By Myra Lewin
It’s September, and about midway through the month marked the transition to vata season. Even here in Hawai’i, I can feel the warmth of the summer pulling away as the days become just a bit shorter. Where you live, the first frost might already be on the ground.
This time of year is when nature begins to turn inward, a natural response to balance the moving quality of vata. It makes sense that you also want to follow suit. You may find yourself wanting to stay in a bit more and focus on taking care of yourself. You may be inspired to pull out your roasting dish to bake pumpkin until it is tender and delicious. Follow your inner wisdom to relax and welcome nourishment.
Manage vata for balanced health
As we approach the autumn and winter, you’ll often hear people say that this is cold and flu season. But that it is only true if you let it be so. Vata, being unstable by nature, has the potential to disrupt the natural flow of prana in your body, leading to the potential for illness. But make friends with vata and you’ll stay healthy. If you’re tending to your health properly, with regular abhyanga and other practices of self-care, you’ll only need minor adjustments for the change in seasons. Make this a practice all throughout the year and you will just smile to yourself when someone tells you it’s cold and flu season.
Self-care with Yoga and Ayurveda
Self-care, meaning care of your higher self, is at the root of Ayurveda and Yoga. This is at the heart of true health, which we define as much more than just being free of illness. Take care of your body and mind in a way that nourishes who you really are and you’ll be able to walk your path with limitless expansion of spirit.
Self-care from an Ayurvedic or Yogic perspective is different from what many people think of when they use that term. It’s not just about getting facials or massages (though this can be part of it). The kind of self-care practices we talk about are those that put us in touch with our bodies and minds each day. A commitment to inward reflection and small daily practices add up to incredible transformations. This looks like eating three meals a day at regular times, abhyanga, managing your energy and supporting your body’s natural suppleness through daily pranayama, meditation and Yoga asana. When you practice this kind of self-care, you walk in the direction of moksha, or liberation, which is the ultimate goal in life.
Self-care as seva
When you practice seva, or service, without any expectation for what you’ll get in return, you grow as spirit. Self-care connects you with who you are, making you healthier inside and out and more able and willing to give from a genuine place. Any act of self-care should point you in the direction of seva. Whether you are letting go of toxins with panchakarma, eating breakfast or sitting for daily meditation, don’t do it just to look better or get rid of frustrating symptoms. Set the intention that any act you do will allow you to be more present for yourself, your loved ones and everyone you come in contact with. This is how we bring healing in the world.
The benefits of small acts will accumulate, so don’t brush off your practices if you’re short on time. If you don’t have time to sit for 20 minutes after abhyanga, five minutes is better than nothing. If you are short on time for Yoga asana, pick three poses (or just stand in tadasana for 15 breaths). A little bit is better than none.
Making time for self-care
Many people tell me that they don’t have the time in their day for acts that will nourish their bodies and minds. But often when we peel back the layers of resistance, it becomes clear how much time is spent doing things that culminate in negative effects. All it takes is a shift in priorities and introducing things one step at a time.
One of the first steps in self-care is to wake up before 6:00 a.m. You’ll have time to bathe, meditate, do a little asana and other practices before the to-dos of the day take over. Then later, do something focusing inward before bed. Turn off your electronics an hour before bedtime, oil the bottoms of your feet and write a gratitude list. Make nourishing yourself a part of your daily schedule.
This is where a dinacharya, or daily routine, makes such a difference. It’s simple: when you structure your day, you’re less likely to go on a detour. Wake and go to bed at the same time. Build in time for self-reflection. Eat at the same time, even if a big project lands in your lap at work. You’ll feel stronger and more capable of handling it than you would be if you had skipped your meal.
But no matter how much you stick to your dinacharya or eat well, you will not see significant change unless you also shift your attitude. If something feels hard, a change in perspective makes it easier. Where you can find softness in a difficult situation? Can you connect with your breath in a stressful time? Focus your attention here, not on the belief that something is hard and you are less likely to go to extremes in your attempts to recover from the difficulty. When you find that middle place, self-care will be a natural, easy part of your day.