An Ayurvedic Winter
During Winter the earth’s energy is withdrawn back into herself. It is a time of rest, storing and preparation. Rest from the bounty of the Autumnal harvest and preparation for the vitality of the coming Spring. This is a time of being grounded, internalised and still. The weather is often cold, wet, cloudy and heavy and is dominated by the water element. These are all qualities that aggravate kapha; remember that kapha means ‘that which flourishes in water’. Because of the Ayurvedic rule that ‘like attracts like’ the cold, wet and heavy qualities of kapha are exacerbated by the similar nature of the climate. As vata is also aggravated by cold, people with imbalances in vata can also suffer challenges to their health in winter. Here are some Ayurvedic and yogic perspectives on staying healthy and warm throughout the winter.
Winter qualities: Wet, cold, fluid, cohesive, slimy, unctuous, heavy
Water anatomy: Kapha can affect the health of the kidneys, lungs, pancreas, mucus membranes, bladder, blood, synovial fluid, bodily secretions, lipids, ova and testes. This can lead to swellings and accumulations of mucus.
Water physiology: This is responsible for managing reproduction, lactation, saliva, mucus, urination, pus, menses, lumps
Psychic Water: Swadisthana chakra: located behind the genitals at the base of the spine. This psychic centre relates to feelings of gratification, satisfaction, sensual desire, creativity and gives the ability for enhancing mental discrimination.
Water season: Most active in winter and spring
Water flavour: Increased by salt, sour and sweet foods such as salt, citrus fruits and refined sugars.
Water asana: To decrease kapha practice more vigorous postures, emphasising metabolic invigorating sequences and including back bends and forward bends to warm the kidneys and increasing chest opening postures to help clear phlegm.
A Yogic Winter
One of the main causes of disease in Ayurveda is ‘unwholesome attachment of your senses to their sense objects’ (asatmya- indriya-artha-samyog). This includes under, over or inappropriate use of the senses such as desiring something too much, too little, or when inappropriate for your constitution. It boils down to inappropriate activities of the body and mind. For example, it is well known that excessive sweet consumption can cause pancreatic enzyme imbalances, blood sugar problems and eventually diabetes. This is a kapha problem resulting from an excess of kapha foods and emotions (greed or attachment). If a person regularly lives with these habits they will get ill.
So, this Winter your yogic practice could be to start to understand your attractions and aversions, and what the root cause of these attachments of your senses may be. What sounds, sensations, sights, tastes and smells do you like and which do you dislike? It is really just a mental attachment that means we perceive an experience as positive or negative. As William Shakespeare wrote ‘tis nothing good or bad, ‘tis thinking made it so.’ In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali encourages us to ‘observe the fluctuations of the mind’ with the end goal stopping them altogether. The stillness and heaviness of winter is a wonderful time to practice stillness of mind.
Yoga and Ayurveda have an underlying thread of truth running through all of their teachings; observation of the patterns in our life can lead to inner knowledge, a healthier and happier life.
If you have a kapha constitution you must follow the majority of these recommendations, if you are vata you will also benefit, if you are pitta then keep clearing heat from the inside of your body whilst keeping the exterior warm.
• Sleeping late is fine in winter. Rise at 7am and wash your teeth with some stimulating cinnamon, clove and haritaki powder. This will protect your teeth from becoming overly sensitive to the cold.
• Hold some warm sesame oil in your mouth for three minutes. This sounds strange but it has a wonderfully nourishing effect on the mouth, strengthens the teeth and stops bleeding and receding gums. Give your gums a good massage with your finger as well.
• Massage yourself with warm organic Sesame oil. Sesame is warming and can be beneficial to every constitution at this time of year. This can offset the seasonal tendency to coldness, aching joints and ‘frozen shoulder’. Wash off in a warm shower.
• Have a hot shower, rub the oil off your skin with a towel.
• Drink a cup of warm water. This relaxes the digestive system, enkindles the appetite and encourages a healthy bowel motion.
• Now its time for your yoga practice! Begin with some brain-cleansing pranayama (kapalabhati) or bellows breath (bhastrika); “Bhastrika quickly arouses kundalini. It is pleasant and beneficial, and removes obstruction due to excess mucus (kapha) accumulated at the entrance to brahma nadi…..this enables the three psychic knots to be broken. Thus it is the duty of the yogi to practice bhastrika.” (Hatha yoga pradipika 2.66/7). These practices invigorate the body with prana and clear excess mucus, lethargy and sluggishness.
• Practice asana that balance kapha and clear any excess water. Do vigorous sun salutation (suryanamaskar) up to twelve rounds until you are warm and your breathing becomes deep. Also include strong backwards and forward bends that open the chest such as the fish (matsyasana), the wheel (chakrasana),the camel (ushtrasana) and the tiger (vyagrasana) to stimulate the kidneys and lungs.
• Put some Nasya Nasal Oil in the nose after finishing your pranayama. It has herbs in it that can dissolve an excessive amount of water that can accumulate in the head in winter. This can help to alleviate depression and Seasonal Affected Disorder by bringing lightness and clarity.
• Your Winter diet should consist of warm foods that are mildly spicy, slightly salty and nourishing. Your diet should clear kapha but not aggravate vata. The digestive fire is usually stronger in winter as the cooler weather constricts the surface of the body and pushes the heat back in to the centre of the digestive system.
• Break your fast with a small bowl of porridge of oats, cornmeal (polenta), barley or rice. Add some cinnamon, cloves and honey. Although honey is sweet it is considered to be beneficial for kapha as it can encourage clearing of mucus.
• Take a teaspoon of organic Chywanaprash in the morning to keep your energy and immunity intact at this time of change. Chywanaprash is a great remedy for reducing kapha, reducing colds and promoting your inner strength.
• Lunch and supper should be wholesome meals avoiding too many cold, wet and damp foods that are excessively sweet or from the fridge or freezer. Barley is one of the best grains for kapha as it gently clears fluids from the body and can help clear sluggish digestion. Drink spicy teas throughout the day.
• If you are easily disturbed by the cold, wet and heavy qualities of Winter then you may benefit from taking Trikatu. This is a mixture of ginger, black pepper and long pepper and it will blow away any colds, coughs, poor circulation and nasal drips.
• If you get infectious ‘flu try Andrographis. It is Sweeden’s number one ‘flu cure and works very well to keep ‘flu at bay and to hasten recovery. It quickly treats sore throat, fevers, aches and pains and infected coughs.
• After a day of hard work settle in for a relaxing evening. Ayurveda suggests that an occasional glass of dry and warming wine may be beneficial in the winter to encourage circulation and stimulate digestion. Then it is off to bed with a delicious glass of hot spicy milk. Nutmeg is a very calming herb that promotes sound sleep and can be added to your milk.
What a deliciously rejuvenating day! Keep warm and active this Winter, keep your kapha and vata in check and enjoy the Winter calm.
Sebastian Pole Lic OHM, Ayur HC is an Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbalist using Yoga therapy in his clinical practice. He has trained with the Satyananda School of Yoga.
He runs Pukka Herbs specialising in Organic Ayurvedic herbs, teas, capsules and tinctures. View www.pukkaherbs.com for lots of information on Ayurveda.
He has an Ayurvedic herbal practice in Bath: 01225 466944 for appointments.