Japa K. Khalsa
As I sit by my decidedly New Mexican woodstove, basking in my warm adobe house this winter, I feel the heat on my skin and remember how the amazing state of New Mexico has certain idiosyncrasies that call for extra self-care. The dryness and elevation unique to our state give it a quaint charm and beauty, as well as the gorgeous skies, but they can be hard on the body.
I turn to ancient medicine for healing, especially now because of the pressure of modern times that we live in. I invite you to expand your self-care for 2016. These tried and true self-care methods and ways of understanding our bodies can create balance for your body and harmonize your mind.
Ancient Ways to Heal
In Ayurvedic medicine, health is studied through the lens of unique body types composed of different elements. Anyone can take a quiz online and understand themselves and their body type more fully. Specific self-care techniques can be applied to help soothe the individual, but one way to start is to balance the Vata, which is strongly connected to the health of the nervous system and digestion. It is particularly susceptible to stress in our current pressurized climate. Overwork, poor food choices and a dry climate can be especially aggravating to Vata.
When Vata is aggravated, there can be a sizzling irritation, which can drive the other elements out of balance, pushing the fire and inflammation in the body to increase or aggravate the mind, leading to anxiety and over-thinking. Common ailments like PMS, headaches, depression and joint pain are all connected to aggravated Vata. So how do you calm or soothe Vata? First, let’s look to what creates Vata imbalance in the first place.
Modern Pressure on the Nerves
Our bodies over the last century have been placed under significant pressure through the inventions and developments of the times. A century ago there were no televisions, cell phones or even fast-moving airplanes. You were more at risk of being run over by a stampede of cows than a car. Life moved at a much slower pace, and the nervous system could adjust to stress as it had for thousands of years. Fast-forward to 2016, and there is a huge amount of technology that, although valuable for humanity, takes a toll on the nerves and creates Vata imbalance, which is a negative spiral.
So how do you calm Vata, and what does it feel like to calm Vata? It can actually feel pretty boring or uncomfortable to rein in the nervous system. Self-care and balance are just not as exciting as staying up late and getting sucked into the rabbit hole of binge television watching, Facebook strolling or whatever fantastic capacity of overindulgence one has cultivated over the years. Everyone relates to the current, technology binge-oriented culture in their own way, but Vata imbalance reveals itself and is perpetuated by these uniquely modern behaviors:
• Driving in the car, talking on the phone and eating at the same time
• Overspending on credit cards
• Over-connecting on Facebook, text messages or phone calls, with no time for the self
• Staying up late and binge-watching TV shows or using multiple flat-screen devices at once
Connecting to the self and taking time for self-care can counteract the perhaps negative drawbacks of these behaviors.
Nature to Balance the Nerves and Glands
One of the best ways to reconnect to the simple joys of life is to connect with nature. Standing with the feet on the earth for five minutes a day, even in the winter, is a way to ground oneself and clear the nerves and meridians. This helps to reset the endocrine and nervous systems to the original cycles of our body and match nature’s cycles. Slow yourself down and give that beautiful juniper bush a long look, and maybe you will notice more subtle signs of nature that will be healing for you.
Dry Brush and Massage
The dry nature of New Mexico calls for extra self-love in the form of Abhyanga, or self oil massage. First, clear toxins from your lymphatic system by brushing with a dry brush or loofah over your entire body; start with the extremities, and brush towards the heart. Be sure to include all sides of your legs, arms and torso. Then, break out the almond oil bottle, and massage your whole body the same way, towards the heart. When you are glistening with oil and fully saturated in a self-love routine that takes a mere five minutes, hop into a warm shower and rinse off. The warm water opens your pores and the oil soaks in, creating a seal around your whole nervous system for the day. This is a way to soothe the nerves, release anxiety and calm Vata.
Here are two simple spices you can add to your daily routine to help soothe the nerves and build and restore the nervous system:
In the wintertime, hot tea is specifically calming to the nerves and digestion because it offsets the weather and dryness. Ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory and digestion restorative, and it is indicated in reducing bacterial growth in the body. Take a piece of fresh ginger, peel it, and notice the little white strings in the root. These look just like the strings of nerves that run throughout your entire body. So try this, and see if it helps to reduce jangled nerves.
How to prepare:
Wash the root in fresh water; then, use a spoon or veggie-peeler to scrape off the outer brown skin and reveal the root. Chop this up, and boil for five minutes in a quart or so of water. Add a little sweetener to taste. Carry in a thermos, and sip all day long.
Flavor your coffee; rein in your Vata!
Cardamom is a spice that is an all-in-one powerhouse. Besides the fact that it tastes delicious in food, boiled into a tea or blended into coffee, its medicinal properties are vast and potent. It supports digestive health, reduces inflammation and detoxifies tissues in the body. In coffee, its properties counterbalance the drying and acidic qualities of the popular morning brew. Just blend three whole pods as you blend your fresh coffee beans.
New Mexicans, take the time to heal yourself this year in whatever creative ways you can find. Enjoy the desert nature of these enchanted lands, care for yourself daily and seek balance in your life always.
Japa K. Khalsa, Doctor of Oriental Medicine (DOM), is co-author of Enlightened Bodies: Exploring Physical and Subtle Human Anatomy (enlightenedbodies.com). She teaches a weekly yoga class for people with chronic pain at Sacred Kundalini in Santa Fe. She completed her Master of Oriental Medicine degree at the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago. She combines traditional acupuncture with herbal and nutritional medicine, injection therapy and energy healing. Her work with patients and students emphasizes optimal health and personal transformation through self-care and awareness of the interconnectedness of all life. www.drjapa.com