Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Unplugging For Health

Written by Nicole

A few weeks ago I took an Ayurvedic cooking class, which turned out to be so much more than just a cooking class! The teacher, an Ayurvedic Practitioner from the UK mentioned that in modern Western culture we all suffer from some degree of Vata Imbalance. The Vata principle, according to Ayurveda, is responsible for all movement in the body. When our Vata aspect is out of balance it can speed up movement, creating racing thoughts, restlessness, anxiety or the feeling of spinning our wheels yet not going anywhere. We all know what that feels like, right? 
This teacher was saying the main reason our collective Vata is imbalanced today, is from the amount of screen time we are all exposed to. Between computers, TVs and smart phones, many of us are constantly “plugged in.” And this constant exposure to screens revs up our mental activity to a degree that can become unhealthy and ultimately result in physical imbalances.
When she told me this, I immediately thought of this blog and how unplugging is not only a way to connect more to our inner selves, to our families and to nature—unplugging affects our health in a positive way too. 
So, with this in mind, here are a few Ayurvedic Vata-balancing tips to help you take unplugging to the next level from the standpoint of health.

Hone Your Relaxation Skills with Autogenics

When Vata is imbalanced, we are vulnerable to stress. This can lead to eventual disease on a physical level, according to Ayurveda. Learning how to truly face and stay present with life’s challenges is the true antidote to stress. But how do we do this in a sustainable way? Well no one is perfect, but I believe that relaxation is a skill anyone can learn to re-pattern how we respond to stress. Traditional Ayurvedic Practitioners would recommend yoga and meditation (which are extremely beneficial), but unless you are personally drawn to these practices the idea of starting a yoga or meditation practice can feel daunting to many—especially when already under stress. 
I have been blessed to learn a type of relaxation training called Autogenics. It is easy-to-do, takes little time, and requires only a little instruction to begin. I’m excited to share this modality with you because it is so effective. I learned Autogenics initially to prepare for childbirth and have found it to be an invaluable tool for coping with all aspects of parenting as well as the challenges of daily life! 
Autogenics is used regularly in European countries as a treatment for stress and stress-related illnesses, anxiety, digestive disorders, chronic headaches, allergies, tics, high blood pressure, speech disorders, chronic back pain and many other ailments. It has been shown that long-term practitioners of Autogenics can lower their pulse rate by 25% and those who have practiced Autogenics for the short-term can lower their pulse rate by 10%! That’s what I love about this practice: It’s measurable, tangible and practical.
By learning and repeating specific phrases, Autogenics teaches you to create a feeling of warmth and heaviness throughout your body. This balances the Autonomic Nervous System and allows you gain mastery over your own stress responses. I think it’s so empowering to know that we can have measurable effects on our physiology in a positive way! 
How about making a relaxation practice a regular part of your Unplugged routine? Autogenics only takes 20 minutes to complete and it’s something the whole family can learn. Teaching ourselves (and our children) how to transform negative stress reactions to positive physiological responses is a practical gift we can all benefit from. 
I was so excited to share this with you that I decided to interview my Autogenics teacher, Judy Yamamura, and post it on the Natural Health at Home blog today. Come visit us to learn more about this relaxation modality and how to get started with it. It’s sure to be an interesting conversation—including some opinions on why Autogenics is not more popular in the US.
If you want to get started now, I recommend the CD that comes with this book. Listen to track 3 for the Autogenics training session (only 17 minutes long!).

Choose Healthy Comfort Foods
{Photo via whitneyinchicago}

Another way to have a profound effect on imbalanced Vata is through the food we eat. It is simple to say, “Just change what you’re eating” but we all know it’s not always that easy to do. And it’s my experience that when Vata energy is out of balance our tendency  is to reach for a sugary snack (or some other unhealthy food). It takes will power and determination to break out of the habits we find ourselves knee-deep-in—especially when it comes to food. So I won’t say, “Just change what your eating” lightly. 

The good news is, though, when Vata is imbalanced it’s best to reach for grounding, comforting foods—foods most of us like anyway! Now, don’t confuse this with a pan of brownies, oh no! Here, we’re talking butter (and ghee), eggs, healthy fats, whole milk, root vegetables, animal protein, warming spices, soups and stews. Foods that warm us up and bring us back into our feet. Foods that soften us and settle us into ourselves again. With a Vata imbalance we want to avoid: sugar, caffeine, white flour, too many starchy foods and cold foods.
On that note, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite Vata-nourishing soups. I make this almost weekly for my family and everyone loves it! I hope you do too!

Red Lentil Coconut Curry Soup
3 Tbsp Coconut Oil
1 Medium Onion, Chopped
4 Carrots, Chopped
1 head cauliflower, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch ginger, minced
4 c red lentils (soaked overnight and then drained)
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp turmeric
1-quart homemade chicken broth 
Up to 1 can full fat coconut milk
salt to taste
1/3 c cilantro, chopped
Add coconut oil to large soup pot.  On medium high heat, sauté onion, garlic, carrots and cauliflower until onions are translucent. Add lentils, broth, and spices. Bring to a boil then turn heat down to simmer until lentils are fully cooked (the soup will be yellow and have a thick, creamy texture). Add coconut milk to desired consistency. Garnish with plain whole milk yogurt and cilantro if you like. Enjoy!

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