For years I battled with this. Why was I bursting with creativity at 7am but exhausted by dinner? What was it that allowed my mates to drink espresso martinis til dawn, while I was a jibbering wreck after three sips? Why couldn’t I be like them? What was wrong with me? Why was I such a flake? So many questions!
Until one day in my mid-twenties, I was introduced to Ayurveda and suddenly everything made sense.
It turns out, the reason I found raw food and late nights such a struggle wasn’t because I was flakey, it was simply that I was batting against my nature.
And as soon as I ditched the raw food diet and late nights, my anxiety disappeared, I looked healthier and I discovered a newfound burst of creativity and inner peace.
Because the truth is we’re not all the same…& we can’t expect us all to have the same response to things. Just as a palm tree needs different conditions to a pine tree, human beings all need slightly different conditions to thrive.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is the ‘sister’ of Yoga and essentially translates to ‘The science of life’. Its overarching purpose is to help relieve suffering and help people realise a life well lived…or their dharma/life purpose.
And the secret to all of this is balance.
Ayurveda is all about bringing the body and mind back into balance. And this can only be achieved when we truly understand ourselves.
Ayurveda believes that everything in the universe is governed by the five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air & Space. Each of these elements have different qualities that determine their nature. E.g. Earth is solid, damp, heavy and slow, whereas Air is light, dry and ever-moving.
Everything that we experience is made up of either one or a blend of these elements. So, a rice cracker (dry, crispy & light) is dominated by Air and Space, whereas chilli oil is dominated by Fire (hot, intense, sharp).
Similarly, we can look at ourselves this way. People that are dominated by the Air element tend to be thinner, quick thinking and prone to anxiety when imbalanced, whereas someone dominated by the Earth element may be calmer but gain weight easier and sink into depression when imbalanced.
It’s a fascinating science and the more we explore our body types (or ‘doshas’ as they’re known) the more we begin to recognise tendencies in ourselves.
And when we’re more aware of how things affect us, we can introduce balancing strategies into our lives to stop us veering of course.
Deepak Chopra, a well-known pioneer of Ayurveda in the west has created an online Dosha test to help you identify your ayurvedic body type.
How the seasons affect us
Just as the food we eat and the lifestyle we lead influences us, the weather (particularly the changing seasons) has a huge impact on our wellbeing.
Autumn is especially challenging for many of us as it can be very aggravating to our (already overstimulated) nervous system.
As we move from the nourishing warmth of summer days to blustery winds and changeable temperatures, its common to feel unsettled, anxious and physically and emotionally exhausted. This is all due to the strong Air and Space (known as Vata) element raising their voice at this time.
5 Ways to beat the Autumn Angst:
- Eat a Vata pacifying diet: Think warm and wet. Soups, stews and dahls are all incredibly nurturing at this time. Stay away from anything dry or cold (salads, toast, smoothies etc.) Eat little and often (skipped meals are a recipe for anxiety) and add warming spices like cumin, black pepper and turmeric to food where possible
- Self Massage. Abhyanga or warm oil massage is a cornerstone of Ayurveda. It literally shields your body from the harsh elements by coating it in a protective film of nourishing oil. The best oil to use for the nervous system is Sesame Oil (get the untoasted variety..unless you want to smell like a Chinese takeaway!) Application is simple and only takes a few minutes. The best time to practice Abhyanga is right before bed, so it can work its magic while you sleep
- rub the oil in your palms to warm it
- apply to the body starting at the top (if you’re washing your hair the next day, treat yourself to a head massage – it is divine)
- use long, sweeping, downward strokes to the arms and legs
- use round, circular motions for the torso
- pay extra attention to the feet – massage into each individual toe along with the ball and heel.
If you don’t have time for the full massage, just doing your feet and popping on a pair of socks, can give you a blissful night’s sleep.
- Practice Yoga…Mindfully Yoga is a fantastic way to reconnect with yourself, but it must be mindful, otherwise you’re just adding to the overwhelm. Heated yoga can be particularly delicious at this time of year. Try to consciously let go of your day when you arrive on the mat and show compassion for r as you practice. Think of each asana as a treat rather than a chore for the body. Vata pacifying poses include Bhujangasana (cobra), Janu Sirsasana (seated forward fold with one leg bent) and Sirsasana (headstand). Yin is particularly beneficial at this time of year.
- Routine When you’re feeling anxious, it’s time to get boring! Go to bed before 10pm and get at least 8 hours sleep. Try and eat at regular intervals and stay away from anything that’s too stimulating (caffeine, loud music, too much technology). Keep things simple and you’ll soon come back into balance
- Meditate The times we think we’re too busy or too overwhelmed to meditate are the times we need it the most…ad the times we will experience the most profound benefit. No fanfare is needed. Just sit quietly for 10-15 minutes and watch the breath. Your mind will bounce all over the place, but that’s OK. Just keep bringing it back to the breath – counting each breath and returning to one when you lose your focus can be very useful at first. Eventually it will settle and a sense of peace and spaciousness will descend. If you’re able to, attending a guided mediation session once a week will really help to establish your practice and you’ll experience the nurturing energy of meditating in a group.