Do you have to try really, really hard not to dread winter? I do. The riotous yet moving beauty of fall leaves, galvanizing crispy air and a joyous reunion with my beloved hole-covered black cashmere sweater provide some superficial distraction however, the truth remains: Lovely, romantic, autumn is in its death throes and the long cold winter is coming fast. In theory, I love winter. I love scarves and skiing and I’m the first person to foist holiday headgear such as reindeer antlers and elf hats on my long-suffering friends and insist they accompany me to sing holiday carols in a subway station. In practice though, when winter’s getting going and the nights turn cool and the days start to shorten I am plunged into a reality that is a totally different experience than being summer Jasmine. When my alarm goes off to morning darkness I just can’t seem to wake up; I drink coffee after coffee but am still sluggish by mid afternoon. My skin, especially on my shins, is afflicted with dryness that wakes me from a dead sleep with its maddening itch. My mood is a little darker and I feel spacey and anxious. I’m less sharp, less grounded.
In the Ayurvedic tradition the symptoms I’ve relayed above are characteristic of a Vata imbalance. Vata is one of three doshas or ways of being that are the basic framework for how the Ayurveda views human wellness. Each of us has a greater concentration of one of the doshas than the others though that can change through one’s lifetime. Being small, somewhat high-strung and prone to chilliness means I have more Vata tendencies. When I was younger I was more muscular and prone to being hot so that placed me as having a Pitta dosha. Others who have rounder bodies and a greater natural sense of calm would fall into being a more Kapha type.
Like the Vata dosha itself, fall and winter are cool and dry so even if you’re not normally a Vata type, an abrupt drop in temperature or even too much literally ungrounding air travel can cause a Vata imbalance. When I’m in this state what my energy needs is to be brought right back to earth.
A warm sesame oil massage is a classic Ayurvedic remedy for grounding and reassuring a chilly and spacey body and spirit. I add about a quarter cup of untoasted sesame oil(I find the food grade oil cheaper and fresher than the ones sold for cosmetic purposes) to a heat proof Pyrex ramekin and place it over a tea light candle on my teapot warmer before I hop into the shower. By the time I get out and dry off the temperature is perfect: warm but not hot enough to burn or be in any way unpleasant. An ordinary oil burner will work well also, as will putting the oil in a ban marie. The only thing I don’t recommend is heating the oil in a microwave as this diminishes the oil’s healing properties. Once you hop out of the shower, check and make sure the oil isn’t too hot and then rub it generously and vigorously over your towel-dried body making long strokes towards your heart. Don’t forget to oil dry areas such as elbows and knees. Pay particular attention to massaging oil into your face, especially in the area between your eyebrows, the location of your third-eye chakra.
Do this often, if you can, twice a day until your spacey-sleepy symptoms disappear and you’re surprised to find yourself enjoying winter. This is not a difficult wellness habit to fit in as the warm oil feels absolutely marvellous and the benefits show up quickly. Within about a week my dry skin and aches and pains head for the hills, increased circulation blooms roses in my pale cheeks and before I know it I’m feeling like it’s time to start digging around the basement for my reindeer antlers.
Wishing you the balance it takes to enjoy all seasons,
PS I apologize that I can’t really offer sources for the information in this post. I’ve been reading about Ayurveda since about the 9th grade( you can imagine how much fun that was for my family doctor) so what I’ve offered here is just bits and pieces of what I’ve learned about my own body and what has worked for me. Having said that, the first time I came across Ayurvedic concepts was in Deepak Chopra’s book, Perfect Health looks like he’s done an updated version recently so it’s on my list for a re-read. Dr Vasant Lad is really the big man on the Ayurvedic campus so you may want to check him out if this system interests you. I also quite like Yogi Cameron’s website.
PPS: if you know anyone who has suddenly become sleepy, spacey and anxious since the weather cooled down please pass this post along to them.