From SAD to happy with Ayurveda

Sun through clouds

Wow, it’s lovely to see the sun out.  Out comes the sun and out come the smiles.  Have you found that this winter’s dreadful weather has been making you a bit sad?  Or indeed, quite a bit S.A.D.?  With the lack of sunlight in the winter months, many people start to feel a bit down, or even outright depressed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).  Ayurveda strongly recognises the effect of seasonal changes on the body and mind, advising detailed regimes during different seasons and undergoing specific panchakarma (cleansing processes) at the change of each season.   While that might be a bit too much for many of us in the West, there is much we can use to help us with the depth and length of our winters.

50% of Ayurvedic science deals with prevention and this is definitely the way to go with S.A.D..  The most important thing is to remember is that this happens to you in the winter.  The lack of sunlight gradually creeps up on you and hits you in January and February by which time you wish you’d put some things in place earlier in the winter.  Write it in your diary NOW to start preventative measures in November; it pays off.  Some preventative measures are:

  • Get out for a short walk, run or cycle every day, just for a bit, to get some light even if there isn’t much of it!
  • Consider buying a good S.A.D. lamp.  While obviously not mentioned in the ancient Ayurvedic texts, these have been shown to help by boosting the amount of full spectrum light that hits our eyes.   You need to get one that delivers about 10,000 lux to get the benefit, Lumie lamps are often recommended.
  • In a similar vein, take some vitamin D.  I don’t usually advocate taking vitamin supplements, preferring to get the digestion working properly so nutrients get absorbed and to nourish the body with a healthy balanced diet.  In our modern lifestyles, however, we spend a huge amount of time inside in comparison to our ancestors, who would have been out in what little sun we have and thus probably making enough vitamin D.  I don’t think we can make enough vitamin D the way we live now and need to supplement it (for half a year anyway).
  • If you suffer at this time of year, it can be easy to slide into less healthy eating habits without even realising it.  This then acts as a vicious cycle; with the body receiving less nutrition, the mental state is further brought down.  Make a conscious decision at the turn of the season to make sure you eat the best you can, knowing that if you in good physical shape, you’ll have more chance of weathering the weather.   Substitute modern wheat with other grains, eat plenty of lightly steamed vegetables, a good balance of white meat and other protein sources such as pulses and remember to only eat when you are hungry.
  • Cinnamon, oregano and rosemary have great effects on S.A.D. so add some to your meals.  These will also keep your digestion working well.
  • Meditate.  Getting a daily dose of meditation, even just 5 minutes in the morning and evening, helps keep the mind calm and clear.  Remember, there is nothing to be gained and nowhere to reach with meditation; just having those moments to allow the mind to be free of the habitual thoughts will be enormously lightening.
  • Take mind strengthening herbs if you know you are susceptible to S.A.D.  Start as winter starts, don’t wait to feel the symptoms. Consider taking shatavari, brahmi and vaca as preventative mental boosters.

As with all diseases, Ayurveda looks at depression in a holistic way, looking at the mind and the body together, mostly through the lens of the three doshas.  The doshas are three principles which govern our minds and bodies, have biological and energetic properties and regulate all physiological and psychological aspects of our lives.  These are vata (principles of air and space), pitta (principles of fire and water) or kapha (principles of earth and water) – see  the previous blog post on doshas for more on these.   The cause of S.A.D. is lack of sunlight and this lack of ‘fire’ element during the grey winters may explain why pitta dominant individuals seem to be most susceptible to S.A.D.

S.A.D. will affect us differently depending on which of our doshas are out of balance. It is most likely to be the predominant dosha in our constitution that goes out of balance but other factors in our lives may make another one go out.  Depending on which one it is, the distortion to sensory experience and perspective will vary, giving different signs and symptoms.

If Kapha goes out of balance you get the classic depression picture, with lethargy and lack of motivation.  The body feels dull and heavy as does the mind.  You may well end up eating more and sleeping more, which adds to the symptoms.  Remedy this by stimulating and lightening.  Get out and move, do some exercise.  Reduce food intake and make it lighter and easier to digest.  Cook with heating, spicy herbs such as ginger and black pepper.  Take vaca, brahmi and ashvagandha.

If Pitta is increased, the mental lightness is depressed along with a feeling of irritation in the mind.  There will be decreased patience, more irritability and anger and possibly an increase in addictive or self destructive behaviour.  Counteract this by cooling and moderating.  Have some fun.  What do you love?  Go and do it.  Give up an ideas of doing things right or being in control.  Talk a walk in any sunshine that comes along.  Massage yourself (particularly feet before bed) with coconut oil. Take shatavari, brahmi and bala.

When Vata is aggravated, the mental state tends towards anxiety and worry along with a general sense of being down-beat and isolated.  There is likely to be some insomnia.  Rebalance the vata by finding warmth and nourishment.  Seek company.  Keep warm, keep a routine and make your environment as calm as possible.  Ground yourself with warm, nourishing, satisfying food.  Massage yourself with sesame oil.  Take ashvagandha, bala, vaca and brahmi.

Here’s hoping for a bit more sun next winter!

Till next time, take care of yourselves.

Kate

Author: Kate Siraj, Ayurvedic Practitioner, BSc Ayurveda, MChem (Oxon), MAPA.
© The Ayurveda Practice

Photo thanks to FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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