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Ayurveda and the Holidays

From Laura Coburn, Director of Serenity

The holidays come at the time of year when we should be putting the most emphasis on self-care and nourishment. Nature sleeps during the winter: days are short, plants go dormant, and animals hibernate. Winter is a time for storing up and settling down. If we take our cues from the natural world, this is an ideal time for taking stock of things—for looking inward, listening to our own needs, being mindful of our energy.


Ironically, the holiday season can be the most depleting time of year. We rush about, eating more than we need, making commitments to friends and family, and often sacrificing sweet, healing sleep for one more hour of merriment. The social and cultural pressure to give, give, give can leave us exhausted at a time when we should be replenishing for the year ahead.

In Ayurvedic science, the vital energy that sustains our wellbeing is called ojas. Building and sustaining ojas is central to Ayurvedic practice: without it, our health becomes unbalanced and our vitality suffers. One can think of ojas as the oil in the lamp: without the oil, the flame grows dim and eventually won’t burn at all.

What I appreciate about Ayurveda is that its approach to wellbeing isn’t strident or based on deprivation. The practice of Ayurveda supports us in enjoying life’s pleasures—but doing so in moderation and with balance. Ayurveda’s regular wellness practice makes the body and mind resilient enough to process and digest the occasionally sensory overload (like a second helping of holiday cookies).

As challenging as it can be, respecting your wellness needs during the winter months is crucial. If you allow your lamp to burn too brightly without restoring your ojas during the holidays, in a season that should be about renewal, you’ll be left feeling depleted. With a little mindfulness, you can enjoy the spirit of the season while still maintaining the vital energy that will carry you into the new year.

With that in mind, here are some easy Ayurvedic practices that you can use to support good health and balance throughout the holidays:

#1: Be Discerning about Social Commitments

This is one of the most difficult practices to adopt, but also the most effective. Expectations are high at the holidays: parties and celebrations are everywhere, and nobody wants to be seen as anti-social Grinch. You might feel pressured to accept every invitation and attend every gathering.

But stay strong!

When planning your holiday schedule, choose only the gatherings that will bring you joy and leave you feeling a sense of connection. Decline events that feel obligatory and will add stress without value to your life. By being realistic about what you’re putting into your social obligations and what you’re getting in return, you’ll have more capacity for pursuing your wellness practice, while still getting the most out of the gatherings that matter.

#2: Let Yourself Off The Hook

In addition to making time for the gatherings that matter, allow yourself the pure luxury of your own good company.

Give yourself permission to take a break from the holidays: make time for yourself—at least twice as much as you’ve allotted for celebrating with others—and make a commitment to yourself to enjoy it.

Rest yourself well, as often as you can, so that you can be present and vibrant when you give your time, treasure, or heart to others.

#3: Give From a Place of Abundance, Not Lack

Even when we’re not filling our social calendars, there are still cards to mail, gifts to wrap, menus to prepare, and cookies to bake. We can’t do it all and also take care of ourselves. Celebrate your good intentions—but let yourself follow through on just some!

If baking cookies feels more like a chore than a celebration, considering letting go. The holidays are about more than just treats and gifts: the wellness you create by putting away the baking sheet and taking time for yourself will mean more and last longer than even the best holiday cookie.

More importantly, making food should be done with the right intention. Holiday treats are meant to be enjoyable. Ayurveda speaks to the nourishment we take from food that is made with love. No one wants to swallow resentment.

Be honest with yourself about whether you’re preparing this food and these gifts out of joy, or out of obligation. If you find it’s the latter, what can you give instead? Maybe instead of cookies and toys, the best holiday gifts for you to give are love, attention, and kind words.

#4: Make Soup

During my training, my wise Ayurveda teacher, Kathryn Templeton, offered me this timeless piece of wisdom: “When in doubt, make soup.”

Which is also to say, when you’re feeling depleted, make time to eat something warm, prepared with love from fresh ingredients. Soup is a symbol of good health for a reason: more than any other food, it’s a tonic of nutrients in an emotionally nourishing form—easily digestible, filling, and warming. It’s perfect medicine for times when the weather outside is frightful.

For extra wellness benefits, turn the preparation of soup into an opportunity for meditation. Slow down, prepare each ingredient mindfully, and think with gratitude about the process that brought each one to your kitchen.

#5: Get Some Sleep

It may be a cliché at this point, but it really is impossible to overstate the importance of a good night’s sleep.

When we sleep, we rest and digest. We heal and build ojas. If you’re on the holiday party circuit, it’s unlikely that you’ll be turning in early and prioritizing nighttime rest. Getting enough rest shouldn’t be about denial—anxiety about sleep shouldn’t prevent you from joining the celebrations that are important to you—but it’s good to be mindful of your sleep budget as you plan your holiday schedule.

If you know you’ll be out late celebrating, look for opportunities to bank some extra sleep ahead of time; on nights when you’re at home, consider forgoing some of your normal evening routines in favor of a quiet evening and an early bedtime.

Following these practices as much as possible throughout the holidays will keep your ojas strong and your energy balanced. Rather than depriving you of your holiday cheer, a diligent wellness practice will allow you to enjoy everything the season has to offer. You’ll be ready to greet the new year feeling strong and grounded, without the post-holiday crash that many people struggle with.