein, and carbohydrates!–to help ground your energy.
- Go to sleep earlier: Get enough sleep! This is vital for individuals who tend to push themselves to exhaustion.
- Start the day gently: Let the first thing you do when you rise be something that nourishes your spirit to set the tone for a self-caring day. For example, read an inspirational poem, write in your journal, meditate for five minutes, take a warm shower, put on lotion, etc.
- “De-screen”: Take breaks from your computer, TV, and iPhone every few hours throughout the day to do things that revitalize you. For example, listen to a song you love, chat with a neighbor or coworker, play with a pet, step into nature. At the end of the day, de-screen an hour before bedtime.
- Nourish your senses: Give yourself a massage with warming oil (sesame or almond) before going to sleep or when you wake up. Light candles and meditate on the glow. Make herbal tea and hold the warm cup in your palms.
- Stay warm: Wear layers of soft, comfortable clothing.
- Get quiet and still: Do to a five-minute guided meditation. Take slow, mindful nature walks. Listen to soothing ambient music.
Blog post written by Annie Robinson, Narrative Coaching Specialist at Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.