A Winter Guide to Ayurvedic Living
January 4, 2018 • 4 min read
With the merriment of the festive season over, we’re entering the height of winter, with long days of biting cold, and barren land. In days past, this season signified a time of slowing down. Humanity, along with animals, retreated to the warmth of their dwellings. Time was spent in front of the fire, eating foods harvested from nature, and we made time to nourish our bodies, keeping them warm and moisturized. Instead of engaging in strenuous or exhausting activities, we allowed ourselves several months of peaceful rest.
Today, we trudge on through the cold, dash from work, to the gym, to parties. We’ve forgotten to live with the seasons, and instead fight against the frosty air. While we can’t practically take off 4 months of work a year to indulge in self-care, we can make time for ourselves and ensure we give our bodies the things we naturally crave this time of year– warmth, rich foods, nourishment, a slow, slumbering pace, and rest.
With new year resolutions in full swing, many people believe that they must be restrictive in the foods they consume, after a month of holiday indulgence. We don’t believe in dieting, or in restricting yourself from food. Going against the trends, we’d rather see you foster a healthy relationship with food, consume what you want, and know which foods will both satisfy you and nourish you. This month we’re all about wellness and self-care, and there’s nothing that says that more than loving your body, not punishing it for the things you put in it, and understanding how you can eat well, maintain your health, and engage in activities that work for you.
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian practice of natural medicine and wellness, one that has become increasingly popular in the west. “Ayur” means life force or vital energy, and “Veda” means science. The sister science to yoga, Ayurveda helps us attain the same goals – health, longevity and enlightenment, and this is achieved through a balance between our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves. These teachings show us how we can live our best lives by going with the seasons, understanding our unique bodily constitutions, and using food and self-care practices to help us thrive. The basic concept in Ayurvedic science is divided into three doshas, or bodily energies / elements that determine your physiological constitution. The three doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, or air, fire and earth & water. You can take this test online to determine which dosha you are, in case you don’t know. People are generally a single dosha, or a combination of 2, but rarely ever all 3. Click here to learn about the unique characteristics of each dosha.
Adapting your diet and lifestyle to accommodate the changing seasons will help you reduce the onset of seasonally-induced imbalances, and will guide your body into its natural state of equilibrium. In Ayurvedic belief, winter is known as the Vata season, as the climate can be very cold and dry, and we tend to feel more isolated and lonely.
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Your Ayurvedic Winter Diet:
This time of the year, our bodies crave a substantial, nutritive diet. Because of the cold and dry atmosphere, the outsides AND insides of our bodies become dry. To counter this, we should engage in Kapha foods, which are warm and oily. With most people pledging to have only raw diets and smoothies as a post-holiday detox, Ayurveda says the opposite. Instead of salads and cold foods, nourish the inside of your body with warm, cooked foods, and don’t be hesitant to add a little extra oil or ghee. Avoid iced or cold drinks, and go for warm or hot beverages (room temperature is also fine). Start your mornings off with a warming tea, rich in spices such as ginger, cinnamon, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, tulsi, cardamom, black pepper and clove. This will help increase heat and circulation within your body. Soups, dals, chili, and stews are all hearty and healthy meals for winter Vata. The idea is to maintain balance within yourself, so don’t over-do it with the spices and oils, and also don’t feel bad if you have a raw smoothie or two!
Things to incorporate in your winter Ayurvedic diet are:
- Cooked Apples
- Brussel Sprouts
- Cooked Greens
- Leeks and Onions
- Cooked Spinach
- Winter Squash
- Basmati Rice
- Brown Rice
- Brown and Red Lentils
- Toor Dal
- Pumpkin and Sunflower Seeds
- Macadamia Nuts
- Soft Cheeses
- Cottage Cheese
- Warm Milk
- Almond, Flax Seed, Sesame, Mustard and Olive Oils
Your Ayurvedic Winter Exercise Plan:
With Vata being predominant in the winter months, you’ll want to stick to a slower, more gentle routine, versus one of high intensity. Stretching, walking, tai chi, or gentle yoga are all excellent ways to maintain physical activity, but in a calming and beneficial way. Yoga is a great way to banish stress and overwhelm, so engaging in a slow-paced class and ending with a long Savasana will help bring your being back into balance.
Your Ayurvedia Winter Skincare Regime:
Retaining moisture is difficult in the extreme cold, so it’s important for us to do this from the inside out. Add oily Kapha elements to your body, such as coconut oil, shea butter, almond oil, and ghee. If you’re out all day, add some coconut oil to the tips of your hair to prevent split ends and dryness from reaching your roots. Rub almond oil or shea butter into your skin to protect it from the cold, and pay attention to dry patches like elbows and heels. When talking self-care, a warm bath with honey, essential oils and oats is relaxing and helps restore and retain moisture. Ghee is an excellent internal lubricant, one that will keep your organs recharged and working well.
Your Ayurvedic Winter Lifestyle:
Because the Vata dosha is quick and changeable, balancing it out means sticking to a routine. With our busy lifestyles, this isn’t always easy, but try to find a few things that you can manage to stick to every day. Morning stretching and a few yoga poses (sun salutation) are easy to do before work, a warming tea can help you get your day started, oatmeal, rice or roasted veggies are great foods to incorporate into your meals, and a warm bath followed by a self-massage with some oils is a great way to sleep well and keep your body moisturized.
Your mantra these next few months is balance, warmth, comfort, and rest. Don’t punish yourself for not killing it at the gym or for choosing a book in bed over a night of partying. Align yourself to the dosha of the season and feel your body thrive.
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