Tips for calming nerves

by Kristen Timchak

I've been thinking a lot about the nervous system lately. I am so curious about this system of impulses that runs through our bodies; connecting physical, emotional and mental well being in so many ways. I am curious about the enteric nervous system and the fact that I have a second “brain” in my gut. I am constantly fascinated by this body and the genius of the design.


The nervous system is a mystery and a puzzle to me, and I am just scratching the surface in understanding the science behind this complex system. But what I have been having a deeper understanding of recently is the nervous system's relation to Vata Dosha in Ayurvedic thought. Vata Dosha is comprised of the air and space elements. The qualities of Vata are cold, dry, rough, subtle, mobile and clear. And Vata rules the nervous system.


We all have Vata in our constitutions, but some people have it more than others. And certain seasons, times of day, times of life and lifestyle choices can increase the amount of Vata we have in our bodies and minds. Actually, many of the things we do in the western world can create Vata imbalance. I can think of at least five things I've done today to aggravate Vata (drinking caffeinated tea, driving in my car, eating popcorn, rushing, spending too much time on my phone and computer). Vata rules the nervous system (think about it, the nervous system is subtle and mobile, just like Vata).

I have been noticing this in my own life. When I am traveling a lot, or don't have routine or when I get too busy and don't take enough time to nurture myself, I notice that my mind gets scattered, my digestive system gets blocked up and inconsistent, I am more prone to anxiety and feeling overwhelmed in my life. As I learn more about this and experiment more, I have really begun to see the connections between my lifestyle choices and the quality of my nervous system and anxiety levels. I can see how simple things I do to manage Vata make a big difference in the health of my nervous system.


For me, creating routine is a big one. I often resist it, but when I create simple routines in my life, my mind starts to “know what’s coming” and then can relax. It gives a structure and container to hold the always changing Vata. Simple things like waking and going to sleep around the same time most days. Going for a walk in the morning after I wake up and doing some type of yoga or meditation practice. It feels important for me to make the time to do these things, and I can really feel the difference in my body and mind when I make time to nurture myself.

I have also gotten into the practice of massaging myself with warm oil. In Ayurveda we often work with opposites to create balance. Warm, heavy, unctuous oil has opposite qualities of subtle, cold, dry, rough Vata. Oil internally and externally is one of the best ways to ground and nourish Vata and our nervous systems. I like to use sesame oil in the winter and coconut oil in the summer.

I also find diet and herbs to be a helpful way to ground myself when I start to feel out of balance. When I feel my nervous system get stressed and my Vata high I go towards warm, oily nourishing foods and try to avoid things that are raw, cold, dry or light (it’s all about the opposites!). And there are amazing herbs that can help calm and soothe frayed nerves. I tend towards using tonic or adaptogen herbs like ashwagandha and tulsi to help support my system on a regular basis. I love passionflower and skullcap for soothing an overactive mind and nervous system. Milky oat tops are another favorite that nourish and soothe. When I get that anxious feeling in my belly, I use herbs like chamomile and lemon balm that help digestion as well as calm the enteric nervous system. When my mind gets dull or feels unfocused I go toward herbs like gotu kola and brahmi that bring circulation to the brain as well as nourish and soothe Vata Dosha.


In my life, staying in balance is an ongoing process of listening to my body and lots of experimentation. But I am finding that the more that I tune into Vata and notice when it begins to go out of balance and do things to bring it back, the more that my overall health improves.

Kristen TimchakKristen Timchak is an Ayurvedic practitioner and herbalist. She offers Ayurvedic body treatments to ground the delicate nervous system that gets so taxed in our modern society. Contact Kristen directly to schedule appointments. Her line of Blossoming Heart Elixirs are currently 20% off in the HAALo Herb Shoppe until May 25.

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