While the holidays should be a time of joy and peace with family and friends, they are often a little stressful. Planning big gatherings, buying presents, worrying about budgetary constraints, battling holiday traffic—it can all add up!
Ayurveda offers a wealth of simple, easy, natural ways to take the edge off stress around the holidays and otherwise. But first, let’s take a closer look at how stress impacts your mind and body.
Fight or Flight—Good News, Bad News
Your body’s fight-or-flight response hasn’t evolved over thousands of years to make you ill! It’s there to help you survive. The stress response is a natural reaction from a stressor to help reestablish homeostasis, the balanced state of your physiology. From a scientific point of view, the response is the same whether you're an antelope being chased by a lion on the Serengeti Plain or a Black Friday shopper being chased by a rival shopper. The nervous system produces a signal that leads to a physical response in order to help you survive.
Unlike animals, humans can activate their stress response simply by thinking about a bad experience. For instance, if you did not get that shopping special, it creates stress in your physiology. Little worries like that can stack up in the mind and body, affecting your sleep and eating habits and leading to health challenges over time.
With that in mind, here are some simple, natural strategies for averting the negative impacts of stress over the holidays.
Ayurvedic Tips and Tools for the Holidays
Pay Attention to Your Routine
Sleep, food, and exercise are the three pillars of physical and mental health—and it’s good to keep this in mind over the holidays. Whenever possible, don't derail your normal healthy routines. It is important to stay close to your good habits. Eat and drink in moderation, do some stretching for a few minutes, and try not to let yourself be overwhelmed. Do your best to follow your Ayurvedic routine in order to keep your immune system strong and your body toxin-free.
Get Enough Exercise
Winter is a good time to nourish your body and to exercise. Regular exercise, at least half an hour a day, will not only keep the extra pounds off but will improve your agni and reduce ama. A short walk after lunch, for example, is a great way to get your digestion going. Practice yoga asanas to help digestion.
Practice Health-Supporting Behavioral Rasayanas
A behavioral rasayana is a technique that cultures a more balanced state of heart and mind. Practice unconditional love. Families are such dynamic entities, full of people we love and people who annoy us. Be generous to all. Remember, it is easy to love if you are rested and balanced.
See the holidays through the eyes of a child. Remember your time as a child. Are we really that different? Wonder is not exclusive to children. The holidays are full of wonderment.
Eat Your Main Meal at Noon
Instead of a big late-afternoon meal or a heavy dinner, try to have your main meal between 12:00 and 2:00 p.m., when the digestive fire is the strongest. Eating a big dinner will not only tax your digestive system, but can disrupt your sleep. To avoid the discomfort of dinner sitting in your stomach still undigested by the time you go to sleep, eat a light dinner three hours before your bedtime. Organize festive gatherings at lunch whenever you can, because the digestive fire can handle heavier foods better if they are eaten around noon rather than late in the evening.
Keep Your Mealtimes Regular
Don't try to correct your overeating by missing a meal. Skipping meals will disrupt and weaken your agni. Eat at least three times a day around the same time of the day. Also avoid eating when your previous meal is not digested. Give your body at least three hours to finish digesting a meal before you eat again.
Don't skip breakfast — a warm, nourishing stewed apple or pear is a wonderful way to start a hectic day. An afternoon snack is fine as long as you keep it small and light. A piece of fresh fruit, dried fruits, or soaked nuts should be enough to give you energy until dinner. Rotate menu items—if you vary flavors, tastes, and textures, you will have fewer cravings.
Moderation is the key to staying healthy over the holidays. Healthy holiday eating can help you avoid repercussions such as weight gain, loss of energy, and lowered immunity which can persist for months afterwards. This advice might be the hardest to follow, but it is very important. Always eat according to your hunger level. Your body knows how much food it can digest — you just have to listen to it. Take smaller portions, and don't go for seconds if you are not hungry anymore. Eat to only 3/4 of your capacity. "Even good food can create ama in excessive quantities," warn Ayurvedic experts. No matter how hectic your schedule, take 5-10 minutes to sit quietly after a meal. It's a good way to kick-start your digestion.
Use Natural Digestive Aids
If you happen to occasionally break one of the above rules, there are other ways to improve your agni. If you are not hungry, increase your appetite by sipping warm water, ginger water, or cumin tea. You can also get your gastric juices flowing by eating a thin slice of fresh ginger with a pinch of salt. These digestive aids may not be available when you are not eating at home, so carry Maharishi AyurVeda Herbal Di-Gest supplements with you and take one or two tablets before meals.
Avoid Agni-Destroying Foods
Some people say certain foods taste better the next day, but Ayurveda does not recommend that you eat leftovers. Ayurveda recommends eating freshly-prepared foods, because they are easier to digest and contain more prana, or life. In addition to leftovers, stay away from heavy, deep-fried foods and cold foods and drinks. They diminish your agni and contribute to the accumulation of ama.
Watch the Sweets
This is another area where moderation will save you from stomach aches and weight gain. If you have a sweet tooth, eat homemade pies and cookies instead of "junk" sweets. The latter usually contain preservatives and artificial flavors and colors which are toxins for the body and will turn into ama right away. They also lack nutrients and prana and are heavy to digest. Commercial pastries and cakes also tend to contain more sugar and fat than what your body needs.
Eat All Six Tastes
Sweet might be your favorite taste, but don't eat just sweets. Every meal should contain all six tastes — sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Use spices to include all the tastes and to enhance flavor. When your meal contains all six tastes, you will feel more satisfied and crave less sweets. The Maharishi AyurVeda Churnas are excellent spice mixes that include all the six tastes and also improve digestion.
Balance Your Meals
In addition to all the tastes, your meals need to include a balanced combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. If you eat only carbohydrates, your blood sugar will rise quickly but will leave you fatigued later. Leaving out fats is also a common mistake. Healthy fats such as olive oil and ghee are essential for carrying the nutrients to your cells. Ayurvedically, varied foods and menus supply all the nutrients necessary for nourishing the seven dhatus, or body tissues.
Explore Ayurvedic Recipes for the Holidays
Whether you're entertaining or just cooking holiday meals for yourself, these Ayurvedic recipes will treat your taste buds to a symphony of textures and flavors.
- Roasted Cumin Bread Dipping Oil
- Garbanzo Raita
- Carrot Pudding
- Basmati Rice Pilaf with Dried Fruit
- Oven Roasted Vegetables with Bulgur and Quinoa
- Baked Pear Chutney
- Organic Cashew Cookies
Try Some Herbal Solutions for Stress
Maharishi AyurVeda has a great range of time-tested formulas to help you combat holiday stress. These herbal formulations are endowed with an abundance of sattvic herbs called medhya rasayanas. These herbs are helpful for promoting a clear mind and good memory during times of stress.
Our synergistic Stress Free Mind, for instance, supports natural resistance to daily mental stress and fatigue. This blend of whole herbal extracts, powders, and minerals nourishes and supports the immune system, which is often taxed by everyday mental stress. Bacopa, dwarf morning glory, gotu kola, and Indian tinospora work together in our Stress Free Mind formula to support learning, retention, and long-term memory. Pearl, greater galangal, licorice, jatamansi, and ashwagandha aid overall mental energy; and the synergy of all herbs and minerals in the formula supports mental resistance to stress and mental clarity. They also help support a healthy emotional response, which is vital for your health and peace of mind.
Worry Free is another powerful formula. In a published research study, individuals diagnosed with general anxiety disorder were randomly assigned to receive either Worry Free or a placebo. After three months, those taking Worry Free showed significantly reduced general anxiety (trait anxiety), reduced anxiety in response to a challenging situation (public speaking), and reduction in salivary cortisol (cortisol increases during stress).
Feeling down in the dumps this holiday season? Blissful Joy offers excellent nutritional support for emotional balance. This uplifting formula helps balance three subdoshas: Tarpaka Kapha, Prana Vata, and Sadhaka Pitta. Tarpaka Kapha governs fluid balance in the brain, healthy brain tissue, and communication between brain cells. When in balance, it contributes to a stable personality. Prana Vata, which governs energy, creativity, perception, growth of consciousness, and self-realization, is also nourished by Blissful Joy. This supplement also supports Sadhaka Pitta, which is responsible for balanced emotions and self-esteem.
Arjuna myrobalans, one of the key ingredients in Blissful Joy, is known to support the heart and emotions. Ashwagandha and holy basil assist the body's natural resistance to stressful situations. Ashwagandha is also effective in balancing Prana Vata and improving emotional stability. Finally, ailanthus excelsa and arjuna myrobalans help strengthen the body's natural rejuvenation mechanisms, hastening the replacement of dead or weak cells with fresh, vital ones.
Trouble sleeping now and then? Blissful Sleep is great for a busy mind and has been shown in studies to help you fall asleep more quickly. Deep Rest is helpful for staying asleep throughout the night if you tend to wake between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.
Make Time for Meditation
Amidst all the holiday hustle bustle, don’t forget to make time to disconnect from your day. This can be in the form of journaling, listening to music, taking a hot bath, or even just sitting quietly for a few minutes. Meditation is also one of the best ways to rejuvenate mind, body, and spirit, research shows.
For instance, the unique state of restful alertness gained during the practice of the Transcendental Mediation® technique promotes health by reducing activation of the sympathetic nervous system—which, in turn, dilates the blood vessels and reduces stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. More than 600 scientific studies verifying the wide-ranging benefits of the Transcendental Mediation® technique have been conducted at 250 independent universities and medical schools in 33 countries during the past 40 years.
Remember: Have Fun!
The holidays are meant to be “holy” days, a time to relax and enjoy with friends, family, and loved ones. Continue with your good habits over the holiday season, and reap the rewards of good health and happiness—during the winter months and beyond. Happy Holidays from Maharishi AyurVeda.
© 1999, 2021 Maharishi AyurVeda Products International, Inc. (MAPI). All Rights Reserved. MAPI does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. See additional information.