As if your calendar wasn’t packed enough with marathon end-of-year meetings and holiday cheer, there are those extra emotional triggers related to the most joyful—and stressful—time of year. (Family included.) Thankfully, unwrapping the wisdom of Ayurveda can help you find inner peace amid the seasonal chaos.
“Ayurveda says you metabolize experiences with all five senses, so every moment what you hear, taste, smell, and see, you’re taking in all of those things,” says CEO of VPK by Maharishi Ayurveda Alan Marks. So if you’re in stressful environment—whether it’s family, work, lack of rest—it can pull you off balance, the theory goes. “It’s when we’re out of balance that we’re more susceptible to stress,” Marks explains.
Ready get some of the oft-cited joy of the season instead? Here are five Ayurvedic tips from Marks and Ayurvedic expert Renee Posner that will help you find balance and banish stress. Consider it a present to yourself. —Lisa Elaine Held
In Ayurveda, balancing any part of your body (or life) starts in your gut, Marks says. Why? If you’re not digesting food properly, the nutrients you’re eating and kale you’re massaging is wasted instead of absorbed (bye bye, brain-boosting omegas).
Your gut is also super important to keeping your immune system healthy, and because of its serotonin receptors, your brain happy. If things are out of wack in the gut, “everything starts to spiral in a negative direction,” Marks says.
Don’t fret: Ayurveda has lots of simple practices that can help your digestion, like eating your main meal at lunch rather than dinner, and Marks says blends of Ayurvedic herbs like Digest Tone may help.
If getting on a massage table once a week is out of the question (a girl can dream), you can practice the art of Abhyanga, Ayurveda’s daily oil massage, on your own. It’s just a matter of taking however many minutes you can spare—from two to 20—to give your skin some love. “It’s a very powerful tool before or after a shower,” says Posner, and has healing qualities. Look for Ayurvedic sesame oil blend or one with herbs suited to your dosha. “The gentle massage will increase circulation, loosen toxins, and stimulate nerve endings, she says, resulting in a sense of calm you can carry with you. Follow these how-to instructions the first time, and soon you’ll be a pro.
Smell is one of the most powerful senses, and cities like New York and Los Angeles can be full of the wrong kinds that will send alarm bells to your brain. But just as scents can make you keel over, they can also send you into a state of bliss. Marks suggests keeping a few balancing Ayurvedic oils on hand at your desk or in a drawer at home, and when you’re feeling frazzled, smell a few and see which you respond to.
“Mother Nature knows best,” he explains. “The one that smells the best at that time is the one your body is craving to create balance in that moment.”
It’s an obvious one that’s hard to follow, we know, but it has to be said. “The body heals itself during sleep,” Marks says. Ayurvedic principles recommend turning in before 10:00 p.m. and waking with the sunrise, but for 99.9 percent of us, that’s just not realistic. Still, “there are simple cues you can send your body” to help improve the quality of your sleep, he says. Powering down electronics and slowing down a half hour before you’re going to hit the hay and not bringing an iAnything into bed with you. In the morning, your well-rested body will be more balanced and ready to deal with potential pressures.
Whether you sign up to learn TM like Lena Dunham or just practice one of these mini-meditations for five minutes on the subway, learning to find some silence within will go a long way towards keeping cool when otherwise your feathers may have been ruffled, Marks and Posner say. “Unlike sleep, where you lose awareness, you actually stay restfully alert [when you meditate], so your body is very very relaxed, but your body is also tuned in,” Marks explains. “The more you experience restful alertness, the more silence underlies every activity, where we’re just grounded in ourselves, in silence. And that silence grows over time.” It’ll come in handy to deal with the noise.