Stay warm this Winter with these Ayurveda tips
The Winter Solstice brings the excitement of the holidays, followed by a time to naturally withdraw, rest, move energy inward and enjoy the stillness of the season.
The doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) are the energies in the mind, body and emotions that influence how we experience life.
Kapha is composed of Earth and Water elements and its function in the body is to give shape, structure, support, strength, protection and lubrication. It also maintains memory and immunity. Emotionally, Kapha brings us feelings of love, care, compassion, kindness, forgiveness and a calm, gentle spirit.
Early Winter season (transitioning from Fall) also has the qualities of Vata dosha as it can be more clear, cold and dry. The seasons affect each individual a little differently depending on our constitutions and the qualities we naturally have.
The basic rule of Ayurveda is that “like increases like and opposites balance.” We can use this as a guideline to avoid imbalance, illness and disease throughout the year.
Because Winter is predominantly a Kapha season, Kapha type imbalances are more likely to manifest, especially in those with Kapha constitutions. These include colds, cough, congestion, sinus and ear infections, and a feeling of heaviness in the body. Feelings of depression, including SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) can be more common this time of year, as well as a general feeling of lethargy and a desire to be sedentary. It is important for us to stay healthy during the cold and flu season by pacifying the tendency towards these imbalances.
The Sanskrit word for immunity is “vyadhikshamatra,” which literally means “forgiveness of disease.” Immunity is connected to the strength of our Agni (digestive fire) and its ability to burn up disease before it takes root in the body. We forgive the disease and then move on. It is a constant effort for the body to maintain homeostasis.
Here are some ways to support the Agni through the Winter:
- Enjoy a warm and nourishing diet, which can include oatmeal or hot cereal, soups, stews, cooked vegetables. Quinoa and kitchari are good options as the body craves more substantial foods this time of year.
- Use warming spices to support digestion. Think fresh ginger, cinnamon, cardamom.
- Drink warm water and warm herbal teas throughout the day. Tulsi tea is great for colds, congestion, flu, sore throat and stress.
- Listen to your inner wisdom and use moderation to enjoy holiday celebrations without overindulging.
Here are some things to avoid:
- Excess sweet and salty tastes
- Excess dairy, which increases mucous in the body
- Cold foods and iced drinks as they weaken the digestion; heavy, oily fried foods
- Eating too late and snacking throughout the day
Another way to enhance immunity is by keeping equanimity in the mind. Try to accept what is without resistance or attachment. More stress can be added to our system without a calm mind. This is where a regular yoga practice, pranayama and meditation can bring peace to our daily lives.
A yoga practice can vary depending on our daily and individual needs.
If feeling scattered, overwhelmed or run down, do a more gentle practice, slow down and rejuvenate. Legs up the wall is a great pose to calm Vata disturbances in the mind (anxiety and nervousness).
If feeling heavy or unmotivated or just need to balance out the holiday fun, practice more vigorously. Sun salutes are perfect to warm and energize the body. Standing poses, forward folds and backbends also help.
Poses such as cobra, bow and spinal twists are especially good for digestion and stimulate metabolism.
These ideas apply to pranayama (breath work) as well. If you’re feeling stressed, calm and soothe the mind with Alternate Nostril Breathing. Kapalabati or “breath of fire” can be practiced to increase heat and circulation and bring lightness to the mind. But if breath work causes feelings of lightheadedness, please skip it.
A regular meditation practice allows us to connect to a deeper part of ourselves that remains untouched by all the ups and downs of life. The relaxation and the realization that you already have everything you need and that everything will be OK allow you to move through the day from a more centered and grounded space. It is a practice and a discipline that benefits every aspect of your being, and only requires a few minutes each day.
The Dali Lama has said that he meditates for one hour each day, and that on really busy days he meditates for two hours …
Some other lifestyle suggestions include:
- Keeping a regular routine around waking up, meal times and going to bed. Avoid staying up too late.
- Get plenty of daily exercise and some sunshine too, to avoid those winter blues.
- Keep warm and dry. Stay covered when going outside to avoid being cold.
- Try the Neti Pot or Nasya Oil to clear the sinuses and enliven the mind.
- Nourish the skin and joints with warm oil massage. Also, massage the head and soles of the feet with coconut or sesame oil before bed to support the nervous system and promote sound sleep.
- Spend time with family and friends to cultivate loving, heart-centered relationships.
Ayurveda’s wisdom gives us suggestions on how to align with the rhythms of Nature. Adapt these routines to your own individual needs and practice what feels right for you. Learning about ourselves and what is most appropriate for us allows us to experience health and vitality in this next phase of the year. And we can all stay warm together at YAM!!