‘Tis the Season for Nurturing
I’ve been looking at this photo of my beloved cactus that I’ve decorated the last couple of years for inspiration/motivation. It’s been like pulling teeth getting me to put up any decorations this year.
The “H” word still provokes feelings of intense anxiety for me. I was in a store at the end of October and when I saw the word holidays. I felt my body tense up. I know people who love the holiday bustle, cooking for big family gatherings and joining the crowds shopping for bargains. For years (especially while raising my children) I tried to be one of them. But I failed miserably and inevitably was left feeling depleted and resentful.
I love twinkle lights, the smell of pine and cinnamon and cloves. I love holiday music (as long as it’s post-Thanksgiving). I love slipping into a church and sitting in silence. I love seeing all the beautiful paper and ribbon. I love the decorated windows uptown and seeing the Rockefeller Christmas tree all lit up. But I don’t love the commercialism, the frenetic and wasteful buying just for buying sake. This is a very reverent time of year for connecting on a spiritual level (it’s no coincidence that there are so many religious holidays in December), and the benefits are profound if we can somehow get quiet, slow down and go within. I think I always knew this instinctively and longed for the peace of the season but never tapped into it. Now that I have that mindset I am consciously choose ‘thoughts of Tis the Season for Nurturing.
It’s only since I’ve learned about Ayurveda that I recognize just how careful someone with a lot of Vata in their constitution needs to be during the holidays. Vata is the dosha of depletion and it doesn’t take a whole lot to throw Vata types into a state of imbalance. And those of us living in a cold climate need to exercise even more caution. Not to mention they went and put the holidays smack in the middle of Vata Season (for those of us in the northern hemisphere, at least!)
It’s often said that Vata types need to be treated like babies. Kept warm, fed on schedule, nurtured and given plenty of rest. This is no joke. Vata, left unchecked, can quickly spin out of control like a whirling dervish. That used to be me around the holidays. I would attempt to do everything I thought was expected of me (of course, in reality it was me doing the expecting), and then I would collapse in tears. Want to do something loving for a Vata type in your life? Cook for them, help them run errands, lighten their load.
That being said, all of us, no matter what our constitution is, can benefit from self-care during this busy time. I spent a week in October at a Wise Earth Ayurveda program called Food, Breath and Sound. We learned daily spiritual practices called sadhanas, to enrich our lives and reconnect to Mother Nature through the food we eat, the air that we breathe and the healing sounds of the Universe. The timing was perfect for me and I want to share some of these sadhanas with you, in hopes that they might help keep you calm and centered during this busy time of year.
“Food is the essence of healing. Nature’s foods embody rasa, the taste of life, and contain the universe’s building blocks responsible for the body, mind, and spirit being fed, nourished, and celebrated.”
– Maya Tiwari Living Ahimsa Diet
You are what you eat. We’ve all heard that saying and Ayurveda would wholeheartedly agree. The apple that you eat becomes you. We are made of the same five elements as everything else on this earth (ether, air, fire, water and earth), including plant and animal life. We are inextricably linked, and our relationship to Mother Nature holds the key to our healing.
Here are a few of the daily sadhanas which you can practice to help you nurture that connection:
- Mindfully prepare your food. Touch it. Learn to measure using your hands. Connect with it like our ancestors did.
- Toasting and grinding fresh spices not only enhances the healing properties of our food, but it further connects us to the process.
- Cutting fruits and vegetables along their life line will make you awestruck at their beauty and enrich the cooking experience.
- Give thanks. Most of us did this as children but abandoned the practice along the way. Just a few words of gratitude, whether out loud or in silence, has tremendous power to connect us to our source and the food we will be eating.
- Eat mindfully, and in silence, when possible. Proper digestion takes a great deal of energy. In fact, more than half of our daily energy goes towards our digestion. When we multi-task while eating (even talking, reading or watching television) our energy/blood travels where it is needed and so it is taken away from the digestive process.
- Take only the amount of food you need. According to Ayurveda, we should fill half of our stomach with solid food, one quarter with warm or hot liquid, and leave the remaining quarter empty so our food can properly digest. If you cup your two hands together it makes one anjali – our own individual measure for how much food our stomach can hold.
- Connect to your ancestral foods. Reigniting this powerful food memory can bring about profound healing. If they seem laden with unhealthy ingredients, like much of the food from my Polish heritage does, be creative and improvise with healthier options.
Note: You can learn more about these daily sadhanas in Maya Tiwari’s book Living Ahimsa Diet: Nourishing Love & Life
I am not someone who loves to cook. I am not the most organized person, nor do I have great time management skills. I get easily frustrated in the kitchen. Being with a chef for almost eight years was a gift that I sorely miss. But I can attest that when I take the time to do some of these daily practices, I feel a difference in my state of mind and in my digestion.
“In the Vedas, life is defined not by the number of years on earth but by the number of breaths each soul is given for its journey. When we expend our ration of breaths, our journey ends. That is why the ancients advise us to maintain a slow, rhythmic pace of breathing by synchronizing our breath rhythms with the rhythms of nature.”
– Maya Tiwari
How many of us live our daily lives in a state of shallow breathing? I know I did, for most of my life. Our life force, or prana, is dependent on the quality of our breathing. Mastering conscious breathing can not only help to prolong our life, but it can begin to move disease out of the body and make space for healing to occur. Take a moment, right now, and breathe deeply (first from the abdomen, belly moving outwards, and then into the chest). Feel the instant state of calm it brings?
Pranayama are breathing exercises that help to balance, revitalize and oxygenate the body. If you do yoga, then you are likely familiar with it. Even just a few minutes of incorporating pranayama into your daily practice has the power to radically shift your life.
This is an exercise which I have posted before that will help to expel old stuck grief and sadness from your lungs, where it tends to settle.
- Sit upright in a relaxed position.
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. As you take a deep breath in through your nose, you should feel your belly rise, pushing outward instead of inward.
- When you have taken in as much air as you can, breathe out slowly through your mouth making the sound sssss (like a hissing snake) and expelling every last bit of air you can. As you are making this sound, imagine that you are letting go of all the grief and sadness, the darkness and the pain, that has been trapped in your lungs. Start by doing this 3 or 4 times and increase the number of breaths over time.
- Now breathe deeply and imagine your lungs being filled with courage, just like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Picture a beautiful healing light, any color that resonates with you, filling your lungs.
- Smile. ￼
And below is a pranayama exercise known as Alternate Nostril Breathing, or Nadi Shodhan which I like to do in the morning, at bedtime, and before my daily meditation. It balances the lunar (left/feminine) and solar (right/masculine) energies in the body and helps to calm the mind, alleviating stress and anxiety.
“The ancient rishis recognized that we are immersed in an ocean of sound energy and that we can attune our rhythms to those of nature, the universe, the primordial sound wave, or the One Consciousness which is infinite and all pervasive.” – Maya Tiwari
A couple of years ago I was taught sound healing techniques by my energy healing teacher, Deborah King. I knew immediately that it would be an important part of my own healing journey as well as part of my healing practice. Without a doubt, it is what my clients seem to connect with the most.
Sound is a powerful healing tool. We need only take note of how we feel when listening to music. It evokes memories, stirs emotions and can quickly determine our mood. So be mindful of the music you listen to, as well as the places you frequent. Sound really does affect our energy – in good ways and in not-so-good ways.
Here are some tools for incorporating sound into your daily sadhana practice:
- Tibetan singing bowls and bells can elevate us, clear stagnate energy from our field, and balance our chakras (energy centers). Click HERE
- Toning the chakras with the voice (yours or someone else’s) also has the power to heal. Click HERE
- Singing in the shower/car can be incredibly healing and uplifting!
- Listening to gentle music that soothes your soul will have a positive healing effect on the body.
See how you like this powerful mantra, ek ong kar sat nam, sung here by Snatam Kaur. It means “There is one Creator whose name is Truth. Great is the ecstacy of that Supreme Wisdom.”
This year I plan to join the three together – food, breathe and sound – to help me through the holidays. If you like, pick one or two of these practices and see if they make a difference in your anxiety level. The idea is not to overwhelm yourself with a “to do list”. The practices should help alleviate stress, not create more. Whatever resonates with you, is just right. Remember, sometimes baby steps are more effective than running a marathon.
Tis the season for nurturing. Be kind to yourself and be sure to refill your well when needed.
P.S. Here are two great related articles that you might enjoy!
“Where’s Norman Rockwell When You Need Him?” By Deborah King
“Guilt, Obligation and the Holidays” By Dr. Christiane Northrup