Winter Well-Being in Ayurveda for Health, Harmony & Balance
A few days ago, we celebrated Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, also known as the “return of the sun” as it marks the beginning of more sunlight on Earth. After the solstice, the days start to get longer and the nights shorter as more sunlight starts falling on the Earth. I have therefore decided to experience winter with more joy.
Ayurveda recognises winter as a Kapha season as it is characterised by cold weather, a sense of heaviness, moisture (rain or snow), and cloudy days. The winter season is also characterised by a feeling of lethargy when animals and humans generally go into a hibernating mode. It has also a strong Vata touch with the climate that can also be quite windy and dry, which are Vata attributes.
Eating and living "Ayurvedically" for winter involves balancing both of these doshas so you can thrive in the winter months. In this article, we'll explore Ayurveda's guidelines for winter to help you find balance, health and harmony throughout the winter season.
Bear in mind that everyone is different, and therefore certain suggestions might not apply to you depending on your Ayurvedic body type or current state of balance.
Winter foods that are easily digestible are ideal if you want to boost your immune system: fresh, wholesome and if possible organic. Some of the best foods to eat in winter are fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and ghee (clarified butter). It’s also important to avoid processed food, foods produced with chemicals and preservatives, or even those which are canned, frozen, and packaged. They disrupt the functioning of the digestive system and the immune system.
Spice up your life
Certain spices work to improve blood circulation and warm up the body: ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, chili, mustard, turmeric, and cayenne pepper to your meals. They boost immunity, help maintain clear respiratory passages, aid digestion, and heat up the body from within. Add them to your meal or drink them in herbal teas.
For breakfast, you could for example have warm porridge cooked with cardamom and/or cinnamon, and some ginger.
Recharge with root vegetables
Root vegetables (sweet potatoes, squash, potatoes, carrots, and beetroot) are hearty, heavy, and nutrient dense - ideal for winter. They are also rich in vitamin A and C, fibre, and antioxidants, which support your body during the winter months. You can cook root vegetables in vegetable stews and soups, and don’t forget to use plenty of spices!
Go for protein
Protein is an essential nutrient for the body’s structural strength, immunity, and skin health. Winter is a time where it’s worth increasing your protein intake. Try adding one or more protein sources – like nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, chickpeas, tofu, or tempeh – to each main meal and snacks. If you're a meat eater, Ayurveda says that winter is the time to eat it because Agni (digestive fire) is strong. Go for organic; grass-fed turkey or chicken.
Don’t be afraid of fat
During winter, healthy fat provides the body with insulation, heat production, and nourishes the skin and joints. My go-to healthy fat (and Ayurveda's favourite) is clarified butter (ghee), but you can also opt for olive oil (but don't heat it, use it after your food is cooked), coconut oil, sesame oil or sunflower oil.
Drink warm water & herbal tea
Warm water cleanses the stomach and removes the toxins and waste products from the body. It is highly recommended for Vatas and Kaphas as they need to get warmed up. When this hot water is infused with herbs and spices, it provides energy and enhances digestion.
Here are a few recipes you can try out.
* Morning power lemon water
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- black pepper
- 1 lemon
Squeeze a lemon, add the spices - mix well. then add a big glass of warm (not boiling hot) water.
Best on an empty stomach after you've brushed your teeth; and then wait for another 30 minutes having breakfast.
* Warming herbal tea
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger (fresh grated)
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamon (ground)
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (ground)
- 1 cup boiling water
Mix the ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon together. Boil the water and then add it to the herb and spice mixture. Steep the tea, covered, for five minutes. Strain and discard the herbs and spices and serve warm.
* Simple Ginger Tea
- A big chunk of fresh ginger, sliced - ¼ lemon - 1 teaspoon raw honey (optional)
Place the sliced ginger in a small saucepan and add 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool to a palatable temperature. Before drinking, add a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of raw honey.
On one hand Kapha needs to shake things up a bit and does not do well with routine, but on the hand, Vata needs more routine and grounding. Certain parts of your day—like the times that you wake up, work, eat, and sleep—can easily be the same from one day to the next, while other times of day can provide for some spontaneity and a diversity of activies.
Start your day with a short but invigorating morning routine.
Try to rise before 7am.
Brush your teeth, scrape your tongue, and do a sesame oil swish.
Perform a warm oil massage with sesame oil, followed with a warm shower.
Before eating or drinking anything, drink some warm water or herbal tea (see above) to activate the digestive system.
Put a few drops of Nasya Oil in the nostrils to awaken the mind and lubricate the respiratory passages.
Shake off any cloudiness with some morning exercise or yoga.
You can read more about the Morning Ayurvedic practices here.
In the evening, you can follow a simple routine as well.
Plan on going to bed around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.
Rub a little sesame oil on the soles of your feet (and your scalp if you feel like it) when you get to bed.
You can read more about the Evening Ayurvedic practices here.
Here are another few recommendations for winter time:
Wear bright warming colours such as mustard, deep red, gold and orange; it's a simple yet effective way to encourage a cosy sensation.
Always cover your ears, neck, and head with a scarf or hat if you are outside in the cold; more than 60% of the body heat is lost through the head.
Calm down and rest don't run like a headless chicken. Find some peace and quiet, go for gentle walks, do gentle yoga.
Although a nap may be tempting (and is actually acceptable in summer and autumn), sleeping in the daytime is not recommended during winter because it'll increase Kapha, slow down metabolism, and reduce your digestive fire (the cornerstone of health).
According to Ayurvedic tradition, you can have sex more often.
On a more "sarcastic" note, I don't know if I should cry or laugh so I thought I'd share with you. One of my reference book (The Complete book of Ayurvedic Remedies by Vasand Lad) stresses the fact that winter is conducive to loneliness and depression, and therefore recommends to never be too far from boyfriend, girlfriend, wife or husband. "When it is cold outside and inside and there in no one to sleep with, you will definitely feel lonely. When you have a companion in the winter, you feel great." This is very enlightening, isn't it? So if like me you're single, it's a good time to get a pet!
Finally, on a more spiritual note, the transition from fall to winter is a time to reflect and go within. Winter Solstice was a few days ago and marked a return to light from the darkness that we experience within ourselves and in nature; it symbolises death and rebirth – new beginnings and fresh starts.
Burn a list of things to release
What do you need to let go of so you can rise? Is it fear? Stress? Worry? Regret? Negative-self talk? Body hatred? What is it that is holding you back? Take a moment to reflect and write it all down. Once you have your list, read it aloud, take a moment to genuinely say goodbye to each item, and toss it in the fireplace or another fire-safe recipient.
Invite the light back into your life
Take a moment to reflect on what the light means to you. What/who makes you feel illuminated and what lights you up? When you’ve thought about this or made a list, you can close your eyes and envision a bright white light glowing from your heart center. Take a few deep breaths, inhaling deeply and visualising this bright white light coming in your nostrils, and as you deeply breathe out, visualise a dark smoke. Inhale the light and release the darkness.
Happy Winter, everyone.
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Love & light.