The year is coming to a close and we are in the Advent season, during which every Sunday, one more candle is lit on the Advent wreath. It’s a time characterized by decreasing daylight, until the solstice on 21 December, when the days slowly begin to lengthen again. The lack of light outside is conducive
to going within.
In our modern world, with its own ideas of how a perfect Christmas should look like, this special season of the year all too often turns into a time of hectic busyness and packed agendas. Combined with frequent and heavy eating, it’s no wonder that we soon feel exhausted and stressed, instead of reflective and balanced. In this article, we’ll see how Ayurveda can help us get through the Christmas season in a relaxed way.
An easy-going Christmas season with Ayurveda
Night, decreasing light, the moon: they are all related to the female elemental force, the yin principle. Female qualities are, among others: devotion, softness, sensitivity and compassion – qualities which tend to find little room in our modern very rational environment.The Christmas season specifically invites us to give more attention to these qualities, and to look inward and to deal with ourselves, our own desires and needs. For it is within ourselves that we find the answers we have been pursuing for so long on the outside. Inside is the place of true change and peace. But in order to gain access to our own inner world, we have to let go of the outside, which is easier when it’s quiet around us.
ALL LIFE EMERGES FROM THE INSIDE OUT,
MANIFESTING FROM HIDDEN REALMS.
If we look at nature, we see the eternally repeating cycle of the four seasons, with sequential phases of emergence, abundance, harvest, and rest. Nothing remains the same forever, in fact, everything is subject to constant change. Likewise, we humans should be aware that we cannot live and work in the same way throughout the year, but that there is a sequence of different qualities of time with different requirements. In the traditional Ayurvedic scriptures, the rhythm of the seasons is described as Ritucharya and includes lifestyle and nutritional habits that help us to respond appropriately to the particularities of each season.
Advent is Vata time
Winter is generally characterized by cold and changeable weather – sometimes dry, then again rainy-wet. These qualities are associated with the Doshas Vata and Kapha. Vata qualities tend to predominate at the beginning of winter and during Advent, while Kapha Dosha becomes more prevalent in the second half of winter. Therefore, during the cold season, people with predominantly Vata and Kapha constitutions need to take some extra care of themselves.
Kapha-predominant people may notice respiratory and digestive problems, while Vata-predominant people have to pay more attention to staying balanced, especially in cold and windy weather.
People with a stronger Pitta component, on the other hand, usually find the lower temperatures comfortable: they sleep better and their mind is clearer and less irritable.
The cold, dark weather outside encourages us to get warm and cozy at home. Our body tries to adjust to winter by producing more warmth. Similar to when you use a poker to bring the fire in a fireplace to a blaze, our body works to activate the metabolism. This is where food intake plays a big role. On the one hand, it is important to eat nutritious food so that the metabolism does not start feeding on the bodily tissues (Dhatus); on the other hand, the food should not be so heavy that our individual digestive power (Agni) is overstrained and thereby weakened. When Agni gets out of balance, illnesses can arise, especially colds in the winter. Frequent and heavy eating, as is common for many during the Christmas season, increases the susceptibility to infections and makes us feel heavy and lethargic, also mentally.
Tips for the holidays
The idea is not to renounce all sensual pleasures – in Ayurveda, nothing is forbidden – but to use them to create balance, i.e. enjoy them at the right time and in the right amount.
It is quite clear that if we eat and drink continuously, we’ll start to feel burdened and low in energy, both physically and mentally.
In Ayurveda, this condition is called Tamasic: sluggish, dull, and clouded – it’s as if a fog covers our mind and our sense of well-being. To avoid this gnawing feeling of discomfort during the coming weeks, here are some things you can do:
- As possible, don’t eat more than three meals a day; if you snack on cookies and pastries, try to do it just before those main meals. This reduces the risk of overeating and is more in tune with the Ayurvedic tradition to start the meal with the sweetmeats, as that is the time when Agni is strongest. Sweet food has a Vata-reducing, grounding and calming effect.
- Enjoy consciously and with full attention; avoid ‘automatic’ snacking on pastries and sweets, e.g. while talking.
- After having taken a full meal, don’t eat until you feel real hunger again, the sign that your Agni is ready to process new food.
- In the evening, it’s good to avoid fatty foods and meals with a lot of animal products, as they are hard to digest and can stay in the stomach for more than five hours, significantly reducing your quality of sleep. As an alternative, you may want to eat earlier and thus give your digestive tract a better chance to complete its work before you go to bed.
- Also avoid food and drinks straight from the refrigerator, as these further increase the strain on your already challenged digestive fire.
- A positive thing you can do is making sure you drink enough warm water. This aids digestion, as heavy meals often contain a lot of sugar and salt, which both bind water and slow down the intestines.
- Alcohol is best enjoyed in moderation and especially in good company. Regarding that last point: Ayurveda tells us that being in the right company is critical to avoid conflicts. Therefore, it’s healthier to keep our distance from people who have a negative influence on our mood. If this is not possible due to family constellations (karma), the best would be to try and resolve the disagreements before the festive season. If this seems impossible to us, we may need to take a closer look at our own issues, which are obviously triggered by other family members.
- Although it may be tempting to take a nap in between, we should definitely avoid sleeping during the day for longer than 30 minutes, as this would further increase Kapha and cause even more heaviness.
- What works very well is taking daily walks: they stimulate the digestion, revitalize body and mind, and drive out sluggishness.
Recommendations for advanced users:
The above tips form the basis for getting through the winter season well, soothing Vata Dosha and preventing an excess of Kapha Dosha. If you have been using Ayurvedic principles for some time already, you may also want to incorporate the following aspects:
- Daily meditation and Pranayama provide balance and keep the mind alert.
- Yoga and breathing exercises, especially the invigorating sun salutation and alternate breathing, are highly recommended in winter. When there is a lot of Vata and inner turmoil, a slow Yin Yoga session with prolonged holding of the yoga postures and longer pauses between the individual asanas is wonderfully grounding.
- The use of Ayurvedic herbs can be mentally invigorating, balancing and mood-lifting, such as Brahmi, Ashwagandha, Tulsi, Jatamansi (best done after consultation).
- Regular oil massage with sesame oil or herbal oils is grounding and settling.
- A warming spiced tea can be a lovely alternative for a glühwein containing alcohol and sugar, especially before festive meals.
- If you like reading, choose spiritual texts that invite reflection and introspection and help end the year in peace.
- Prepare for the Twelve Days of Christmas.
- For music, you can listen to Gandharva Veda Ragas adapted to the time of day.
- Use balancing essential oils, such as rose or lavender, in a diffuser or for body care.
Recipe for a Christmas tea that stimulates the metabolism:
In 1 liter of boiled water, steep for 15 minutes, covered, before filtering and filling it into a preheated thermos:
- 3–5 slices of fresh ginger
- 1 tsp. coriander seeds
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 5 cloves
- 1 Ceylon cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- optionally 3 strands of saffron.
As you can see, there are many ways to spend some time taking care of ourselves, using the cold, gray days to recharge our batteries and start the new year with renewed strength. We take advantage of the lack of light outward to look inward, for there are the answers and the light.
The Maharishi Ayurveda Team from Bad Ems wishes you a peaceful Advent season and Happy Holidays.
© Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center Bad Ems