Sandra and I live in Michigan. Until a few days ago I wondered if we had shifted into a more temperate weather zone. I wondered this because only one week ago the temperature here registered at 45 degrees. In January 45 degrees is pretty much unheard of in this northern state.
Of course our honeymoon didn’t last and now we are experiencing winter weather. Although not yet blustery it is chilly outside. As the song says, it’s time to “button up that overcoat.” This rapid change in weather has caused me to reflect on how seasonal changes affect the mind-body.
Although modern medicine is only beginning to consider the effects of annual biorhythms on the mind-body, teaching us how to transition from season to season has been an integral aspect of Ayurveda for thousands of years.
From the ancient medical system of Ayurveda we learn that nature and the body are part of a single continuum of intelligence. This theme is the essence of how Ayurveda handles the change of the seasons. Balancing the three doshas is the key for our adaptation to the effects of the seasons since each season exhibits the predominance of one dosha.
As you know, the doshas are the homeostatic or governing principles of the mind-body. The word “dosha” denotes the combinations of the elements of air, space, ground, fire, and water that make up the underlying intelligence of the universe. Everything in nature, including the human physiology, is a manifestation of these elements. Teaching us how to keep our unique elemental constitution in balance is the task of Ayurveda. Balance equates with health and the by-product of perfect health—happiness.
Albeit with different language, modern quantum physicists echo Vedic knowledge. They tell us that five spin types (elements) form the most basic concepts in particle physics. Physicists assert that everything in creation is derived from the combination of these five fundamental spin types into three superfields: gravity, gauge, and matter. Modern science and ancient wisdom agree on the nature of the universe. But, only the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda gives us the practical advice necessary to roll with the seasons and keep our mind-body in balance.
Winter is Vata Time
Winter is the Vata (combination of space and air) time of year and the Vata qualities of dryness and coldness which exist in our physiology can easily become aggravated by the environment. If Vata dosha becomes aggravated this can produce oversensitivity to colds, respiratory infections, insomnia, dry skin, indecisiveness, hyperactivity and worry.
Ayurveda offers many practical interventions to keep Vata dosha in balance. If we follow these interventions we will avoid the physical and emotional ups and downs that can be triggered by an imbalance in Vata dosha. In our book Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way, Sandra and I give in-depth suggestions for keeping Vata dosha in balance. Today I want to highlight just one significant intervention that we can use to stay warm and calm during these cold Vata aggravating months. This intervention is an oil massage with sesame oil. The Sanskrit word for massage is abhyanga.
The abhyanga has, according to Ayurveda, profound health benefits. Vedic tradition maintains that frequent oil massage promotes softness and luster of the skin, lubricates the muscles, tissues, and joints, and increases their flexibility. Moreover, by stimulating the tissues in the body, oil massage is said to help keep impurities from accumulating in the system. Daily abhyanga is recommended but if you cannot do the abhyanga on a daily basis even two or three times a week will offer you significant benefits.
Different oils work for different constitutional types. But, in the cold of winter sesame oil works best for most people because sesame oil has particular properties that nourish and warm the body.
Massaging the skin with warm sesame oil pacifies all three doshas, but the soothing influence of warmth and touch on the skin’s many nerve endings calms Vata dosha especially. This affects the whole system, because Vata leads the other doshas, and when it becomes aggravated, the other two will often follow suit. Abhyanga will benefit everyone at all times of the year, but it is particularly important in the winter. Apart from the benefits mentioned above abhyanga will keep the skin from becoming dry and cracked, a frequent problem when Vata is aggravated in winter.
The oil must be organic and cured. To buy high quality sesame oil go to Mapi.com or call Mapi at 1-800-345-8332.
Sandra and I want to remind you that if you keep Vata dosha in balance during the winter months you will transition into spring without encountering an excess of mucus that triggers allergies and springtime colds and flus. As always we wish you perfect health and its by-product, happiness!