Most of us in winter are less active than we would usually the rest of the year. And so it should be according to nature. But Winter brings along an excess of the Kapha Dosha, characterised by heavyness, cold, accumulation, immobility and stagnation. Restoring the balance means keeping a routine that promotes circulation, warmth, reduces accumulation (of phlegm and weight for example), creating heat thus promoting the digestive fire, a balanced body temperature and counteracting stiffness of the ligaments and joints.
Here is an article to help you go through the cold and damp season according to the Ayurvedic tradition.
WINTER: KAPHA (++), VATA (+), PITTA (-)
Seasons have a crucial importance in our health according to Ayurveda. They are a major part of our environment and as such they should influence the way we eat and the lifestyle we adopt.
At the beginning of winter, we feel strong and are charged with the energy of the preceding season. The incoming cold blocks the spreading of energy so that we retain a strong Agni (also known as "metabolism" or "inner fire" which rule over our ability to transform and renew -be it, cells, food digestion, or big ideas).
But as the winter progresses, we burn that accumulated energy. Winter means "cold". But depending on your location and your constitution, you migth be more affected by a dry cold or a damp cold. This would be the main difference between a Kapha dominant individual or weather (dampness) and a Vata dominant individual or weather (Vata). The damp aggravation increases heaviness, stagnation and immobility being responsible for sinusitis, colds, pneumonia, breathing disorders, chronic accumulation of phlegm and catarrhs, while dry cold is due to the win and will create skin disorders , dry coughs and more.
The importance of one or the other dosha depends on which is the dominant in your constitution. You can take the test HERE to see what is your dominant dosha. What is common to the two, in any case, is that circulation is reduced or blocked and accumulation of toxins increased due to the cold.
Here we discuss the things you can do to restore balance by increasing your inner fire and clear the toxins responsible for so many of our winter immunity issues.
There is no need to wake as early as it would be in autumn, spring or summer. Ayurveda recommends to wake up around 5am usually or before sunrise which makes it very early in summer... But in winter, we get some slack by being advised to wake up around 7am.
Tongue scrapping is a good idea year-round, but as toxins accumulates in the winter, it’s even more relevant here. Tongue scrapping is recommended daily, but 3 or 4 times a week will make a difference.
Jala Neti & Kapalabathi Pranayama
Jala Neti is the process by which we clear our nose with salt water (chose Rock salt or Himalayan salt. Refrain from using sea salt) and therefore the sinuses which are most affected in winter. You should boil 1 Litre of water, then add 2 tsp of rock salt, leave it to cool down enough so it’s only slightly warm. Taste the water which shouldn’t be as "salty as your tears". Using a Neti pot, place it in one nostril. Tilt your head to the opposite side and keep the mouth opened which will help circulating the salty water from one nostril to the other.
Once you have done these two to four rounds per nostril, go into a Downward Dog Yoga Asana, followed by the Child Pose. Then, find a comfortable sitting position and practice Kapalabathi Pranayam. These two practices together will help your breathing, prevent the accumulation of phlegm and catarrh, preventing illness like colds, sinusitis and flu and reduce snoring.
In addition, you can also practice Bastrika pranayama which also creates heat and fire in the body, thus soothing Kapha and Vata doshas.
This is recommended daily for yogis, but 3 to 4 times a week will also give great results.
Tip: Do not practice these breathing techniques in the evening, as they also create energy and could prevent you from falling asleep.
Oil Self Massage a.k.a Abhyanga
The founding ayurvedic texts state that one should oil their body and head with sesame oil (cold pressed virgin preferably – avoid the toasted sesame which is only good for cooking) as one wakes up. This is again a measure that helps counter the cold, hence balancing the excess of Vata and Kapha Dosha. It promotes circulation and helps the lynphatic system which is responsible for our immunity. The warmth of the Sesame oil will balance the two doshas and combat dryness. it acts as a protection too. After this self-massage, have your regular shower with or without soap.
Tip: you can add a few drops of warming essential oils to your cold-pressed sesame oil to add a nice fragrance to the body and make that morning practice a mediative and pleasurable one: Ylang Ylang, bitter orange, frankincense, musk are a few choices.
The use of Kumkumadi oil (which is made of turmeric, saffron, vetiver, Sandalwood, Sesame oil, Turmeric, Manjishtha, and more) on the face and neck is warming and appropriate and beneficial all year round but especially in winter. It will help with Hyperpigmentation, Dark spots, Age spots, Acne scars, Fine lines, Wrinkles as well as Dark circles and will remove impurity, redness or inflammation. It will counteract dryness of the skin.
Most of us in winter are less active than we would the rest of the year. To avoid the accumulation of Kapha means keeping a physical routine that promotes circulation, warmth, reduces accumulation of phlegm and weight for example). It also creates heat thus promoting the digestive fire, a balance body temperature and counteracts stiffness of the ligaments and joints.
If you practice yoga, repeat the Sun Salutation every morning for about 20 minutes. It’s enough to create heat in the body on a winter day. It will increase joint mobility at a time of the year where we certainly feel stiffer due to the temperature, the tendency to be sedentary and the potential dryness of the weather.
Asanas which clear the throat and sinuses, open the chest and breathing pathways are recommended in that they prevent congestion, cold and flu created by accumulation of the Kapha Dosha. Here are a few asanas which will do just that
Shoulder stand and head stand
Locust pose, Boat, camel, lion and bow poses
Any form of indoor exercise will also help: Pilates, cardio and so on. Try to hit the gym a couple of times a week to keep the body moving and enhance circulation
Navigate the "Recipes" section of this blog to find recipes for the winter
Have a Ginger Lime and Honey tea in the morning. These 3 ingredients are heating, warm the body, promote digestion, and clear the breathing pathways. You can also add a 1/4tsp of cinnamon and a pinch clove to it (do not add these two spices if you have digestive issues like ulcers or heart burn)
Lunch & Dinner:
Whole wheat or ancient wheat flours breads, flat breads without yeast in them (pitta, chapati, soda breads for example) will soothe Kapha without aggravating Vata.
Meat Broths are nourishing and easy to digest. Chicken and turkey are good choices too
Cooked vegetables are best, avoid all raw foods and green salads
Soups and mash are great
Add some digestive winter spices: pippali, liquorice, fresh ginger, cinnamon, cumin.
Time to have red wine: ayurveda recommend red wine in the winter season, indulge.
Depression, Relationships & Sex
As it’s gloomy outside, we tend to stay home. Staying home means fewer social connections and a lot more isolation which isn’t great for our moods. If you’re single, winter is the time to find that significant other.
Ayurveda is concerned with your sexual activity. Excess sex is often listed a reason to many illnesses. As a result, it's often recommended not to abuse "it". Well, it turns out that Winter is the only season where it is recommended. More sex is beneficial to our body and mind, so enjoy!
Physical activity and social connection help fight depression which is often triggered in winter, when the gloomy weather makes us more sentimental and lonely.
Napping is fine for Vata and Pitta constitutions most of the year but not in winter. It is never advised in Kapha dominant individuals as it increases stagnant energy and promotes a depressed mind. Napping slows down our metabolism by halting the digestion mainly, promoting accumulation and stagnation.
I hope this will help wait a bit longer for that Spring to come…