Ayurveda and Yoga for Holiday Serenity
by Patricia Wickman
Before you start reading this article, take a moment to ask yourself some questions. First of all, notice how you are breathing right now. Is your breathing fast? Slow? Shallow? Deep? Agitated? Calm? Also, take a mental note of how your day has gone so far. More specifically, what has been your general state of mind? Have you been rushing around and have your thoughts been scattered and fragmented? Perhaps you have been lazy today and spent most of your time in a mental fog. Have you flip-flopped back and forth between these two polarities? Do you feel like none of these apply to you? If so, you are probably an enlightened being and don’t need to read this article. That is—unless you are just too curious at this point and have to keep reading.
With the holidays come bustling crowds at the mall, warm gatherings that include family and friends, celebrations, music and dance performances, laughter, parties, holiday films, tantalizing food and drink, excited children, and more. It is possible for this ‘ho-ho-ho’ spirit to become excessive and lead one to experience the negative aspects of the season: calendars that are over-packed with activities; heavy, sugary foods that stay with us long after the holidays; and perhaps excessive spending and debauchery that can lead to lowered immunity, drained bank accounts, stress, anxiety or depression.
Ancient Yogis and Ayurvedic sages observed and wrote about this natural flow of ups and downs and refer to them as the three gunas or energies. Rajas, tamas, and sattva are the Sanskrit terms for these energies. Rajas is hyperactivity, tamas is inertia, and sattva is a balance between the two. An example of a person in a rajasic state is someone who gets behind you on the road or in a line at a register and pushes you along in a forceful way. A tamasic person is one who is lazy, drinks alcohol regularly and is generally uninterested in life. A sattvic person makes healthy food and beverage choices and is graceful, content, calm, humble, alert, and meditative (the type of enlightened being who does not need to read this article!). Although it is natural for these energies to ebb and flow during the day, a conscious soul can cultivate sattva and spend less time in rajasic or tamasic states of mind and body. Sattva may not sound like an exciting way to live your life. Maybe you prefer to live by the “what goes up, must come down” motto. If, however, you would like some ideas on how to get off the roller coaster ride, keep reading.
Get your calendar out right after you finish this article and check to see if you have allotted ‘rest and digest’ time in between holiday festivities. Examples include going to yoga classes (especially restorative yoga), meditating, going for a massage, seeking rejuvenating recreation, spending time in nature, journaling, etc. If you do not see any such activities on your calendar during the months of November and December, plan them right away. Make sure that if your schedule is dependent on spouses and children that you tell them about your appointments with your friends named deep conscious breathing, harmony, and sanity.
Eat sattvic foods and reduce or avoid rajasic or tamasic foods. Since eating is something we do everyday multiple times a day, it powerfully determines how we feel from moment to moment. Rajasic foods are acidic, hot, sour, spicy or overly salty. They increase speed and excitement in the body or mind so this includes all stimulants such as coffee, green tea, black tea, white tea, white sugar, chocolate, and soda (especially diet). Tamasic foods are dry, fermented, deep-fried, deteriorated, without flavor, microwaved, boxed, canned, frozen (frozen raw is O.K.), rancid or leftover. Heavy meats, alcohol (especially beer), cigarettes, and sedating drugs are all tamasic. Sattvic foods are fresh, easy to digest, organic and vitally alive. This includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fresh dairy (local and organic are best), the highest quality meat if you are not vegetarian, herbal teas and water. Rajasic and tamasic foods leave one in an energy deficit. Eating sattvic foods is like putting money in a savings account—it inspires you and makes you feel like you have energy to spare.
Rajas, tamas and sattva are the Sanskrit terms for these energies. Rajas is hyperactivity, tamas is inertia, and sattva is a balance between the two.
This compassionate self-care not only develops sattva, but also promotes a profound and sustained sensation of being a whole person. There are a couple more Sanskrit terms to befriend during the holidays that refer to this state of being tightly packed/sane. Ojas is your vitality and immunity—the glue that holds you together. Vasant Lad says this about ojas:
It is like honey. As the honeybee collects the minute molecules of the essence of hundreds of flowers and accumulates them in the honeycomb, ojas, the pure essence of all bodily tissues, circulates via the heart and throughout the body to maintain the natural resistance of the bodily tissues. Ojas fights against aging, decay and disease. A person who has good ojas rarely becomes sick (Lad 212).
Ojas is a biological substance that is rich in soma (moon energy). Soma can be compared to serotonin—a chemical that promotes happy, calm, blissful feelings in your body and mind. What does having an abundance of ojas mean for your enjoyment of the holiday season, you ask?
Having high ojas during the holidays means that you will have your own needs for health and vitality met so that you can then turn your attention outward. As your personal ojas proliferates, it taps into cosmic or Universal ojas, which is the Love that holds the entire universe together. Having cosmic ojas will expand your awareness and this will cause your attention to veer away from selfishness and turn toward the needs and desires of those around you. You will overflow with forbearance, generosity, loving-kindness, charity and bliss—similar to the expanded awareness of Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of “A Christmas Carol.” Put sattva and ojas on your wish list this year and make it your most joyful holiday season yet.
Patricia Wickman is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, Certified Panchakarma Technician and Registered Yoga Teacher. She loves people and enjoys inspiring individuals to perceive their beauty and potential. She lives in Eau Claire, WI with her husband and two children. She owns Radiant Living Yoga and Ayurveda, LLC. For more information visit: www.rlyaa.com.
Sources: Lad, Vasant. Textbook of Ayurveda. New Mexico: The Ayurvedic Press, 2002.