Be Healthy. Be Happy. Naturally.
Winter up here in the northern hemisphere tends to be cloudy, dark, damp and cold (kapha) and sometimes cold, windy and dry (vata). Ayurveda teaches us that like increases like and that opposites balance, so by adjusting our daily routine and diet we can help ward off common problems that might occur when the weather outside is frightful. An increase of kapha in us might lead to kapha problems like colds, coughs, sinus congestion, weight gain, depression and feeling slow and sluggish. Vata imbalances that we might experience are dry skin, chapped lips, constipation, muscle aches and spasms, spaciness, anxiety and insomnia. So I would like to give you some suggestions on what to do to help keep yourself healthy this winter.
In the winter it is ok to sleep in a little later and get up between 6:30 and 7:00. Your body needs enough sleep to repair and rejuvenate itself and the dark, long nights encourage us to stay in bed longer. Before we used electricity every day, people naturally stayed in bed longer. However, try not to stay in bed past 7:00 a.m. as you might end up feeling slow and sluggish for the rest of the day.
Before you get out of bed give thanks for the day. Pay attention to your body for a moment. Give yourself a little stretch like a cat. Then go into the bathroom and scrape your tongue and rinse your mouth out. You want to eliminate the toxins that have built up on to your tongue and you definitely do not want to swallow them. If you feel the call of nature, and hopefully you do, go to the toilet.
Next head out into the kitchen and drink a glass of warm water with a little lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to wake up your digestive system. You can add a pinch of dry ginger to the warm water to help warm you up.
Now do a little exercise to get your body warmed up. Take your time and enjoy the feeling of your body moving. Any type of exercise you are drawn to is ok, but hatha yoga is fabulous. Good yoga postures to open the chest, drain the sinuses and relieve congestion are sun salutation, boat, bow, camel, lion pose, plow and head stand. Practice a variety of forward and backward bends, warrior pose and triangle. If you are feeling sluggish, make your exercise routine a little more dynamic to reduce kapha. If you are feeling spacy or anxious, focus on a routine that is nourishing and relaxing to help calm vata.
Give yourself an oil massage with warm sesame oil, which is warming. This will help eliminate toxins and nourish your skin. If you are not familiar with how to give yourself an oil massage, see my post on Abhyanga. You don’t need to take a long time for the massage, five minutes will do if that is all you have time for. You want to put on enough oil to not pull on your skin, but you don’t need to pour it on either. I usually use up a couple of ounces of oil. After applying the oil, take a warm shower or bath or meditate first and then shower. Be careful not to get chilled.
Meditation is excellent to practice every day to relieve stress and balance your body and mind. Sit quietly for at least 15 minutes in the morning and pay attention to your breath. There are as many ways to meditate as there are people so choose a style that works for you.
Chyawanprash is an ayurvedic jam that is made with 49 wonderful ingredients. Among other things, it helps bolster your immunity and increases vitality. You can eat a teaspoon a little while before breakfast, or you can mix it into a little hot milk and drink it. It has a very interesting spicy sweet taste.
Be sure to eat a good breakfast, keeping it light and nourishing. Warm cooked grains like oatmeal or cornmeal are good to have for breakfast. Stir in some warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, cloves and a little turmeric while the grain is cooking. Stir in a teaspoon of organic ghee or coconut oil, and sprinkle on a few tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed to increase your intake of Omega-3s. Add chopped nuts, seeds or other protein, and a little honey or molasses on top is nice. Another nice breakfast is to have a cup of fresh miso soup with some little cooked vegetables and a couple of eggs cooked in it. Make sure it also has a little ghee or coconut oil too.
Make lunch your largest meal of the day. Focus on warm, spiced, nourishing foods like stews and soups and include all six tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. Include some healthy fat in your meal like organic ghee, olive oil or coconut oil. Eat a variety of lively colored vegetable that are well cooked and lightly spiced. For dinner, enjoy a lighter meal of soup, stew, and cooked vegetables. You can enjoy a small amount of red wine at dinner but avoid alcohol after 6:00 pm so it does not affect your sleep. At bedtime you can enjoy a cup of hot, boiled milk that has been flavored with cinnamon, ginger and turmeric and a touch of sweetener to help you sleep peacefully.
Throughout the day drink a hot tea. Tea that has ginger in it will help your metabolism and digestion as well as increase your body temperature. An excellent tea can be made by mixing equal parts cumin, coriander and fennel, and half parts ginger and cinnamon and storing in a jar. It is easy to fill a tea ball and let the tea steep for about five minutes and drinking this after meals to help your digestion. Another simple and easy habit is to fill a thermos with hot water and spices and sip on it throughout the day. Try not to drink very much during your meals as this will make your food harder to digest. Low digestion is a problem maker.
It is a good idea to do some light fasting during this time of year by drinking only warm liquids for a day. Broths, thin vegetable soups, or soupy kitchari are all good choices. This will give your digestion and body a rest so it can eliminate simple toxins that might have accumulated. Let’s get them out of you before they have time to settle someplace and cause a bigger challenge.
Avoid all foods that are heavy and hard to digest such as leftovers, preserved foods, frozen foods, fried foods or sweetened foods. Avoid all white flour and white sugar. Avoid all iced or cold food and drinks as these will hurt your digestion and make you feel sluggish.
Avoid getting chilled, not exercising enough, and napping during the day.
This is the time of year to wear warm colors like red and orange. Always wear a hat outside and wrap a scarf around your head. This will protect your body from both the vata and kapha qualities of a cold, windy day.
As you learn how to follow what is happening in nature, and understand how that will directly affect you, you will feel better and enjoy more vibrant health. If you know your constitution, of course you can more finely tune these suggestions for your own individual balance.
Be well and happy,
References: Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Three Rives Press, 1998.
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