It can be incredibly hard to stick to a holistic diet during the holiday season. The fridge is filled with leftover holiday foods, there are cookies around every corner in the office, and the list of dinners and parties just gets longer and longer. Traditional holiday meals are typically packed with sugar and unhealthy fats. And, no matter how strict you are, you’re bound to give in to temptation if you’re surrounded by delicious and sentimental foods 24/7!
The holidays are a time to celebrate the joy of life with friends and family. This isn’t necessarily the time of year to start a new diet or turn down your favorite specialties. But there are steps you can take that will help you stay on track with a holistic diet instead of devolving into a month-long binge after Thanksgiving. This week we will explore some of the best tips and tricks for sticking to your holistic diet over the holidays.
The last thing you want to do after a big holiday meal is hop on a treadmill. But maintaining your regular exercise schedule will help you stay on track during the holiday season.
Exercise produces endorphins, feel good neurotransmitters that boost mood. If you’re feeling tired or blue after eating too much sugar, the endorphin kick from a workout may be enough to get you out of a rut. Not only will your energy levels improve; you will experience healthier digestion and fewer cravings for unhealthy foods, making it easier to stay on track with your holistic diet.
It can be hard to fend off feelings of guilt after eating a heavy meal. Those negative feelings can make it harder to motivate yourself to exercise. Instead of beating yourself up, focus on the value of food as fuel. Schedule a hard workout for the day after a big meal and imagine how the foods you are eating will fuel your body during exercise. Some of the best long runs or heavy leg days follow large meals because your muscles have so much glycogen readily available.
Too tired and heavy to brace the cold for an outdoor run or make it to the gym? Try popping in an exercise DVD or performing body weight exercises at home. Whatever you do, try to exercise within 12-16 hours of a large meal. Doing so will burn through glycogen held in your liver and muscles before it is transferred into fat cells.
But Don’t Over-Exercise
Remember, though, that there is such a thing as excessive exercise. Exercising too hard for too long can actually hamper your metabolism and cause cravings and fatigue, which is not what you want during the holiday season! Instead, stick to an hour of moderate exercise and listen to your body. If you’re feeling unusually exhausted, don’t feel bad about taking the rest that you need.
Most holiday meals are loaded with sugar, starch, and salt, all of which encourage the body to retain water. If you find yourself five pounds heavier after a holiday meal, don’t panic; 95% of that weight is probably just water! Avoid the scale for a few days after a holiday meal. Instead, drink a lot of water. It may seem counterintuitive to drink water in order to reduce water retention, but it’s effective. Drinking more water allows your body to use or flush out whatever was causing water retention in the first place. Consuming potassium rich foods like bananas and avocado can also help reduce water retention.
It’s okay to indulge in hot cocoa, apple cider, and alcohol during the holiday season. But be sure that water is still your beverage of choice. The calories from sugary holiday beverages can add up quickly. Further, they cause blood sugar spikes and crashes that only exacerbate sugar cravings. Water, on the other hand, will keep the body hydrated and fight hunger and cravings.
Most of us fall into one of two camps after a big holiday meal. Some of us feel like we’ve blown our diets, so we say, “screw it” and keep on bingeing until the New Year. Others panic at the small spike on the scale and begin rigorously exercising and restricting to “undo the damage.”
Neither of these behaviors reflects a healthy attitude toward a holistic diet and body image. Remember: one day of eating will never wreck or reverse a month of consistent, healthy eating and exercise. You would have to eat 3,500 calories more than your daily calorie needs to gain a mere pound of fat. That’s over 5,000 calories a day! And though it’s not hard for most of us to eat that many calories on Thanksgiving, one pound is just one pound. It would take several Thanksgiving dinners to produce any visible change in your weight. It’s not what you do one day that matters; it’s what you do everyday.
Instead of allowing guilt to drive you away from a balanced, holistic diet, try to resume your normal eating schedule. Toss, give away, or freeze sweets to reduce unhealthy temptations. Avoid leftovers, which contain “ama,” toxic substances that cause poor digestion and illness. Opt for complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and lean protein, which together will restore normal blood sugar patterns, reduce water retention, and curb cravings.
Certain foods are particularly beneficial after a holiday meal rich in sodium and sugar. Asparagus, greens, pineapple, cucumber, and papaya all have cleansing, diuretic properties. Eating lots of light, clean plant foods for a few days after a large meal is a great way to reset energy levels and digestion.
Enjoy The Experience
It’s important to maintain a holistic diet throughout the course of the holiday season. But it’s also important to indulge and enjoy life during this busy and special time of year. Remember: indulging is actually an integral element of a healthy diet because it prevents feelings of deprivation, which can lead to binge-purge cycles. Ironically, it can also help to prevent the metabolic slowdowns that cause weight loss plateaus.
Take your time while enjoying holiday meals. Chew your food thoroughly, enjoying the unique textures and flavors. Be present in the current moment and savor the laughter and camaraderie characteristic of the season. Holiday meals with family and friends nourish not only our physical self, but also our emotional self. And a healthy emotional self is just as integral to maintaining a holistic diet and healthy life as a healthy physical self.
Ayurveda is a holistic wellness philosophy that, by definition, seeks to restore every aspect of human health through time-tested natural methods. Ayurvedic healing typically includes prescriptions for dietary and lifestyle changes designed to compliment and restore one’s doshas, or life force energies. Commonly recommended lifestyle changes include eating a cleaner, healthier diet, practicing stress reduction, and, for most Americans, getting more exercise.
Exercise is integral to Ayurvedic healing. Working out increases the flow of bodily fluids like blood and lymph, permitting the excretion of toxic substances, or ama, that can create doshic imbalances and, by extension, a myriad of health complications. Performing certain types of exercises can also strengthen or pacify individual doshas, and is thus vital in attempting to realign off-kilter life force energies.
But, as with all things, too much of a good thing can quickly turn into a bad thing. Our diet obsessed, efficiency driven, stress and labor valorizing culture applauds those who exercise ad nauseam, training for marathons or powerlifting competitions while maintaining strict diets. Many people love the endorphin high they achieve after a hard workout, and even enjoy the sleepy, sore exhaustion that follows. But no amount of proper stress reduction will allow the body to recuperate from the abuse of excessive exercise.
Understanding the right way to exercise is crucial for those on a journey of Ayurvedic healing. This week we will identify how much exercise is beneficial, and how much is too much.
Exercise According to Ayurveda
Ancient Ayurvedic texts laud exercise as a critical component of Ayurvedic healing. Proper exercise enhances the digestive fire, promoting efficient digestion and assimilation. It also increases bodily capacity for load-bearing work, stabilizes the doshas, and reduces excess fat. Ancient Ayurvedic texts maintain that exercise is not only critical to Ayurvedic healing, but also to balance and health in all aspects of life, both physical and mental.
When exercise reaches excessive levels, it no longer possesses a balancing effect. In fact, it can actually cause doshic imbalance and result in poor digestion, exhaustion, irritability, slow metabolism, and weakness. For some, excessive exercise is so hormonally destructive that it can actually cause weight gain! The key to all things, in Ayurvedic healing, is balance. In all areas of our lives, we must concern ourselves with proper maatra, or quantity.
Your sweet-spot maatra of exercise will largely by contingent upon your doshic constitution, body type, age, and health. Pittas benefit from a combination of strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and stress-reduction. Vatas are easily excitable and thus benefit from grounding, stress-relieving practices like yoga or light walking. Kaphas are the hardiest dosha, and they thrive when performing intense cardiovascular exercise. Most doshas benefit from about an hour of exercise each day, though sensitive vatas may require less.
How Much Exercise is Too Much?
It can be difficult to ascertain whether you are doing too much exercise. Oftentimes we feel good when we begin an exercise routine. The flood of endorphins and the reward of quick results can drive the cycle of ever-increasing intensity and duration. If it feels good, it must be good for us too, right? And even if it doesn’t feel good, we have been told that exercise is good for us, so more must be better, right?
Not so fast. A rigorous, unhealthy exercise routine might feel good at first. However, after a period of weeks or months, you are likely to start experiencing serious side effects. Your endocrine health is likely to suffer, resulting in poor metabolism and an inability to lose weight. You might also start to feel “tired and wired” as the adrenals are forced to continually pump out the stress hormone cortisol. If you continue to push through the exhaustion instead of resting, your body will cease to respond to the constant influx of cortisol, leading to weight gain and exhaustion.
Excessive exercise also tends to excite both the pitta and vata doshas. When pitta is aggravated, you may experience hotness, irritability, skin irritation, sensitive digestion, and oily skin. Oftentimes the early symptoms of excessive exercise are the result of aggravated pitta. If you continue to deplete your body, you will aggravate your vata energy as well. Excessive vata can lead to coldness, slow digestion, dry skin, anxiety, and sadness.
There are a few telltale signs that indicate your exercise routine may be excessive. Dry mouth, breathing through the mouth, and sweating on the hands, legs, and nose can all indicate that your body is working too hard. Emotional disturbances or depleted energy after exercise also indicate that you may be working out too much.
Changing Your Exercise Routine
The first step towards optimizing your health through Ayurvedic healing is to schedule an appointment with an Ayurvedic Therapist. The therapist will evaluate your health and lifestyle to determine your doshic balance and make recommendations that will improve your physical and mental health. If you suspect that you may be over exercising, consider scheduling an appointment with us.
If your therapist suggests that you may be overdoing your gym sessions, don’t panic. You don’t have to completely abandon exercise. Try reducing the length or intensity of your typical exercise session. You can also swap out a few sweat sessions for a relaxing yoga or meditation class.
An Ayurvedic therapist can guide you toward the type and amount of exercise that you should be doing. But, ultimately, you are the expert on your own body, and you know your needs and limits. Most westerners have been inundated with diet culture from a young age. We therefore tend to suffer from poor body image and a sharp disconnect with our bodies, having lost the innate bodily intuition of our ancestors. Yoga can go a long way in restoring bodily awareness, intuition, and appreciation. If you are having trouble tuning in with your body and determining the right amount of exercise for you, yoga will serve you well.
Ayurvedic medicine advises that we eat in accordance with the seasons. Eating with the seasons, of course, entails eating whole, organic foods that have been locally grown and freshly picked. However, eating with the seasons also requires that we support and pacify our doshas in a way that compliments prevailing weather patterns. The pitta dosha, for example, governs heat. We feel pitta’s energy more strongly in the months of July, August, and September. In Hawaii’s hot climate, though, we must be conscientious of pacifying pitta energy throughout the year. And that means eating the body cooling foods Ayurveda prescribes in hot weather.
The Significance of Consuming the Body Cooling Foods Ayurveda Prescribes
Why is it so essential to consume the body cooling foods Ayurveda recommends? Pitta energy is not inherently bad; it promotes proper digestion and assimilation and supports a healthy, efficient metabolism. But when the weather gets hot, pitta energy goes into overdrive. The accumulation of excess heat in the body can cause pitta-induced inflammatory conditions. These include, but are not limited to, irritated skin, rashes, acne, heartburn, anger, and irritability.
In Ayurvedic medicine, food is the greatest healer. Eating pitta-stimulating foods, like heavy, oily, or spicy foods can exacerbate pitta during hot months. It is thus essential to eat the pitta pacifying, body cooling foods Ayurveda recommends during hot times to prevent illness.
It is important to note that cooling foods are not always cold in the literal sense. Rather, they have cooling energy, pacifying the hot and fiery energy that pitta releases in the body. Below are a few body cooling foods Ayurveda prescribes for hot days, and that are therefore essential to consume regularly in Hawaii’s hot tropical climate.
Fruits and Fruit Juices
Most fruits and fruit juices are among the body cooling foods Ayurveda recommends. Their high water content and refreshing taste cool and pacify pitta energy, amplifying vata and balancing the body’s doshic forces. Grapes, melons, and pineapples are particularly pitta pacifying. Lucky for us, pineapples are quite abundant in Hawaii! For others living in Hawaii, consuming star fruit, sugar cane juice, and papaya can help cool the body on hot days.
Fruits are also excellent because they are sweet, and sweet foods balance pitta. Sweet fruits like cherries, pears, mangoes, cucumber, and zucchini are thus excellent choices on a hot day. Avoid sour fruits like citrus, which can increase pitta energy.
Again, be wary that cool does not mean ice-cold. Consuming foods or beverages that are too cold dampens the digestive fire, slowing metabolism. While you want to pacify your pitta fire, you don’t want to completely put it out! A drink at or just below room temperate is best for cooling the body and balancing the doshas.
Dairy is also among the body cooling foods Ayurveda recommends. Butter, milk, and ghee are all cooling, nourishing, and nutrient-dense foods that effectively pacify pitta energy. Ensure that you are consuming these foods at cooler temperatures to maximize their pitta pacifying capacities.
It is important to note that not all forms of dairy are created equal, especially in pacifying pitta energy. While other dairy products like sour cream and yogurt might be cooling, they are also sour. Sour foods can actually exacerbate pitta energy and thus produce heat in the body. Furthermore, non-organic varieties of milk, butter, and ghee contain higher levels of toxins, or ama. High ama increases the likelihood of doshic imbalance and can thus aggravate pitta in some individuals. Be sure to source your dairy organically and, if possible, locally.
There are several herbs that qualify as body cooling foods Ayurveda embraces. The most obvious, of course, is mint. A room-temperature tea made from boiling fresh mint is an excellent well to cool pitta energy and, by extension, ease inflammation. But there are other herbs and spices that work to cool the body as well. These include fennel and coriander, which can both be incorporated into cooling, healing dishes or made into teas. Rose petals, too, are cooling. Rosewater in cool, lightly sweetened milk makes for a delightfully delicious, pitta mitigating drink.
Ayurvedic medicine also considers whole grains body cooling foods. Foods like rice and bread are thus excellent choices on a hot day. They’re even better if they’re cold, as in a cold cut sandwich or chilled rice dish. Grains are also sweet foods, meaning they balance and pacify pitta’s sour quality.
Like dairy, not all grains are equal. Organic whole grains are best for cooling the body because they are lower in dosha-aggravating ama. Grains should be properly cooked as well to ensure digestibility and proper assimilation. And grains with added salt can actually aggravate pitta, so check the sodium content of whole grain products before consuming them in the heat.
We hear a lot of talk about energy every time the Full Moon comes around. From claims of turbulent energy to strange coincidences and tense conflicts, the Full Moon is a powerful time. But many people don’t realize that a New Moon is just as energetically significant as the Full Moon. The New Moon promises growth and rejuvenation, energetic cleansing and resurgence.
On today’s New Moon, take time to process the last lunar cycle and set intentions for the next month.
The Meaning of a New Moon
The New Moon marks the beginning of the lunar cycle. During this period, the Sun, Moon, and Earth align so that the sunlit part of the moon faces away from the earth, rendering the moon virtually invisible to the naked eye. The New Moon is the stellar opposite of the Full Moon.The latter takes place when the sunlit part of the moon faces the earth and illuminates the sky.
As the Full Moon’s lunar opposite, the New Moon’s energetic and symbolic meanings run counter to those of the Full Moon. During the Full Moon, we experience peak energy, the climax of a cycle. The New Moon, on the other hand, represents the completion of a period of waning energy and the beginning of a new life cycle. It is thus a symbol of tranquility, transition, change, and new beginnings.
The New Moon is a time of purification. An individual or community releases the tension and energy of the previous lunar cycle. In so doing, one wipes the slate clean, creating energetic space for new goals and intentions, new thoughts and habits. It is also an excellent time to design and embark upon internal and external self-improvement projects. Some may reflect on the changes completed in the previous cycle and use those as a platform for further growth and change. Others may take this time to realign goals within their respective communities.
As a time of purifying energy, self-reflection, and reincarnation of the spirit, the New Moon is an excellent opportunity to perform cleansing rituals. Sage baths, journaling, and throwing old negative thoughts and experiences into the fire all aid in the energetic cleansing process. In the process, visualize the negative flowing out and positivity flowing in.
The Power of the New Moon for Women
The New Moon is a particularly powerful time for women, as it is said that our menstrual cycles used to align with the lunar cycle. Indeed, Ayurvedic Medicine holds that women are far more in tune with natural cycles and circadian rhythms than men. Thus, many women may feel both intense feelings of processing and closure and bright hope for new beginnings during the beginning of a lunar cycle.
As the moon wanes after the Full Moon, we may feel our collective energies depleting, or a journey coming to a close. As the New Moon begins to wax again, we feel reinvigorated with new energy. Women find it empowering to gather in reflection during this powerful energetic phase to share their transformations with one another.
At Bodhidevi, we gather together at the time of every New Moon to reflect on the previous lunar cycle and set intentions for the next. We write our intentions as if they are already true so as to manifest them in the upcoming months. We also collectively process and release our personal struggles, often by writing them down and burning them in a fire. Thousands of women all over the world gather in these types of circles every New Moon.
New Moon in Scorpio
Today’s New Moon, on November 7, 2018, marks the New Moon in Scorpio. Scorpio is a water symbol, and it is the deepest and most intense sign there is. Scorpio season is thus a time for deep and often difficult reflection.
The New Moon in Scorpio demands that we dig deep into our consciousness to immerse ourselves in buried wounds and memories. Immersion is not for the sake of torture, of course, but for the sake of processing, healing, and changing. Though Scorpio prompts us to visit difficult places, it also promises profound healing, passion, and spiritual transformation.
Scorpio represents the most extreme states that the human mind can achieve. It thus prompts us to encounter our most extreme and often unexpected emotions. New Moon in Scorpio is an intense time, full of sharp intuition, raw energy, and often pain. This energy calls us away from our delusions, our everyday lives, and all that we use to numb ourselves. It draws us to our true inner self and requires brutal honesty.
These calls toward deep self-reflection can be difficult. But they draw us not only to our weakest parts, but also to our strongest. In fact, the energy of Scorpio allows us to find strength in pain and weakness. It may also teach us things about ourselves that we didn’t realize.
These realizations demand significant changes and have far reaching implications in our lives. Don’t be afraid if Scorpio’s energy makes you question your job, your relationships, and your life; it is calling you to a place of growth and truth.
Scorpio and Sensuality
Scorpio is also one of the most sensual signs of the zodiac, making the New Moon in Scorpio an excellent time to explore the senses. Whether that growth is emotional, spiritual, or sexual, you can expect it to be completely transformative. You may find during this time that releasing your cerebral hang-ups and following your raw desires brings joy and relief.
Scorpio also explores topics of control, power, and manipulation. You may realize during this time that you are being manipulated or that you lack power. Alternatively, you may become more aware of the innate power and control that you do possess and find inspiration to use it constructively.
The natural state of a woman’s body is vibrant, healthy, and joyous. According to Ayurvedic philosophy, any deviation from this state of being—poor physical health, psychological stress, emotional turbulence, or spiritual blockage—is the result of imbalanced life force energy. Restoring the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of the heart is critical to re-establishing this natural state of harmony, and it requires deliberate lifestyle changes designed to bring the life force energies into balance. Thankfully, there are several tips in Ayurveda for women’s health that guide women in rediscovering their peaceful feminine energy.
Ayurveda for women’s health holds that women, as creators of life, are naturally intuitive. We are more sensitive to the rhythms of nature. Energetic imbalance is thus particularly disturbing for women, who feel these off-kilter rhythms on a deep level.
This week, we explore key concepts of Ayurveda for women’s health. Specifically, we delve into some of the specific health issues that women face and Ayurvedic prescriptions for ailing them.
General Guidelines: Ayurveda for Women’s Health
Ayurveda is a holistic wellness philosophy that embraces whole, natural foods and plant-based, herbal medicine. According to Ayurveda, balancing your doshas, or life force energies, through diet and exercise is the key to perfect health. Just as a poor lifestyle creates imbalance, so lifestyle improvements restore energetic balance.
There are several general steps one can take to balance their individual doshas. Knowing what steps to take typically requires an Ayurvedic consultation. Eating the right foods and performing the right exercises for your dosha in accordance with the guidelines your consultant provides will put you on the path to good health.
Ayurveda also provides holistic lifestyle recommendations that are specific to the unique needs of women. Ayurveda for women’s health encourages regular consumption of calcium and magnesium rich foods, like leafy greens, dark chocolate, yogurt, and beans, to prevent osteoporosis. It also encourages the regular consumption of iron rich foods to prevent anemia, as most women suffer from low iron. Whole, iron-rich foods include grass-fed beef, beets, lentils, and spinach.
Certain Ayurvedic herbs cater excellently to the needs of women. Amla prevents osteoporosis, anemia, and aging while balancing digestion and doshic energy. Shatavari balances hormones, thus providing relief from menopause, PMS, infertility, irregular periods and low estrogen.
Finally, the unique demands on modern women result in chronic stress and inflammation. Ayurveda thus encourages regular cleansing and stress reduction techniques to reduce the negative afflictions inherent to the modern lifestyle. Among these techniques are yoga, pranayama, meditation, walking, and regular sleep.
Ayurveda for Periods
Ayurveda embraces a woman’s period as a natural and healthy time of cleansing. Instead of fighting the body, Ayurveda for women’s health encourages us to listen to our bodies during our periods. If you have a healthy craving, honor it and indulge; your body is telling you that you need it. If you are tired, rest; your body is communicating that it requires a rejuvenation period. Feeling restless or agitated? Go for a walk. In general, rest, diet, stress management, and a regular sleep schedule are key to preserving energy during the menstrual cycle.
Monitoring your diet can go a long way in alleviating symptoms of PMS. Eating light, easily digestible foods allows the body to divert energy from digestion to menstruation, reducing fatigue. Avoid fried and spicy foods, which can slow digestion. In so doing, these foods prevent the expulsion of ama, the buildup of which can exacerbate PMS. Instead, consume foods that are warm, heavy, oily, sweet, sour, and salty. These foods balance vata, an excess of which is typically the culprit for menstrual complications. Finally, consume sesame seeds, which help to regulate blood flow and relieve cramps.
Ayurveda for women’s health also suggests physical methods of relief. Regular massage during menstruation eases cramps and stress while expelling ama. Asanas like bow pose, forward bend, fish pose, and camel pose offer relief from cramps. Light exercise produces endorphins and expels ama through sweat to reduce menstrual pain.
Ayurveda During Pregnancy
In addition to the Garbhini Paricharya, a unique and specific Ayurvedic regimen for pregnant women, Ayurveda offers several suggestions for easing pregnancy symptoms and producing a healthy baby.
Ayurveda for women’s health encourages the regulation of Ahar, Vihar, and Vichar: diet, lifestyle, and thoughts, respectively. A clean, vata-pacifying diet, combined with regular exercise, stress reduction, and positive thinking are key to a healthy pregnancy.
In addition to consuming a vata-pacifying diet, Ayurveda encourages pregnant women to honor their cravings. It also emphasizes the importance of consuming Sattvic foods, those that elevate the energetic state of a person’s being. Sattvic foods include ghee, fresh nuts and seeds, produce, whole grains, and ethical dairy. If you suffer from tiredness and bloating, take dietary steps to reduce kapha. These may include eating cool, light foods, like lightly cooked vegetables.
Ayurvedic massage is great for easing the physical tension that is inevitable in a healthy pregnancy. Breast and abdomen massages may be particularly beneficial in the second and third trimesters. A tea made from ginger and fennel eases nausea and fluid retention, while consuming fiber and oily foods relieves constipation by reducing vata. Light exercise and gentle yoga are recommended forms of stress relief during pregnancy.
Ayurveda also recommends certain practices for ensuring the health of your baby. Transcendental meditation reduces the negative impact of stress on your baby. Garbha Sanskar, the Ayurvedic tradition of educating a child in the womb, recommends music and reading. Positive thoughts, meditation, and creative thinking are encouraged to enhance the morale and health of the unborn baby.
Ayurveda for Menopause
Just as a buildup of ama is responsible for many PMS symptoms, it is also responsible for the hormonal agitations that cause menopause symptoms. Reducing ama through a vata-pacifying diet, exercise, massage, and cleansing thus goes a long way in easing menopause symptoms.
To pacify vata and promote healthy digestion, consume warm, oily foods. Eat your largest meal in the middle of the day, and avoid ama-ridden leftovers. Going to bed at a consistent time also helps to tame vata and minimize stress. It is especially crucial that you sleep between the hours of 10pm and 2am. This is the body’s natural period of cleansing and purifying.
Pre-menopausal and menopausal women benefit from the use of the hormone-balancing herb Sundari. They also benefits from warm oil massage. Massage can help regulate apana vata, the energy that governs the genitourinary tract.