Here is the Southern Hemisphere, we are currently in the midst of winter. It's cold, it's wet, it's dark and according to Ayurveda, the winter season is dominated by the Vata and Kapha doshas. The Vata qualities can be seen in the cold, dry, and windy aspects of winter, while the cloudy, wet, dark, and heavy days as seen as the Kapha influence. It's important to keep in mind both dosha's when trying to stay balanced and healthy this winter. Here are some tips on how to keep both vata and kapha in check.
I know it sounds obvious but you need to stay warm during winter. Keep in mind that Ayurveda teaches us like increases like and that opposites balance. So if the colder months are giving you the chills, and you just can't keep warm, it's likely that your kapha or vata will increase and in turn cause imbalances. So when going outside wear layers and rug up. Make sure you keep your hands and feet toasty warm. And make a special effort cover your neck and ears as these areas are controlled by the vata dosha.
Eat & drink warm
Ayurveda is all about keeping our Agni (digestive fire) strong. It explains that all disease starts with improper digestion of food, resulting in the accumulation of Ama (toxins), which then flows through the body causing disease. If our Agni is not working properly we cannot digest our food. It is especially important to keep our Agni strong in the winter months when it can become little sluggish. So how do we do this? By eating warm and cooked foods. By cooking food you are starting the process of digestion before the food even enters your body. This means your Agni doesn't need to work so hard to break down the food into nutrients. And by eating warm foods (in temperature and energetically) you are adding heat to the fire, making sure your digestion is working at its best. Put simply warm cooked foods are easy to digest, cold raw foods are difficult to digest. So forget raw foods, salads, cereal, and smoothies during winter! Consuming these foods is like dousing a fire with cold water – your digestive fire will be diminished. Instead go for warm and nourishing soups, curries, stews, slow cooked meals, porridge, etc. Another thing - this is the time of year to go crazy on spices! Most spices have a warming effect on the body, and therefore counteract the coldness of winter beautifully. Go for spices like cinnamon, cumin, fennel, cardamom, black pepper, mustard seeds, cayenne pepper, chili – your Agni will love it!
One of the best things I have done since starting my journey into Ayurveda is to switch from drinking cold water to warm water. Even before I came across Ayurveda I didn't like iced water or water from fridge – the body knows what's good for us if we tune into it! I know it may sound a little crazy but I highly recommend giving it ago. You will feel so much better for it and it will just feel right. Again, it comes back to stoking our digestive fire. Putting cold water on the fire is just going to put it out. On the other hand, drinking warm water will encourage a strong and healthy digestion. Plus it has a detoxifying effect. During winter it's recommended to sip on warm throughout the day.
Rest & reflection
Ayurveda places great importance in living our life according to natural rhythms of nature. So as animals and plants go into hibernation, so too should we. The shorter day light hours and the heaviness of the winter months give us an opportunity to slow down, to give ourselves time for rest and reflection. Naturally feel like doing this. We don't feel like going out at night, we want to stay inside, warm by the fire watching Netflix, and it's ok to do this! It's the time of year to really take care of yourself, to focus on your meditation and yoga practice. To withdraw some of your outwardly focused energy and redirect it inward. Take time to regroup, check in with yourself and rejuvenate. However, be careful, with the heavy and slow qualities of winter, there is a tendency to become too grounded and stagnate, resulting in depression and sluggishness. So it's important to counteract the quiet time, stillness and reflection with some socialising. It's a wonderful time to engage in meaningful conversations with partners, friends, and family. Instead of going out to a bar or restaurant to catch up, invite friends around to your home to enjoy a warm chai or a nourishing home cooked meal.
With the Vata dosha playing a major role during winter, there is a tendency for our bodies to become dry and you may find your skin drier and rougher than normal. Enter self-massage or what we call in Ayurveda – Abhyanga. This is a great practice to introduce into your daily routine and one of my favourite things to do. Massaging and oiling the body with warm sesame oil has a wonderful grounding effect on our body and mind. It promotes a deep state of relaxation, helping alleviate stress and anxiety. It increases circulation, lubricates the joints, moves the lymph - aiding in detoxification, induces a better, deeper sleep, increases immunity and much, much more! It's also an act of self-love, giving ourselves a deep feeling of stability and warmth.
So how do you do it? Gently warm some sesame oil, place a towel on the floor in case of drips and start massaging the oil into your body. Use long strokes for the arms and legs and circular motions in a clockwise direction around the joints and stomach. Leave the oil on for at least 10 minutes, then jump in a hot shower. The longer you leave the oil on, the deep it penetrates, nourishing the skin, muscles, and bones.
Although Vata and Kapha have the same quality of coldness they also have opposing qualities. Kapha is slow, stagnant, dull, heavy, wet while Vata is light, mobile, and dry. So to determine which form of exercise is best, you need to look at what's happening around you. If the weather is dry, cold and windy, you need to favor a vata pacifying form of exercise which is slow, gentle and grounding. On the other hand, if the weather cold, wet, cloudy and heavy, you need to go with a more vigorous and intense exercise which pacifies kapha. It's also important to listen to your body. If you're feeling stressed, overextended or anxious (signs of a vata increase), favor exercises which are calming and grounding, such as hatha yoga, tai chi or walking. If you're feeling sluggish, slow and heavy (signs of a kapha increase), you need to push yourself and engage in more stimulating and intense activities such as jogging, bike riding, a challenging hike or a vinyasa yoga class.
I hope these tips help keep you grounded, healthy and vibrant this winter!
Peace & Love