Atmosphere and Ayurveda

It’s strange how the weather has such a powerful effect on our moods.  As much as I truly believe that we are in control of how we feel, sometimes it is a battle with external elements like deadlines, relationships, how comfortable we feel where we are, who we are with, and just the general atmosphere.  It’s hard to stay positive when you’re swamped at work, surrounded by negative people, or  in a place with toxic energy (library during finals week, anyone?), but I find it even more difficult to fight the weather.

Of course there are diagnoses like Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I think it goes deeper than that.  I was reading this article about how different people are affected by the weather, and it classifies people into four types- those people who are unaffected by the weather or seasons, people who love summer, people who hate summer and people who love rain.  I think this is a bit of an oversimplification, but I do agree that different types of people react differently to different types of weather.  Obviously it has something to do with personality, but I also think it has to do with prakruti and vikruti.  Prakruti and vikruti are Ayurvedic terms for your body’s constitution (long term and short term, respectively), or doshas (The Ayurvedic Institute has some great resources if you’re interested in learning more).

I am vata-pitta, slightly more pitta in the summer and more vata in the winter.  I find that the wind (air, an element of vata) energizes me in the winter but makes me a bit dozy in the summer.  Warmth and fire (pitta) give me energy in the summer but make me want curl up in bed when it’s cold outside.

It can be difficult to pick yourself up when it’s clammy and cold, but if you know your body type and personality, it can be done.  Ayurvedic teachings tell us which flavors will complement our prakruti and vikruti (basically which foods suit your body type), and I think that on days when you may not be feeling your best it’s particularly important to eat well.  When I’m tending towards pitta in the summer, I do sometimes crave ice cream despite being nearly entirely vegan.  When it’s cold and I’m feeling more vata I go for cooked vegetables and beans.  This is also true on a day-to-day basis- knowing your body type and which foods complement it can make a huge difference in your mood- sort of like eating comfort food, but in a healthy way.

Of course, simply realising that the weather is causing you to feel a certain way is often a good first step.  It can be very easy to focus on negative thoughts while you’re sitting watching raindrops trickle down the window, or to forget about all of your problems while you’re laying in the sunshine.  If you acknowledge that you’re in a certain mindset largely because of the weather, it becomes a lot easier to change your perspective.

Coffee: let’s settle this once and for all.

I used to be pretty addicted to coffee.  We’re talking 20-25 cups each day.  Within the last few years I’ve been a lot better, only having 2 cups before hitting the gym every morning and maybe one more during the day every so often.  This week, I totally slipped back into old habits.  Not terribly, but yesterday I drank about seven cups, the day before I had four, and the beginning of the week was rough too.  I didn’t feel jittery or any extremely negative effects, but it did make me wonder about caffeine.  There have been so many studies done that seem to contradict each other, but here’s a roundup of what I’ve found so you can decide for yourself.  These are mostly about coffee, but in many cases are applicable to any naturally occurring caffeine.

  • Studies suggest that it reduces risks of certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, liver disease, gout, diabetes, some cancers, gallstones, and Parkinson’s.
  • It dulls pain (hence my pre-workout coffee chugging)
  • Improved endurance for long-term activities (again, a great pre-gym beverage!)
  • Boosts energy and productivity (but you do usually “crash.”  This Harvard study recommends drinking small amounts of coffee during the day to avoid this.)
  • Can reduce risk of heart attacks
  • Laxative- this can be good or bad, I suppose.  This is specific to coffee, not necessarily other caffeine sources.
  • Diuretic- some say that in moderation, it doesn’t dry you out but personally I think I still get a bit drier.  Also specific to coffee.
  • Dependency- caffeine is pretty addictive.
  • Stomach problems- coffee is very acidic so upset stomachs are not uncommon and can lead to damaging of the stomach’s lining
  • Jitters
  • Sleep patterns change- this is pretty easy to control, though.  Often not drinking coffee in the afternoon is all it takes.
  • High cholesterol- Coffee increases LDL levels.  Paper filters can help reduce this effect, but using more eco-friendly French Presses do not.
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease- perhaps the raised cholesterol effect is slight so this outweighs it?
  • Can slow cognitive effects of aging- similar to how it slows Alzheimer’s, perhaps?
  • Increased metabolism
  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent urination (yeah, this is unfortunate)
  • Can increase cortisol, though you can build a tolerance
  • Can reduce harmful effects of alcohol, according to this MSNBC article– does only mention the damage to the liver though, not any terrible decisions you might have made as a result of being inebriated (sorry)
Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list by any means and not all of what I read was particularly scholarly- if you have more information, please let me know!  I realise that relying on a substance is a terrible, terrible thing.  But the way I see it, as long as I don’t wake up craving a cup and as long as I’m not dozy and useless without it, it’s a pretty innocuous indulgence.  I really do notice a big difference when I drink some before hitting the gym, as well.  My stamina is far better and I also feel that I get a more efficient workout.  Once in awhile needing a cup mid-day isn’t great since it means I didn’t sleep well the night before, but as long as I know I can crash later it’s not a huge issue.  Its effects like higher cholesterol, cortisol, and blood pressure can all be counteracted by exercise and maintaining low stress levels, so as far as I’m concerned we are in the clear, fellow coffee-drinkers!

Vices

We all have one.  Or two.  Or seven.  But that’s what makes us human- if we all followed our diets religiously, never touched alcohol, avoided trashy TV, and always went to bed on time, we would be perfect.  And so ridiculously boring.

Generally speaking, I am a very healthy person and I don’t often even feel the need to indulge.  But once in awhile, something gives.  On my 21st birthday, I drank an entire bottle of champagne- before I even went out.  The thing is, what some people consider indulgences are things that many others engage in really frequently.  If you live a truly healthy lifestyle, occasionally drinking a ridiculous amount of alcohol or eating way too much sugar is not going to kill you (well, don’t get too ridiculous).  In fact if you restrain yourself for awhile, you will enjoy your “splurge” that much more.  And even better than that is what happens afterwards: the hangover.  Yes, I said better.

After I do something that I really wanted to do even though I knew it was a bad decision, I realise how much worse it actually made me feel.  Yes, I really enjoyed that bar of chocolate- but now I feel bloated and oily, and I remember why I don’t really eat them.  Or yeah, drinking way too much was fun at the time, but this morning my head is pounding and I am never doing it again.  Obviously it will happen again, but at least in the meantime at least I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

If you indulge every so often, you’re much less likely to go absolutely nuts- indulging in a bit of chocolate on a miserable monday will make you feel like you’re not depriving yourself and it will satisfy you for awhile.  Even if you splurge every week, hey- that’s six days of healthiness you have that you didn’t before.  If you go a year without eating chocolate and then walk into the grocery store the day after Valentine’s- well, I would not want to be between you and the candy aisle.

The moral of the story?  Embrace the fact that you’re human and you’re allowed to throw your body out of whack every once in awhile.  Don’t be irritatingly perfect because you will be secretly miserable, and one day you will crack.  If you’re healthy 95% of the time, don’t feel guilty for wanting to do something irresponsible, unhealthy, or just plain stupid.  You’ll bounce back!  But just in case, here are some tips for warding off cravings:

  • Exercise– even just a bit of a walk.  Endorphins are powerful!
  • Get outside- fresh air does wonders.
  • Have a glass of water- you might just be thirsty.  Our bodies often confuse hunger and thirst.
  • Have a conversation- connect with someone, or even just go on Facebook for a minute or two.
  •  Play a stupid online game- sometimes that feels like indulging, too.
  •  Substitute- if you want something sweet, go for fruit or yogurt.  Or have a handful of nuts instead of chips.
  • Do anything to distract yourself- check your email, organise your desk.
  • Wait ten minutes- most cravings pass in five.
  • Laugh- lots of cravings are emotional rather than physical.  You might just need a mood boost!
  • Just do it already- if you still want a bag of Skittles after going crazy trying to distract yourself, eat a fun-sized one.  If you had a rough couple of weeks and want to party all night, drink and be merry.  You’ll enjoy it, and then life will move on.