Consistency Most of All (Vata Season, Part 2, Daily Habits + Rituals)

One of the main principles of Ayurveda is that like increases like and opposites balance. If you have an excess of Vata (air + space) in your body, mind, and emotions, then you’re likely moving from activity to activity, not finishing things, are all over the place with your thoughts, and your daily health & wellness routine is non-existent. You may experience sleeplessness, heightened anxiety, and irregular hunger, eating, and digestion. So what would be helpful is not more of the same.

To balance all that mobility and flighty thinking/eating/doing, we need to bring in some earth qualities, which can be found in Kapha dosha. Basically, we need to slow down, tether our mind, body, and emotions with regular practices (as well as the grounding, nourishing foods I mentioned in last week’s post). We need the heavy, dense, slow, constant qualities of earth to soothe and stabilize our overwrought nervous systems.

There’s actually quite a growing number of Ayurvedic teachers who feel our modern way of life has nearly everyone in Vata excess. In that case, most of us would benefit from these habits.

So what does Ayurveda recommend specifically? Here are three helpful habits to begin balancing Vata.

Set a routine: Wake with the sun, eat, and sleep at the same times every day. It might seem boring, especially if you’re a person with a Vata-dominant constitution or are experiencing high Vata. It might seem exciting and preferable to do whatever you want, whenever you want. That only contributes to the imbalance. As much as is possible, get yourself on a schedule and do your best to stick to it.

Morning practices: Meditate, pray, walk, or do gentle and nourishing physical practices like yoga or Qigong during early morning hours. Resist the urge to open up your email, jump on your phone and start scrolling. Set aside the first hour or two of waking up for you to receive and enjoy spiritual and/or mental nourishment, and warm your muscles and joints with a gentle physical practice. This will give you a sense of calm and ease that will stay with you the rest of the day.

Do oil self-massage, or abhyanga, every day either before or after showering. Here’s a short how-to video on abhyanga by Kate O’Donnell. If you have dry skin, you can use sesame oil ( I prefer refined sesame oil), or if you have sensitive skin, you can use almond, sunflower, or coconut oil, as long as you don’t have allergies. Coconut oil is a cooling oil, so it is preferred for hot weather or those with mostly Pitta constitutions. If you are in the US, you can purchase high quality massage oils, including ones with herbal blends, from Banyan Botanicals. Abhyanga nourishes your body and mind, increases circulation, moves stagnant lymph, improves vision, tones the body’s tissues, and more. Read in depth about it here.

Because Vata needs consistency, I encourage you to start slow and build your routine over time. Maybe this week you can establish a wake, sleep, and eat schedule. And after you become consistent with that, add a morning meditation. After that becomes regular, add abhyanga. If you attempt to do everything, you may become overwhelmed and do nothing. Better to begin small and make things as easy as possibly for yourself.

When The Wind Blows (Vata Season, Part 1: Food)

I sit at my desk in my library and watch the maple tree dance outside the window. It’s a mild October day, and the wind is blowing fast from the South. In Ayurveda, Vata (the combined elements of air+space) is increased when the weather is windy. This means I might experience heightened anxiety, feeling uncertain, unstable, and fearful, and I have a tendency to spend more time wrapped up in my thoughts.

My digestion is always aware of a windy, Vata day; if I haven’t eaten properly, I will most likely experience gas and bloating, especially in the afternoon (2-6pm) which is Vata time of day. I may also be awake sometime between 2-6am worrying about everything and anything.

How can one feel best during Vata season (which tends to be Autumn) or in Vata weather (cool or cold, moving/windy, dry, light)? Think about nurturing and nourishing yourself. Your digestion needs some TLC to counteract Vata’s effects. Food-wise, you need warm, soft, nutritious foods with plenty of liquid to keep your digestive system purring and prevent constipation, gas, or bloating.

I’ve included a short list below of suggested foods/prep methods as well as a skip it list. Also check out Dr. John Douillard’s LifeSpa Fall/Winter Grocery List to print out and stick on your fridge. I’ve had this list on my fridge for several years. It can help you figure out what kinds of ingredients to cook with.

Please remember that Ayurveda respects the individual. Everyone is different. For example, you may be able to eat plenty of beans or a raw salad with no problem, and your partner may need to give them a break for now. Pay attention to what you eat and how food makes you feel at different times of the year. You have sovereignty over your own health and by paying attention, you can experience a greater level of wellbeing.

The Eat It List

  • Eat warming, soft foods, root vegetables, and brothy soups and stews.
  • All the winter squashes and pumpkins–yum!
  • Meat, eggs, and fish are all good this time of year (if you eat them).
  • Cook your vegetables. Steam, roast, sauté your veggies or put them in soups or stews.
  • Make fruit compotes or crisps, bake your apples.
  • Hot cereals are encouraged for breakfast! Baked or stovetop oatmeal, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat. Try a new recipe, a different grain (if you tolerate grains).
  • Yes to dairy or non-dairy milks, yogurts, cheese, etc., depending on what you tolerate.
  • All nuts and seeds are good (only if you’re not allergic, of course).
  • Drink warm or room-temperature water. Cold water and food slows your digestion.
  • Teas and drinks with warming spices and moon milks, golden milk, raw hot cacao are comforting.

The Skip It List

  • You may need to skip legumes this time of year, especially larger beans & peas, as they may cause digestive distress.
  • Skip cold, raw salads and veggies (unless you have a strong digestion).
  • Same for cold smoothies, protein shakes, etc. If you can’t give up smoothies, bring the ingredients to room temperature before drinking.
  • Dry, cold snacks and treats like crackers, chips, hard cookies, etc. may promote constipation

My recommendations for Vata Season foods are suggestions based on my own experience as well as what I’ve learned studying Ayurveda in the last four years. Please only do what is right for you. You know your body, what you can or can’t tolerate, what you’re allergic to, etc. Please consult your healthcare provider with any concerns or questions about food choices.

By following a seasonal diet, based on the part of our planet that you live in, you will become more aware of and connected to the natural world, which we are all part of. And you may experience greater balance and wellbeing for yourself. If you’d like to read more, check out Banyan Botanical’s Seasonal Guide for Vata Season. Next week, I’ll talk about daily habits for Vata Season.

Four New Books for September

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I’ve been catching up on reading the past few weeks while getting over Covid. If you are a friend on Goodreads, you can see that I’m on target to complete my reading goal for the year, which brings this bookworm a whole lot of joy. I’m also reading way too many books at a time, but that is my style. A few years ago, I took a quiz on reading styles and my results were that I was a promiscuous reader. I’d rather say I’m an unrestricted reader. I can do whatever I want in my reading life, so I do!

Since I had several e-galleys that were waiting to be read and reviewed on NetGalley, Goodreads, and Amazon, I got comfortable with my Kindle, cups of tea, piles of blankets, and read through a virtual stack of books. And these are four that are worth telling you about, so here they are:

Daily Creative: A Practical Guide for Staying Prolific, Brilliant, and Healthy is a reader with an entry for every day of the year. Each entry begins with a short passage sure to inspire and encourage, and ends with a question for clarity, focus, reflection, and as a source of intention setting and challenge. Stephen Covey wrote about “sharpening the saw” as one of his highly effective habits, and starting each day with this book would be an easy way to practice this habit. Daily Creative would make a wonderful gift for entrepreneurs, artists of all kinds, and small business owners.

At the Breakfast Table by Defne Suman evokes the sparkling, bright Turkish sunshine, the fragrance of coffee, fruit, and fresh bread, and mesmerizes with the fascinating and complicated characters who make up this story.
Nur, Fikret, and Celine come to Shirin’s house to celebrate her 100th birthday. She is Nur and Fikret’s grandmother, and Celine’s great-grandmother, as well as a famous artist. There is also Burak, Nur’s on-again off-again lover and friend, and Shirin’s faithful servant, Sadik.

This begins an unboxing of personal and family secrets Shirin has kept close for years, told mostly through painting on her dining room wall.
A beautiful novel; one that will be lovely to read during cold winter months. Highly recommended!

Mark Nepo’s books are sensitive, poetic, deeply thought-provoking, gentle, and spiritually-accessible. Surviving Storms: Finding the Strength the Face Adversity was written for us who are weary and wary in the chaotic twenty-first century world we find ourselves in.

Meant to give us hope, direction, and a place to put our grief and sense of unease, this book provides us with tools for “heartwork” as Nepo calls it. “We need to deepen our roots and solidify our connection to Spirit and all life” he says, so that we can be strong and resilient enough to survive whatever comes our way.

He ends each chapter with a journaling exercise or question and a suggestion for a conversation to have with a friend or family member. I highly recommend this book to those who are spiritual seekers, those in need of comfort and solace, and those who enjoy reflective, self-help books.

The Rising Tide, the tenth Vera Stanhope mystery is just as satisfying as all the previous ones. The murder takes place on Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, off the coast of Northumberland. A group of friends, who have been gathering every five years for 50 years, meet in a house on the island and one of them is dead before morning.
The theme is very much connected to the tides, which cut off the causeway to the island when they come in and allow access to the island as they go out. The timing of the murder is connected to the tide, of course, as well as to a murder that occurred there 50 years ago.
Vera and her team do the thorough police questioning and investigation and close in on the killer who is not above killing again to save themself from being found out. Can Vera get to the murderer in time before they strike again?
The ending is very abrupt and a bit of a shock. Which means there must be an eleventh novel in the works. The Rising Tide is highly recommended for all mystery, British mystery, and Vera fans (of the books or tv series).

If you read any of these, be sure to let me know what you thought in comments!

*Thanks to NetGalley for the free e-galleys in exchange for honest reviews.

What I’m Reading in July

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It’s good to be back in this space. I’ve missed it. My soul missed it–this safe little corner where I share what I feel is good and lovely and worthwhile in my life, and particularly, the poetry and prose I’m reading.

So why the long hiatus? Well, sadly, we’ve had a death in our family. My kids’ father passed away in June, following a motorcycle accident and an extended stay in ICU. Even though we were no longer “together”, we were still co-parents and friends, and this feels very hard. The kids miss him terribly. His family and friends miss him. And I miss him. We each experience grief uniquely, while sharing in the sorrow together. Our friends’ love and support refreshes and strengthens us when we are weary.

And as unbelievable as it all feels right now, the sun continues to rise and set each day. We still need to eat, rest, work, and take care of our responsibilities. We still have our gardens, our daily joys and challenges, and yes, we have our books. In the past poetry has been a source of healing, speaking light to the darkness and peace to the parts of myself and my story I have yet to understand.

Two books of poetry I am drinking in this month:

Inward by Yung Pueblo. Each page is a poem in the form of a self-help message, note of encouragement, or a wise saying. Here’s an excerpt:

don't run away
from heavy emotions

honor the anger;
give pain the space
it needs to breathe

this is how we let go

Rhythms and Roads by Victoria Erickson is an introspective collection of thoughtful, sensitive verses that soothes, gently prods towards healing, and encourages each of us to be ourselves. Here is an example:

There will come a time
when you'll meet acceptance.
Your shoulders will soften,
the sky will stretch on,
and the night will hold a pulse
both electric and warm.
And the moon will feel familiar.

So check out these two collections of poetry if you haven’t already. The words and messages within feel loving, comforting and kind, and our world needs more of these right now.

As always, I would love to know what you’re reading this July. Please share in the comments below.

Evening Poetry, July 14

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From Rhythms and Roads by Victoria Erickson

You'll know when it's time to heal.
And you will always travel inwardly,
among your deep grooves and rivers,
returning with full hands,
ready to release light
into your external aching world.

Evening Poetry, April 5

Guest List
by Annie Lighthart

Only once, one afternoon, almost asleep on the couch,
could I come up with the perfect guests for an
imaginary dinner party--a mix of the living and dead,
the deep and the shy artfully combined with the
swashbuckling talkers. It was such a list: everyone
would say yes, and we'd sit in pairs maybe, or close
little bunches, or maybe all together at the table
while the candles burned low. Later, with a few
out on the front step, what with our immediate kinship,
the wine and warm night, I could ask them anything,
anything--historical, personal--and thus find out about life
and time. Our goodbyes would be fond and long.

But just now: no one. I can't think of a soul I'd like over,
not one for whom I'd vacuum or shove laundry
in the shower, not one for whom I'd balance fine cheese
on ridiculously small morsels of bread.

Except you, person I just saw crossing the street,
you who stopped to move a slug off the sidewalk
with a little piece of paper you took from your coat.
You, I would clean for. You, I would like to meet.

You can find this poem in Pax.

Evening Poetry, April 1

Sutra 26 from The Radiance Sutras: 112 Gateways to the Yoga of Wonder & Delight
by Lorin Roche

The One Who Is at Play Everywhere says,

There is a space in the heart where everything meets.
Come here if you want to find me.
Mind, senses, soul, eternity – all are here.
Are you here?

Enter the bowl of vastness that is the heart.
Listen to the song that is always resonating.
Give yourself to it with total abandon.
Quiet ecstasy is here,
And a steady, regal sense
Of resting in a perfect spot.
You who are the embodiment of blessing,
Once you know the way,
The nature of attention will call you to return.
Again and Again, answer that call,
And be saturated with knowing,
“I belong here, I am at home.”

Evening Poetry, March 31

Spring
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

You can find this poem in Collected Poems.

Evening Poetry, March 30

I No Longer Pray For Peace
by Amy Weems

On the edge of war, one foot already in,

I no longer pray for peace:
I pray for miracles.

I pray that stone hearts will turn
to tenderheartedness,
and evil intentions will turn
to mercifulness,
and all the soldiers already deployed
will be snatched out of harm’s way,
and the whole world will be
astounded onto its knees.

I pray that all the “God talk”
will take bones,
and stand up and shed
its cloak of faithlessness,
and walk again in its powerful truth.

I pray that the whole world might
sit down together and share
its bread and its wine.

Some say there is no hope,
but then I’ve always applauded the holy fools
who never seem to give up on
the scandalousness of our faith:
that we are loved by God……
that we can truly love one another.

I no longer pray for peace:
I pray for miracles.

You can find this poem in From Advent's Alleluia to Easter's Morning Light: Poetry for Worship, Study, and Devotion.

Evening Poetry, March 29

Famous

by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   

The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   

The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe,   
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   

I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.

You can find this poem in Words Under the Words: Selected Poems.