As we enter the thick of Vata season, you may be embracing the cold, crisp qualities of the weather changes, and the dietary goodness that Mother Nature inherently provides to keep you nourished. Vata dosha is at its peak during the fall and early winter. Vata – which is responsible for the majority of imbalances – is characterized by light, cold, dry, mobile and rough qualities, so during this time of year we do best to antidote this with the opposite qualities – warm, moist, soft, stable and grounding.
By nature, travel – especially air travel – can cause the Vata dosha to aggravate, which can result in or exacerbate symptoms such as insomnia, dryness, constipation, anxiety, gas, bloating, aches and pains and more. Those dealing with a Vata imbalance already or those with Vata predominance in her/his constitution may feel particularly sensitive while traveling this time of year. Travel brings up the mobile, irregular and fast qualities of Vata. Air travel in particular exacerbates this through the dry and incredibly ungrounded and fast nature of it. The good news? You have the power to cultivate balance by incorporating some simple Ayurvedic self-care practices.
1) Eat warm, cooked, moist, well-oiled and well-spiced foods: Root veggies, soups, stews, cooked grains, warm milk, oils, ghee and animal products are all great examples. The cold temperatures cause the external channels of the body to close off, forcing body heat inward. This action causes our agni (digestive fire) to increase. Therefore, we may experience a bigger appetite and an increased capacity to digest some of the heavier, nourishing foods. Our bodies need it right now! Be sure to cook with appropriate spices to help the breakdown of these heavy foods. Great options are cumin, fennel, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and turmeric. Increasing our internal intake of oils and ghee is especially beneficial during this season.
2) When you arrive at your destination, eat a warm, cooked, grounding meal prepared by yourself or a loved one: This practice is a simple one to help you feel “rooted” and to cultivate the earth element. Earth has the opposite qualities of air and ether, which get so aggravated by travel.
2) Do self-massage (abhyanga) with warm sesame oil daily, especially before travel: This practice is one of the most important for Vata season and will go very far in helping to protect against the aggravating cold, dry and light qualities of Vata. Use more oil than usual and be sure to also place oil on the scalp, soles of your feet, and in your ears and nostrils.
3) Apply warm sesame oils to the nostrils (nasya): A little sesame oil (unrefined, non-toasted) placed in each nostril on a daily basis using your pinkie or a q-tip can prevent the negative impact of dry, cold environments on the sinuses. If you have a nasya oil and practice already, now is the time to be particularly consistent about it. For air travel, I definitely recommend nasya before getting on the plane and I also recommend bringing a small amount of oil on the plane that you can use to oleate your nostrils a few times during the flight.
4) Receive Ayurvedic body therapies: Abhyanga (Ayurvedic Massage), Shirodhara (Third Eye Oil Stream Therapy), Nasya (Sinus Treatment) and Swedana (Herbalized Steam Therapy) are some of the most important ways to balance Vata before, during or after travel and regularly throughout the winter.
5) Drink hot water: This simple practice of drinking hot water throughout the day will help to stoke digestive fire, improve digestion and prevent the channels of the body from constricting as a result of the colder environment.
6) Take time for mindfulness and meditation: The holidays provide a wonderful opportunity for us to “count our blessings” and be present and mindful of the many gifts that have been bestowed upon us – nourishing food, community, family, access to resources, safety, etc. But without mindfulness, it can easily turn into a time of sensory overload, excessive indulgence, eruption of challenging patterns and relationships, stress and overwhelm. Maintaining a meditation practice while traveling and/or spending time with loved ones and family is one of the most powerful habits to help you stay present, calm and grounded during this time.
I hope these few tips serve to support you during this holiday season. I encourage you to give yourself the most important gift of prioritizing your commitment to self-care. May you be peaceful, happy and healthy during this holiday season and beyond!