Ayurvedic Tips for Staying Well Through the Holidays
I don’t know about your family, but at any given time since October, someone in our house has had a cold or at least had a nasty cough. I was going to write something today on how to mentally handle the stress of the holiday season, but given how many viruses are going around, I thought I’d write something on just getting your body through the next couple weeks in one piece. Ayurveda can be overwhelming. You could honestly spend all day doing Ayurvedic practices, but if you can remember do these five things, you’re mostly covered. Ayurveda is about aligning your body with nature. The more out of alignment with nature your body is, the more it is fighting nature and its energy is going towards that and not fighting pathogens. I know I’ve written about all these before, but I thought now would be a good time to remind everyone (including myself). Greet the Sun This time of year, it’s easy to get depressed and one of the easiest ways to combat this is through getting up with the sun and making your first action of the day to go out and acknowledge it’s rising. It orients the whole day towards a daily miracle that is the source of all our planet’s energy, so much better than starting the day with a cell phone. This time of year, the sun rises later, so it’s easier to establish this now. Even if I wake up late, I still do this. You can do a full sun salutation or simply say quietly “Surya Namaskar” which means, “I bow to the sun.” Sip hot water throughout the day Our immune and digestion systems are so intertwined, they’re hardly two different systems. When we’re not digesting our food properly, undigested particles (ama) remain in the body which distract our immune system. By sipping hot (not scalding but sippable) water throughout the day, we’re stoking our digestive fire (agni). Just get a thermos and keep it with you. On the flip side, at the very least, don’t drink icy drinks with meals. It’s doing the opposite by literally putting out your digestive fire. There’s a book in the Veda on warfare, and one of the strategies for weakening the enemy is to have spies go into the enemy community and popularize cold drinks. Eat Foods Fresh, In Season and Cooked Ayurveda is all about eating food that is alive, as in full of prana (subtle life energy). When we eat foods that are fresh as opposed to two day old leftovers, we gain vitality from the food as opposed to it making us feel sluggish. The rule is ideally no left-overs, or at least no leftovers older than 24 hours. We cook foods, especially this time of year, because it makes them easier to digest. And the in-season part, that goes with the whole aligning our bodies with nature thing. If we listen to our bodies, they will tell us what they want. If you imagine eating a salad in cold weather versus a soup, it’s pretty obvious which is more appealing. Avoid heating honey This one annoys people, especially those who have been drinking honey in hot tea for years. Honey is a miracle food, it doesn’t go bad and has so many properties that can assist in our health. One of the reasons it doesn’t go bad is because it encapsulates any toxicity, keeping it from spoiling the honey. When it is heated, this toxicity is released into the honey and then into our bodies. It also creates a particulary waxy, sticky kind of undigested material (ama). One of the masters of Ayurveda in India was asked what is the hardest thing to remove from the body and his answer was heated honey. So if you’re making holiday baked goods, maple syrup or coconut sugar are good natural alternatives. The rule is to drink hot tea or water 10 minutes before having honey or wait 30 minutes after eating anything with honey. If you want to put honey in tea, wait until it is luke warm. Don’t skimp on rest Winter is dark and cold which is inviting us to reduce activity and go inward. If there are cold germs in the house, that means even if you’re not sick, your body is working overtime to keep you that way. It may be tempting to go on a Netflix binge now that the holidays are here, but as close as you can get to going to bed by 10, the better. 10-2 is pitta time, the time of night when the body doing heavy purification. And with all the visiting relatives, kids at home and holiday events, our rhythms get out of whack this time of year which makes it easier to miss meditations. But if you’re aware of that potentiality and put a little more effort towards finding the time, your body and sanity will thank you.
Already practicing those five? Here’s some more to integrate if you’re looking to up level your dinacharya (daily Ayurvedic routine. Scrape tongue in the morning This is an easy one. When you brush your teeth, use a tongue scraper to remove the sticky white stuff (ama) that has built up over the night. It also removes bacteria and stimulates the digestive system. Self-massage (Abhyanga) Before showering, rub your body with warm organic sesame oil and let it soak in for 5 to 20 minutes. Do long strokes towards the heart and circle strokes around joints. It should be a self-love practice. When in the shower, rinse the oil off without soap. This practice will help calm nerves and purify the body of toxins. Plus it give your skin a radiant glow. Pro-tips: Have a robe dedicated to the practice you can put on and walk around or meditate while letting the oil soak in. Put towels down so you don’t get oil on the floor or furniture if you’re going to sit, and wear flip flops if walking around. If you don’t have a fancy oil warmer, you can heat a bottle of oil in warm water. Food combining Instead of “You are what you eat,” Ayurveda’s motto would be “You are what you can digest.” Some foods digest well together while others don’t and and cause indigestion, fermentation, gas and bloating. There are many food combination suggestions but the big ones are: eat fruit on its own and avoid milk products with most foods especially meat, and eat one protein at a time. Fruit digests very quickly and will ferment in the stomach with other foods. And milk curdles in the stomach if mixed with other foods with the exception of oatmeal, rice pudding, dates and almonds which are okay. If interested in this, here’s a chart that goes into more detail. This one bums me out a bit because I love trays of cheese with grapes and sliced fruit. And this pretty much explains why I feel like a walking inner tube every time I eat Mexican food. Big Lunch, light dinner I struggle with this one as evening is the only time I have to really put time into making a meal. I also find that I am more likely to emotionally eat in the evening and that whole “eat until satisfied, not full” idea is a hard one for me at the end of a long day. However, digestive fire is strongest in the middle of the day so that is the best time to have a our largest meal. And if we eat a big meal late in the day (past 8pm), we may still be digesting when we go to bed which interferes with the body purifying at night.