Ayurveda: Making the Most of Winter

binduBy Bindu (Maureen) Shortt

With seasonal changes, nature’s energies shift, both outside as well as inside us. We are healthiest, clearest and most content when we are living in harmony with the flow of nature’s energies season to season.  As yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda makes this easy to understand through the three doshas (embodied energies):  vata, pitta and kapha.  Each dosha is a blend of the energies found in nature, in a formula that are unique to each person.

From November through February, the northern hemisphere puts us in the vata season. Nature slows down as plants become dormant and animals hibernate. We have less invigorating sunshine and more calming darkness. Winter’s qualities of cold, light and drying make it a vata season. Think of those chapped lips you get.

Being the wind energy, vata moves in quickly, so mostly everyone has vata imbalances. They become worse during winter. You may find these qualities accumulating in your body and mind as insomnia or anxiety, dry skin, constipation and a spacey feeling. Perhaps you can’t get or stay warm. You may feel overly stimulated. It’s not just from the holidays! The remedy is to create a seasonal routine that is adaptive to the winter energies. You will find that this will keep you in balance with fewer colds and influenza, and or return you to a state of Ayurvedic balance.

australia-retreat-photo-4To balance a season’s qualities, it is important that your daily routine includes their opposites. Thus, you incorporate warming, heavy and moisturizing qualities into your daily lifestyle (dinacharya). Let your food choices gravitate toward soups, stews, cooked veggies and fruits, hot cereals and teas. Avoid salads, raw foods, ice cream and cold drinks. Nuts and seeds, with their warming oils, are good winter foods. They provide the extra protein that our metabolism needs to keep us warm. Cook with warming spices. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger and black pepper combine effectively for winter foods and beverages. Think chai (India-spice tea).

In the rest of your life, use this season to cultivate the warmth of friendship and family. And keep your body warm, especially your neck and head. I invite you to join the wear-a-scarf-everyday-in-the-winter club, of which I am a dedicated member!

A daily self-massage with sesame oil can help your nervous system as well as keep you warmer. Heavy, sweet scents like geranium, frankincense and vanilla balance vata. Listen to soft, mellow music. Guitar, harmonium melodies or even singing bowls can comfort vata. Practice stillness, letting go of the vata impulse to do, do, do.

Below is a simple chai recipe. Vata loves to play, so do play with the amounts of the spices to your heart’s content:

  1. teaBoil 2 cups of water with a few whole peppercorns, slices of fresh ginger, cardamom seeds, cloves, and a cinnamon stick for 10 minutes.
  2. Lower the heat to a simmer.
  3. Add cow’s milk or another type such as almond or rice and a decaf black tea bag.
  4. Simmer the brew for 5 minutes.
  5. Sweeten to taste and strain into a cup.

Just eyeball the amounts of spices without the need to measure everything. Doing so makes this vata-satisfying recipe easy to enjoy daily.

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