Navigating the Seasons with Ayurveda: Fall

Fall is a time of transition and a crucial time of the year to stay healthy. What we do and eat can help us to remain healthy throughout the fall, and into winter. A basic premise of Ayurveda is to adjust our foods and activities with the change of the seasons. Yes, some people have a strong constitution and can just “tough it out”, but we don’t want to toughen. We are interested in thriving! One simple way that you can protect your well-being is to make lifestyle choices that counterbalance the potential for seasonally induced imbalances.

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First, let’s look into what is happening in the fall (we are considering fall in the northern hemisphere. Seasons vary widely from one place to another, as do the qualities they create). In the fall, the sun’s energy slowly wanes, and is time to prepare for the following colder winter months. We notice it in the days, which become shorter and darker, and in the cool mornings and evenings. The wind is picking up and the air is becoming drier. These changes can leave us feeling a little raw and empty, but prana is abundant in the atmosphere which can bring us a sense of creativity and possibilities. The predominant element that fall brings with it is air, and the predominant characteristics of this season is dry, cool, light, erratic, rough, subtle, and clear. These are the same qualities of vata dosha; therefore, in Ayurveda, fall is the vata season of the year.

Working with the principle of “like increases like and opposite balances”, vata season will be less likely to cause imbalances if you choose a lifestyle that is the opposite of the season’s qualities. We then need to fill the season with warmth, oiliness, routine, a sense of groundedness, and loving relationships! It is best that you know your constitution and any imbalances you may have, so you can modify your seasonal routine appropriately.

Here are some general recommendations…

Diet

The key is to eat what naturally subdues the dry, light, and erratic nature of the fall. Therefore, eat foods that are substantial, high in fat and protein, with stimulating spices, and served hot.  Eating this way, we will keep ourselves grounded and internally moisturized throughout the season. Eating warming and nourishing foods is a powerful way to pacify vata. Click here to download a list of foods to favor this fall. Most importantly, how we eat may be just as critical as what we eat…especially to keep Vata calm! Avoid eating on the go or in a hurry. Eat at a slow pace and in a peaceful environment.  Take time to completely chew each bite and really savor the flavors.  Sri Swami Satchidanada would say: “chew your liquids and drink your solids!”. 

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Dinacharya

One of the most effective ways to support vata is by establishing a daily routine. Read this article to understand and establish rituals of self-care. For vata season, a wonderful ritual is abhyanga – oil self-massage.

Abhyanga

Massage your body from the extremities to the center, with long strokes for the long bones and circular strokes for the joints. Use warm sesame oil. After the massage, take a warm shower and leave a coat of oil on the skin to be absorbed during the day. This practice calms the nervous system, grounds our energy, and stimulates prana in our tissues.

Dress Warm

Choose clothes that will keep you warm throughout the day. When outside, cover your head, ears, neck, and chest - protecting these areas from the wind and cold. Colors that will support a balanced vata dosha are oranges, reds, and yellows.

Hatha Yoga and Meditation

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Favor a practice that will create groundedness, warmth, and quietness in your body and mind. Practice at a slow pace, gently and consistently. Cultivate deep breaths but never be forceful. The meditation focus should be on calming the mind and regulating restless life-energy. Check out this workshop if you would like to explore and learn how to tailor your practice according to the doshas.  

When we know how to synchronize with the natural changes in our environment, we can boost our energy, immunity, and resilience; protecting our body and mind from the imbalances that are characteristics of the season. By harmonizing our diet and lifestyle choices with each season, we can better maintain our internal sense of balance throughout the year. If you would like more specific support for your system, I offer consultations in person and by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. Wishing you a stable and soothing fall!

The King of the Core

I recently wrote an article about the psoas muscle (http://www.leticiapadmasri.com/blog-feed/2018/8/30/the-seat-of-the-soul), a crucial muscle in core awareness. Now it is time to write about another important muscle: transverse abdominis - our deepest abdominal layer. 

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I like to call the psoas the “queen of the core” because to me it has a very yin or feminine function. The transversus, I call the “king of the core” because to me it has a more yang or masculine role. While the psoas senses and sends us messages about the integrity of our center, the transverse is a key stabilizer! It provides protection and stability to the spine so when we move through our asanas and daily activities, we do so more safely and more effectively. It also allows the psoas to ungrip and to do its job more skillfully, and it plays a fundamental role in breathing!

Where is it? As I said - deep in the abdomen, below the internal and external obliques and rectus abdominis. Its fibers run horizontally, originating with the fascia of our lumbar spine, at the back of the pelvis and the lower ribs. Then it wraps around to the front of the torso, like a corset. It goes from the pubic bone connecting up to the xiphoid process -  the lower end of the sternum. In short, it encircles our abdomen from the back to the front and up and down!

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Even with knowing where it is and what it does, it can still be challenging to engage and connect with it because it is so deeply located in our abdomen that it is sometimes outside our daily awareness. Perhaps the easiest way to work with the transverse abdominis is to work with the pelvic points - the interior superior iliac spines (see picture). You can start working with this simple exercise: 

  1. Start on your back and place your feet flat on the floor in constructive rest position (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcxKvMJw0S8).

  2. Rest the hands on the pelvic points and then engage between the pelvic points (don’t expect  a large movement, this is a subtle action). You can even use your hands here to draw them closer to each other. It is not a hard pushing, just a gentle press. Engage between the pelvic points as though you were cinching the drawstring of a bow. 

  3. See if you can keep that engagement and keep the breath nice and full. Every exhale supports the engagement of the transverse abdominis.

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Even just the action of visualizing drawing the pelvic points closer towards each other can help to establish a neurological connection and pave the way to really connect with this muscle.

It is easy to move and neglect the use of the transverse abdominis because we are so unaware of its presence. It is often the most underutilized of the four abdominal muscles. Moving our body without proper engagement of the transverse abdominis puts us at high risk of injuring our back. Hatha yogis could benefit from paying particular attention to the building awareness and strength of the transverse abdominis throughout their practice and also during everyday activities.


If you would like to learn more, join me on October 4 at Yogaville for the “Yoga for the Core” workshop. We will explore and understand the roles of the transverse abdominis and psoas muscles and more, enabling you to enhance joint integrity, muscular tone, breathing, and healthy organ functioning. Sign up here!

Advanced IY Hatha, A Deeper Sense of Stilness

There are so many elements of Yoga and Ayurveda that support our health and journey on earth. Diet, herbs, mantras, meditation, pranayama, yoga nidra, the concepts of the gunas and so on. Advanced (or Level 3) Integral Yoga Hatha is one of the main elements on my journey that brings me back hOMe every time. It is such a comprehensive practice for personal transformation, working with all the layers of our being: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

I have been practicing Integral Hatha Yoga for 15 years now. A beautiful seed of grace was planted within me right from the point of my first practice, and it continues to be nourished and encouraged to grow by the Level 3 Hatha practice. I started at the beginners’ level and gradually, mindfully, and joyfully advanced in the practice. I absolutely love to practice level 3 Integral Yoga Hatha, and I enjoy teaching the Advanced Integral Yoga Hatha Teacher Training, which is coming up in August!

The level 3 practice consists of the same elements of levels 1 and 2: asanas (physical postures), yoga nidra (deep relaxation), pranayama (breathing practices), and meditation. Plus, there are new components: the bandhas (locks applied during pranayama), and new asanas and pranayama practices. We also do the inversions after the sun salutations and standing poses, in the beginning of the class. I love how we have more energy to invest in strong inversions, and thus experience the bliss of inversions right away, carrying it throughout the practice, which gives the class a wonderful flow.

The advanced practice of Integral Yoga Hatha can be quite strong, yet very meditative. This challenge is my favorite element of the class. Even though the practice becomes more complex and rigorous, there is an even deeper sense of stillness and internal awareness. I learn to  challenge my body with such mindfulness, that I can still discover the optimal flow of energy. Through the balance between right effort and surrender, I deepen my awareness of the unity of body, mind, and spirit. 

Integral Yoga Hatha Level 3 is my entry into intuitive living movement. The skillful and creative sequences take me smoothly from moment to moment, making it possible to witness the body and mind with loving kindness. Sometimes I begin my practice with either my body aching or my mind talking loudly, and sometimes  both! As I move through the sequence, I witness the body surrendering to softness and the mind is silenced. The unchanging witnesses expands, and the “little me” dissolves into the stillness and quietness of the now.



Ayurvedic Meal Planning

There are many benefits of making our own meals. We know all the ingredients involved in the process. We know the energy put into the process. We can make it balancing for our constitution and beloved ones. We can create a peaceful environment for eating. We save money, and the list goes on.

But within our fast-paced lives, we may end up just eating something processed or eating out. Ayurveda works by looking at the things we have control over. One very important aspect of this way of living, is that Ayurveda asks us to take responsibility for our choices, including our dietary choices. Through this, there is empowerment and we realize we can make a difference in the quality of our life, and how we feel based on our choices.

When you cook for yourself, you are exercising self-responsibility, and making the right choices for your health, both body and mind. Here are four tips to make cooking your own meals both manageable and fun!

  1. Plan your meals in advance. I personally plan my meals at the beginning of each week, in order to save time and reduce stress. But you can even plan it the night before, in which case you would set out the grains and legumes on the counter each night and soak the ones that require it. This helps you get on track when you start cooking the next day.

  2. Have a scheduled shopping time. It is beneficial to have a stock of staple items in your pantry, and to shop regularly. Grocery day in our household is Saturday early morning, which works for our schedules. If you can go daily, then that’s great! For many of us though, we might find the time  to go once or twice a week. Plan around your “grocery day”, so that you always have the ingredients that you need.

  3. Have your largest meal midday. This is ideal. A lot of our health issues today come from having large meals at other times of day, or multiple times a day. Here is how you could make a habit out of this ayurvedic guideline. Depending on your schedule, you may be able to prepare the meal in advance and then eat it at midday. I find that there are days when I have to make lunch right after I have breakfast or even before. I prepare the grains, the legumes, and the vegetables that take longer to cook. Then I leave the greens washed and chopped, and cook them once I arrive home. Also, if you don’t have time to prepare another meal in the early evening, you might have some leftovers that you could use from lunch. In fact, that’s what I do most days. I make a little more for the midday meal and use that for the evening meal and add to it as necessary. What changes from lunch to dinner is the veggies and greens. I usually take what is left from our lunch, combine it together and make a soup out of it. It’s ideal to prepare the meal and then eat it, but if you know this is not possible for you and the alternative is that you might eat out or eat something that’s processed, then this is a good choice. Cook enough food for both lunch and dinner and then supplement dinner as necessary with a different side dish. If you eat your cooked food within 12 hours from when it is ready, you are still getting most of the prana from it.

  4. Keep it simple. Eating simply is very important. It seems that food has become trendy, and people are more focused on using ingredients to make food look and taste exotic. Our digestive tract actually isn’t that fond of exotic ingredients. It really likes simple foods, and especially not too much variety at once, such as having five vegetables for one meal. For simple and delicious recipe suggestions,  I recommend one of my teachers’ books: Simple Ayurvedic Recipes by Myra Lewin.


Simple yet delicious!

Simple yet delicious!

What is Integral Yoga?

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Historically, the heritage of Yoga was passed from teacher to student orally. Inevitably, in this process, much was left out, changed, or added! Naturally, as time progressed, many branches emerged representing distinct traditions. So when we talk about Yoga, we are talking about a multitude of yogic paths and orientations. Despite the diversity, they all agreed in the need for going beyond the ordinary personality and setting self-transcendence as the ultimate goal. The differences among the classical branches relate more to the way in which self-realization is accomplished and how the transcendental reality is defined.

Out of this context, six major paths of Yoga have gained prominence. They are: Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Japa Yoga. Sri Swami Satchidananda, one of the great Yoga Masters of our time, is the founder of Integral Yoga, a system which integrates all six major branches of Yoga. His life is an example of the Yoga teachings which he learned from His guru, Sri Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh.

Sri Swami Satchidananda describes Integral Yoga as a “flexible combination of specific methods designed to develop every aspect of the individual: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual…”. When we begin to study Integral Yoga, depending on our personalities, backgrounds, and life journeys, we will likely be inclined to explore one branch more than the others.  Or we may discover that two of the paths really speak loudly to our heart. I consider myself a Hatha and Bhakti yogini. No doubt, these are the forms of Yoga that nurture my body, mind, and spirit the most, and keep them closely devoted to the Divine. What about you? Have you investigated which paths would best support your earth-spiritual journey?

Four Practices for Spring Balance

Less than a month before spring officially starts. The earth is awakening once again!  In Ayurveda, spring is the season of the kapha dosha–the earth and water dosha–meaning that qualities of these two elements increase in nature during this time of the year. In late winter, we can already observe the changes. After the long winter’s rest, the snow turns into rain and make the land soggy and muddy… the trees are coming back from hibernation and pollen is increasing. The combination of moisture and dust can make the air quite heavy.

As water increases in the environment, it also increases in our body and mind as well and makes us feel soggier than in other seasons. We may feel heavier and more sluggish, especially if we overindulged on heavy foods during the winter months. The result is that we can feel lethargic when the world around us starts blossoming. Colds, headaches, allergies, and upset stomachs are common complaints this season.

If you’re missing the gifts this season has to offer, these four lifestyle choices can help to overcome spring’s challenges while promoting optimal health, so that we can truly celebrate the earth’s awakening!

1- GET MOVING!

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Use the renewal energy that nature brings with this season and cleanse the body from the winter’s hibernation. It is time to remove the gunk! In the earlier, cooler morning hours before 10 am, engage in brisk physical movement such as jogging, hiking, or cycling. Favor a more vigorous and dynamic hatha practice. Increasing the rounds of sun salutations is a good idea to support the elimination of any accumulated kapha and can help bring lightness to the body.

2 - CLEAR THE AIR PASSAGES!

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Kapha accumulated in the body and mind will bring inflammation and excess mucus. Use a nasal wash or neti pot every day upon awakening. After your neti wash, rub 3 to 5 drops of sesame oil into your nostrils. This will keep your sinuses clean and reduce bacterial growth.

Another excellent practice for keeping the sinus clean is kapalabhati and bhastrika (the skull-shining breath and the bellows breath). These are pranayama, yogic breathing practices, that will oxygenate the blood and bring a sense of lightness to the body. These practices are very cleansing and invigorating. And remember, because of the power and subtlety of these practices, it is recommended to practice pranayama under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.

3- EAT FOOD FOR BALANCE!

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Ayurveda’s main principle of healing is ‘like increases like, and the opposite brings balance’. Kapha qualities are slow, moist, and heavy—so seek the opposite qualities of kapha to find balance. Now it is time to shift our diet! Notice that the land is already giving us different foods. Eat them! I have already notice asparagus and leafy greens increasing in the grocery stores. Reduce the intake of heavy and oily foods and place emphasis on the astringent, bitter and pungent tastes.

4 - USE COLORS THAT UPLIFT

Surrounding yourself with light, bright, and transparent colors—either on your body or in your personal spaces—can help to lift and to balance the heavy, cold, and moist kapha qualities of spring.  Think warm, dry, and stimulating hues like reds, oranges, yellows, and golds.

These are simply general guidelines. It is important that you tend to your current state of balance/imbalance while also making adjustments to stay in tune with the cycles of nature. Getting an individualized assessment can further refine your springtime routine to more specifically support your body type and will help you flourish during all seasons. I offer consultations in person or via phone, Skype or FaceTime.