Stress Relief- through Ayurveda
Hope this finds you well! My thoughts are with you and I send love out to the entire Universe during these somewhat crazy times!
I have had many emotions running through me during these last five months of COVID 19. There are days when I feel so blessed and connected to All Creation.. and then as we continue to live in the totally unknown, I feel a sense of panic. When will it end? I often wonder when will I ever see my kids again with me living in Costa Rica? It really should come as no surprise that our energies feel off right now or that our moods may be all over the place or our digestion is out of whack during these quarantine times.
My heart aches for those who are suffering and dying due to this pandemic. And on top of the pandemic, there are many things we are faced to see within ourselves and in others. There are powerful racial issues to be addressed, it is election time and social media is flooded. Mother Nature is all over the place- there are floods and forest fires and the list goes on and on.
It truly is the good, the bad and the ugly. And it continues to test us all with no real end in sight.
So what can we do to find balance in crazy and stressful times like these?
According to Ayurveda, like increases like and opposites balance. So for stress, the Ayurveda response is reducing, being more light, and connected. Being with nature while using a group of building, nourishing qualities. We can do this through our diet, our lifestyle, our practices and our connections - relationships.
This means welcoming influences that feel sweet, grounding, slow, nourishing, soft, and stabilizing, while doing our best to minimize the influence of their opposites. At its core, the Ayurvedic approach to balancing excess stress is simple but can also feel extremely overwhelming in this somewhat crazy world we live in today. I love that Ayurveda doesn’t judge- Ayurveda meets us where we are at. We do the best we can with where we are at. Ayurveda suggests keeping things simple but being consistent in what benefits us.
I have put together a list of things that have been helpful for me. Let’s take a look at some things that may help balance our stress levels:
There are two sayings here in Costa Rica that I love and actually use a lot! The first one is Pura Vida which translates to Pure Life but it also has other meanings like “Everything is Cool- Relax”! The other is “Poco o Poco” which means Little by Little- and No Hurry no Worry.
One of the most important first steps in balancing stress is to slow down. However, when we’re accustomed to living a fast-paced, busy life, slowing down can feel utterly impossible…even in the midst of COVID 19 lockdown. And we all know we can surely race around in our heads as much (or even more )than in our bodies. This is a very high vata time and now moving into fall season-super high! It is very challenging—and often frightening for many of us to be silent and still We are forced to be on our electronics more and more which is also vata increasing.
But for those of us who can muster the courage to begin to invite a slower, more balanced way of being into our daily routine—one gentle (poco o poco) step at a time—the rewards are often felt quite immediately. Then, with time, the positive changes reinforce our intentions and can encourage us to slow down a bit more, and then a bit more, and later even more. One of the best ways to slow the pace of our lives is through devoted and purposeful self-care: taking time every day to be still and quiet even if it is for just 15 minutes. It is so important and actually what a better time to instill these practices so that once things do open back up, we are solid and devoted to these sweet and important practices?
Commit to a Daily Routine
Every Ayurveda teacher/doctor I have talked to during this pandemic time has ‘daily rituals’ at the very top of the list of things to do. Ayurveda recommends a daily routine for everyone, but it is particularly essential when we are trying to balance excess stress. Our physiology is very much adapted to and supported by some sense of regularity. Actually, it is amazing how impactful a few adjustments to our routines can be. Think about the natural world and how prevalent routines are; most plants and animals are profoundly attuned to the cycles of day and night, the seasons, and natural rhythms. By contrast, the human experience seems increasingly disconnected from these natural rhythms. Adopting even a modest sense of routine gives our nervous systems a number of comforting and reassuring reference points throughout each day.
We all know this… and one of the Blessings that the Universe is showing us all right now is how Nature is restoring herself and flourishing. Whether you are living in Costa Rica, Pacific Northwest or in the Blue Ridge mountains, in spite of our natural disaster messages, we are surrounded by beauty and Awe. I enjoy a daily walk on the beach every morning after breakfast and again for sunset after dinner. It has become one the most important practices for my mental health and healthy digestion. Often, simply exposing our nervous systems to the natural world -to its sights, sounds, smells, textures, and rhythms is enough to activate the "rest and digest" capacity within the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs periods of relaxation. Consider a gentle walk in nature, sitting by a stream, taking in a gorgeous view, or simply surrendering your body to the surface of earth for a while.
Indulge in Self-Care
Purposeful and committed self-care can be a huge and crucial part of the stress healing process, and a meaningful opportunity to practice self-love. Each day, regardless of what else might be going on in our lives, a devoted practice of self-care reaffirms a deep commitment to Self, to wellness, and to good health. Try to take 15- 20 minutes each day for your self-care. This could be meditation, yoga, eating something yummy but nourishing or a simple body scan and deep relaxation.
Not sure about you but my diet has been a little wonky since COVID. On one hand, we are forced to stay home and cook more from scratch which is super but on the other hand and for me, I tend to crave more sweet and salty since the pandemic and not necessarily the healthy kind. More like popcorn and cookies, especially when I’ve been sitting in the house a good part of the day behind a computer, and my energy has plunged. I know very well these foods contribute to excess vata, pitta and kapha yet I do it.
I have tried to find balance and allow myself to indulge on occasions knowing that my body (and mind) will most likely pay for it and it may be worth it. Then the other times, I try to find balance and lean towards fresh, cooked grounding foods that are easily digestible for me. If your looking to calm yourself, try more cooling foods in that moment, including fruit and vegetables with high water content, like cucumber, zucchini, avocado, and melons. But overall and especially moving into Fall season, lightly cooked foods are best.
I also keep my Agni (fire) burning by keeping fresh ginger soaked in lemon or lime and salt in the refrig. Try this if your digestion is slow burning (kapha) and you are feeling sluggish. It will stoke up the fire!
Loving Relationships and Support
My kids and I have family fun Mondays on Zoom each week. We laugh, share our struggles, and often play family feud. We simply connect with each other. Our Beings often find great refuge in a loving connection, a good laugh, a sympathetic ear, and other encouraging connections that let us know yes indeed, we are supported. If you have friends, close family members, (who are in your safe bubble) or beloved pets who can nurture you in this way, consider carving out a regular scheduled time for a meaningful tribe connection.
Take a Bath or shower
A bath or long mindful shower relaxes the nervous system, releases tension, and helps to quiet the mind.
Practice Oil Pulling
Swishing and gargling with warm, un-toasted sesame oil or coconut oil (in Costa Rica or hot seasons). The oil pulling helps to remove tension from the jaw, improves the sense of taste, and removes natural toxins from the mouth, teeth, and gums. You can oil pull while in bath or shower or even reading a lighthearted book.
Abhyanga (Ayurvedic Oil Massage)
Self Massage with warm sesame oil or cool coconut oil, depending on the season. This ancient practice of self-massage with oil calms the nervous system, lubricates and rejuvenates the tissues, and promotes healthy circulation throughout the body.
Practice Nasya (oil in the nostrils)
Nasya is the practice of applying medicated oil to the nasal passages. It soothes these delicate tissues, promotes unobstructed breathing, relieves accumulated stress, and supports mental clarity. You can apply while in bath or shower
I am blessed to have a husband who insists on rubbing my feet each night as we wind down. If you are not as lucky as I am in this way you simply massage yourself. Ayurveda says we don’t touch ourselves near enough so self massage is part of self care. Before bed, apply some warm sesame or coconut oil to your feet. This practice grounds the energy, soothes the nervous system, reduces stress, quiets the mind, and promotes sound sleep.
Read an Uplifting or Children’s Book
A good, inspirational and sometimes easy light read can go a long way toward signaling the entire system to relax and rejuvenate a bit. Often times when I am stressed, my 74 year old teacher will say to me "Bhakti read a children’s book". It works!
Get Adequate Rest
Ayurveda recommends a sound sleep: Follow a regular routine of going to bed in the kapha time of the evening between 8 -10 pm and wake up in the vata time of the morning before sunrise. Sleep is an important antidote to excess stress. It has considerable restorative functions and plays a critical role in the repair and rejuvenation of tissues (both in the brain and throughout the body). Avoid electronics two hours before sleep time.
Yoga, Meditation & Pranayama
Last but certainly NOT least on my list here is our Yoga practices! It is so important to keep our energy moving during this time. Yoga moves prana in the body, helps to dissipate tension, clears stagnation, and encourages fluidity, both in the tissues as well as in the mental and emotional spheres. Forward folds are good for calming. Stress can disrupt the blood flow, so hanging upside down in forward fold can help improve blood circulation.
Meditation helps us to develop this capacity through the cultivation of passive awareness, and can inform a far healthier response to stressful situations. Try making a habit of starting your day with 15-30 minutes of meditation practice.
Pranayama is one of the best stress relievers. Simply deep breathing or alternate nostril breathing allows all of the systems to relax.
We are limited to attending classes in studios these day and course a good home practice is great yet if you are like me, I enjoy practicing with a Sangha (like minded spiritual people) Yoga is more available to us than ever today.. and with just about ANY teacher you can imagine, even if they’re in India! I am pleasantly surprised that over time and practice, I really feel the spirit of many yoga classes offered on Zoom today. It’s not as powerful as being in the room but I feel the Spirit of the group energy even through all the ethers. I love that our hearts and intentions can Unite in this way!
I hope these suggestions help you in some way! Please feel free to contact me with any Ayurveda questions or concerns. I will be happy to connect with you One on One. I would also love to see you in my yoga class taught through Shanti Om Yoga!
Much LOVE and Om Shanti