Once the calendar turns to November and we get further into the colder months, time often seems to speed up--and stress levels can rise. And while you might desire a day at the spa, fitting one in is easier thought than done. Fortunately, Ayurveda, India's ancient science of rejuvenation, outlines some solutions you can easily incorporate into your daily routine.
"Nothing offers a quick fix," notes Dr. Rogers Badgett, director of The Raj, a renowned spa in Fairfield, Iowa, centered on creating balance through Ayurvedic techniques. Instead of bringing temporary relief, the holistic health system prescribes recipes for what Badgett refers to as "the best remedy for burnout"--living a more balanced life.
The Tipping Point
How you plan the activities of your day can either break you down and wear you out or build you up and encourage renewal and repair. "One of the great problems in our society is a lack of understanding that many illnesses can be prevented if we don't abuse ourselves," Badgett says. Ayurveda, on the other hand, "is very proactive in terms of prevention."
This proactive nature arises from cultivating balance in your unique makeup of the five elements, which are believed to regulate bodily functions including digestion and the immune system as well as emotions, thoughts, spiritual nature and the relationships you have with yourself and the world around you. The five elements are ether (space), air, fire, water and earth, which combine to create three principle biological forces, called doshas, that manifest in the body. These doshas are vata (ether and air), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (water and earth).
Vata is of particular dominance when you're busy or under pressure, and this vata imbalance in turn creates stress and strain. The vata dosha, changeable like the wind, governs the movement that relates to the physical, mental and emotional processes. This includes everything from the ability to move with grace to creativity. Just the right amount is important: Too much vata can be draining and exhausting, and this imbalance can negatively affect all of the other physical, mental and emotional functions. As Badgett explains, "Vata is the king of the doshas; when vata gets stirred up, it gets filtered down throughout the whole physiology."
Being in constant motion and driven to meet all obligations (even those that are joyous), you may unwisely forgo rest and relaxation. If you're not careful, this, too, can lead to imbalance, particularly if you are ignoring signals communicated by the body--such as dry skin, indigestion, constipation, headaches, depression, insomnia, anxiety, nervousness and increased susceptibility to illnesses. "The mind has to learn to respect the signals the body is giving in terms of rest, balanced activity, diet and daily routines," says Badgett.
Ultimately, an excess of vata can wear you down, dry you out and leave you fatigued, frazzled and scattered. Cultivating the opposite qualities--warmth, lubrication and stability--counteracts this imbalance by helping you feel more grounded, strengthening your immune system and bolstering your stamina. Elements of your daily routine--how and what you eat and specific practices, such as massage--can decrease the excess of vata that exacerbates the stress response.
Irregularity in routine, which can become intensified this time of year, renders you more susceptible to fatigue and burnout. Setting up a structured schedule provides a framework to contain and calm vata. "The nature of air is that it fluctuates and moves constantly," says Pratima Raichur, owner of Pratima Ayurvedic Skin Care in New York City. "A vata imbalance manifests as scattered and restless energy. Too much vata leads to insecurity, hyperactivity and an inability to focus. Routine provides life with a feeling of security and grounding."
Routine does not have to be constricting, however, nor does it mean that every minute in the day must be programmed. Yet daily restoration is essential. "What you do every day is more important than what you do once a month," Raichur insists. Therefore, she recommends regularly scheduled morning rituals as mini-rejuvenatives: rising early; self-massage; focused, relaxed breathing and meditation; stretching the body with yoga postures; enjoying a warm breakfast; and sipping on non-caffeinated tea or hot water with lemon.