This article from Banyan Botanicals by Barbara Sinclair contains good advice for all of us during the holiday season. No matter what your dosha is, this is the time of year to pacify vata. So if you're feeling your shoulders creeping up towards your ears, and your heart beating a little bit faster, take a time-out and read this.
Oh, boy. Did someone just say the H-word?
Long before I knew anything about Ayurveda and vata dosha, I sensed the palpable anxiety that would arise in me towards the end of October/early November, knowing that the holidays were fast approaching. I remember commenting to my friend that, although fall was my favorite season, I always felt a bit out of sorts. Edgy. I used to also say that I wished I could be more organized, but I didn’t have the tools. Talk of Thanksgiving, travel plans, and Christmas music playing in the background everywhere I went, chipped away at my already-frayed nerves. And the days seemed to fly by.
It only got worse when I had a young family and needed to orchestrate all that the holidays entailed. Baking cookies, Christmas cards, shopping, wrapping presents, decorating, parties, school events, etc. etc. There were many meltdowns and hiding-in-the-bedroom moments. I was an adult with a husband and two kids, but all I wanted was a time-out or a nap.
I have a lot of vata dosha in my constitution, and planning ahead and organization are not typical vata traits. It’s the dosha that embodies movement, change, creativity, and often a propensity to fly by the seat of our pants. It also rules the nervous system. Honestly, just typing this blog post and thinking about the holidays is making my heart race a little faster. Not in a good way. I have to remind myself— “Just breathe.” It’s kind of a cruel joke that so many major holidays happen smack dab in the middle of vata season (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere where I live). But knowledge is power.
It wasn’t until my body got my attention around age 48, with a little something called fibromyalgia, that I serendipitously learned about Ayurveda. My life and perspective changed forever. Ayurveda was key to healing the chronic pain and gifted me with a deeper understanding of the mind/body connection. Now that I realize the cause of my heightened anxiety (fear and anxiety are manifestations of unbalanced vata dosha), I can make a plan to get through these months relatively unscathed. Because, it’s not a pretty thing to have a nervous breakdown during the holidays.
At age 62, I’m now in the vata time of my life (50+). So, for me, it’s the perfect trifecta. Vata dosha, vata season, vata time of life. But over the years I have learned more and more about Ayurveda, and I have discovered ways to keep balanced during these times of stress. Looking back, I wish I knew then what I know now. Here’s what I’ve learned.
This is definitely a time to reach out and receive. The holidays are the perfect time to ask for help from organized pitta-type friends. They thrive on planning and executing and love to be in charge. I treasure my pitta friends!
Yes, I felt guilty the Christmas that my about-to-deliver-any-second pitta friend (with two young children) had a big feast and invited me. But she totally had it all together (she loves to entertain), and didn’t deliver for another whole week! I did bake an apple pie from scratch, crust and all. That counts for something, right?
And where would I be without my kapha friends during the holidays? Kapha-types usually love anything to do with family, and they give the best hugs. Perfect for anxious vata folks. They also tend to be the most grounded (earth/water), and airy vata-types can always use a dose of grounding. And touch. We love (and need) to be touched.
It’s also a time to try really hard to stick to a daily routine. This is not an easy thing for those of us who change like the wind. Routine. Routine. Routine. It’s become my daily mantra, especially during vata season, and can be the difference between a calm day and one that’s frazzled and disorganized.
Many days I feel like I’m swimming upstream trying to discipline myself to follow a routine—going against the flow of my constant movement kind of nature. But I never stop trying. I figure the least I can do is wake up and go to bed at (roughly) the same time. I eat my biggest meal around noon (gently cooked and warm is most vata-pacifying), and make sure to take time out for an abhyanga oil massage. And I meditate and breathe. I cannot emphasize enough how a meditation and breath practice changed everything for me. Everything.
I lived a life of such high anxiety that it’s a wonder my nervous system didn’t short circuit. Well, actually, I guess it did, when I developed fibromyalgia. In my pre-meditation days, I was afraid of so many things—flying, speed, confined spaces, water, you name it—I was afraid of it. And then I began (twice daily) to sit in blessed silence, relax my breath, and let go. One by one, my fears and anxieties began to drop away. When the day came that I could walk onto an airplane and actually look forward to a long flight (well, kind of), I knew I had made huge progress. So, meditation and breathwork during the holidays? Most definitely! If I start to feel the H-word anxiety arising, I sit down, close my eyes, and let go. It’s medicine for the soul.
Vata is also the dosha of depletion. This is another important thing to remember when the holiday season comes around and life gets busier. Back in my pre-Ayurveda days, I was aware of my propensity to crash and burn. I had mountains of energy only to be followed by a rapid decline, feeling as though someone had stuck a pin in me and let it all drain out. Looking back, it was always during the afternoon vata hours (2–6 p.m.) that the meltdowns would occur. While all of my pitta-type friends would use their kids’ naptimes to work on a project or clean the house, I would slap a note over the doorbell, daring anyone to ring it, while I napped along with my two little ones. If I had only known about Ayurveda back then, I would have been so much easier on myself. Now, when the H-word starts showing up, I’m armed and ready with all of my Ayurvedic tools.
If you have a lot of vata dosha in your constitution, please be gentle with yourself during these stressful months. Let go of all the unnecessary trapping of the holiday season (good advice for everyone) and focus instead on what’s really important.
Vata is often referred to as the spiritual dosha. This can become even more pronounced during vata season, as well as during the vata time of life. Take advantage of it and set aside plenty of alone time for reflection, meditation, and time in Nature, as this can help to bring about a wonderful sense of peace and calm—not to mention give more meaning to our life. It’s no coincidence that the vata times of day (2–6 a.m. and 2–6 p.m.) are considered the best times for meditation. My afternoon meditation has become a favorite part of my day.
So, here I am, in the more reflective time of my life, suggesting that you let go of the things that stress you out about the holidays. Focus on what’s really important to you. Each year my holiday to-do list grows shorter and shorter. Gone is the baking and holiday cards and gift giving to everyone under the sun. I still love to decorate my nine-foot cactus with twinkle lights and all of the ornaments I’ve collected over the years. I’m a sucker for twinkle lights! And I have friends and family who LOVE the holidays and all that they entail. For them, the more the merrier.
Wishing you all a stress-free, vata-pacifying holiday season! Did I mention how much I love the month of January?
May you and your loved ones be healthy, happy and joyful!
87 years young, Jane Goodall is a legendary animal activist, best known for her work that began in the 1960’s with chimpanzees. Her work, including 30 published books and at the non-profit Jane Goodall Institute has had a very powerful and positive influence on the welfare of all animals and habitat preservation. Jane can be seen on the cover of Time magazine, announcing her new book, which she co-authored, The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times
Below is a letter penned by Jane to a group that I belong to. It is a letter of hope and inspiration, which we all truly need right now.
Thank you for being part of the movement to heal our lives and our planet. Both are critically important, and the work you do is at its very foundation.
I'm writing today because we are going through dark times. Violence, hatred, discrimination, the pandemic, environmental destruction, and climate change all threaten our future.
Ever since I began traveling around the world in 1986 to raise awareness about the harms we humans have created, socially and environmentally, I have met so many people who have lost hope for the future. Probably the question I am asked more often than any other is: Do you honestly believe there is hope for our world? For the future of our children and grandchildren?
And I am able to answer truthfully yes.
What is this "hope" that I still believe in, that keeps me motivated to carry on, fighting the good fight? What do I really mean by "hope"?
Hope is often misunderstood. People tend to think that it is simply passive wishful thinking: I hope something will happen but I'm not going to do anything about it. This is indeed the opposite of real hope, which requires action and engagement.
I have four main reasons for hope for the future of our world: The Amazing Human Intellect, The Resilience of Nature, The Power of Young People, and the Indomitable Human Spirit.
Hope is nothing less than a crucial survival trait that has sustained our species since the time of our Stone Age ancestors. Certainly, my own improbable journey would have been impossible had I lacked hope.
Hope is contagious. Your actions will inspire others. Thank you and thanks to all your community members for all that you are doing to make a difference. The cumulative effect of thousands of ethical actions can help to save and improve our world for future generations.
It is my sincere desire that you will find solace in a time of anguish, direction in a time of uncertainty, and courage in a time of fear. I want to invite you to join me in a journey toward hope and to working toward finding solutions to the problems that threaten our world.
Together, we can do so much. And I believe we have barely begun to discover what humans are truly capable of, when we become engaged, when we work together, and when we take constructive action to build a world that is worthy of the dreams of our children.
With love, and with hope,
May you and your loved ones be healthy, happy and joyful!