Winter Wellness Guide
As we become present with the shifts happening in our inner and outer environments, we can see that winter is starting to reveal itself; in the long nights that have us getting sleepy much earlier, in the layers of frost on the ground when you awake in the morning and the way the air feels crisp as you inhale, in the heat emanating from our fireplaces and our crockpots, in the trees and the way they have shed all their leaves and returned their energy to the roots once more, in the way many animals are entering into a period of hibernation. Winter is at our doorstep.
It is the rhythm of nature to ebb and flow. There is a time for action and there is a time for rest, and harmony is found when we strike balance between these two qualities. Winter is a time to slow down, to go within, to nourish ourselves deeply. This particular season brings with it the added importance of keeping our immune systems strong because we are ushering in this cold and flu season alongside another rise in outbreaks of COVID-19. In these times when many of our modern healthcare systems have failed to provide us with meaningful ways to keep ourselves safe from this virus, we can turn to the ancient system of Ayurveda that offers both daily rituals (dinacharya) and seasonal rituals (ritucharya) to support us on a journey to a true sense of wellness and vitality; where we do not have to walk in fear or what will happen if we are to contract the virus, because we have nourished our bodies through food and lifestyle habits that have made us strong, resilient, and able to adapt.
There are three primary forces within the body, known as dosha’s, and each is ruled by a combination of elements found in nature. Vata is ruled by ether and air, it oversees all communications of the body, and has a strong affinity for the nervous system. Pitta is ruled by fire and water, and it oversees all transformative processes of the body, and has a strong affinity for the digestive system. Kapha, which is ruled by water and earth, is the structure of the body and the substances that keep it lubricated, and it has a strong affinity for the respiratory and lymphatic systems. When we are living in balance with nature, our diet and lifestyle practices will shift according to what season we are in, and which dosha needs pacifying.
Winter is ruled by both Kapha and Vata. We see Kapha in the cold weather, the increased moisture due to snow and rainfall, the sense of grounding and slowing down. This can also manifest as a feeling of heaviness, lethargy, and stagnation. Vata shows up in the cold, crisp air and the abrasive winds experienced in certain geographies. It can also manifest as excessive dryness (ie. dandruff, psoriasis, arthritis), insomnia, and anxiety. Where you are geographically has a lot to do with which elements are having a greater impact on your body. For example, I just traveled from Oregon to Arizona and winter is manifesting in much different ways in these two states. In Oregon it is overcast and rainy, which is more Kapha in nature. In Arizona, it is dry, cold, and windy, which is more Vata in nature. How we keep ourselves balanced depends on our own inner nature (prakruti) and what season and environment we currently find ourselves in.
Here are some tips for keeping yourself balanced this winter and accessing the full potential of what this season has to offer:
- What may come as a surprise to you, is that our digestive fire (Agni) is strongest in the winter. Because of the colder weather, the fire component of our body is driven deep into our core, igniting our digestive capacity. Our bodies also require more food to provide insulation and keep us warm. You will want to focus on eating lots of easily digestible, nutrient dense, well spiced foods. Do your best to avoid processed, frozen, or canned foods as they can upset both the digestive and immune system. Hearty, warming vegetables such as radishes, cooked spinach, onions, garlic, and root vegetables are all deeply nourishing this time of year. It’s a great time of year for eggs and good quality proteins such as chicken, turkey, and venison if you eat meat. Cooked grains such as oatmeal, cornmeal, rice, and quinoa all make wonderful additions to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This is the time of year to bust out your instapot to create lots of mushy, warm dishes such as soups, stews, kitchari, curries, etc. Try adding a tablespoon of ghee to each meal for an added dose of healthy fat.
- Exercise is essential all year long, but especially during the winter. During the winter we tend to slow down, which is wonderful and necessary. However, this means we are more susceptible to becoming sluggish and stagnant, both in our physical bodies and our mental states. A daily movement practice stimulates the lymphatic system and keeps our immune system strong, keeps the digestive fire strong, and gets the feel good neurotransmitters flowing that keep us in a positive mental state. Most importantly move in a way that feels good to you. If you are experiencing more kapha qualities such as lethargy, dullness, or melancholy, focus on more invigorating movement practices, such as cardio, bike riding, zumba, vinyasa yoga, or a challenging hike. You will want to focus on increasing the intensity and duration of your exercise to really heat things up. If you are experiencing more vata qualities, such as anxiousness, fear, or spaciness, focus on gentle and grounding practices like yin yoga, weight lifting, or walking in nature. If you are looking for an outlet for an at home yoga practice, I highly recommend checking out Yoga with Adriene on YouTube, she offers up a variety of practices to meet you wherever your body is at each day. www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene
- Drink a glass of warm water with a squeeze of lemon or apple cider vinegar in the morning to stimulate a bowel movement and to flush the digestive system of any residual toxic build up.
- Drink lots of hot beverages throughout the day. This helps to keep the body warm and break down any mucosal build up in the respiratory system. Chai and Golden Milk are both wonderful recipes for the winter as they are filled with lots of warming, carminative spices and herbs. If you are someone who experiences more arthritic pain during the winter, Golden Milk is a wonderful ally for you as turmeric is an incredibly powerful anti inflammatory and antioxidant. If you are noticing any dryness or anxiousness, try out one of our teachers, Mary Thompson’s recipe for classic RASA tea (see below) to help lubricate the kaphic systems of the body. Do your best to avoid cold or iced drinks as this can aggravate your body at this time of year.
Classic RASA Tea
Equal parts Fennel, Fenugreek, Licorice Root, Fenugreek, Shatavari, Astragalus, and Ginger. Combine. Use 1 tablespoon mixture to 8 ounces of water.
- With the added importance of keeping our immune systems strong this winter due to COVID-19 I recommend supplementing with vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D if you aren’t getting adequate amounts in your diet or spending enough time in direct sunlight. I like to incorporate more ginger into my diet during the winter, via food or tea, as it has wonderful immune boosting properties, is great for digestion, and is pacifying to both kapha and vata. I also incorporate more medicinal mushrooms into my herbal regimen such as turkey tail, cordyceps, and reishi. If you are looking for a provider for quality mushroom tonics, check out our friends over at Cintamani Tonics. www.cintamanitonics.com All of their ingredients are ethically sourced and of the highest potency. I also like to make sure I am stocked up on elderberry syrup just in case the cold/flu does set in. We will have a fresh batch of our Elderberry + Friends syrup available over the next couple weeks. This recipe was designed to be used as a daily tonic as well, if you are needing an immunity boost. It is packed with herbs that are great for strengthening overall vitality, stress management, and stimulating digestion. You can sign up for our newsletter at www.liftedlotus.com to be alerted once this batch hits the shelf.
- I’m sure most of you have heard this hundreds of times from parents or grandparents over the years, but it’s important, so it’s worth repeating: Make sure to get nice and bundled up before going outside. It is especially important to keep your head, ears, and neck warm as this is one of the primary places that heat leaves the body, and it will help to keep vata dosha from getting aggravated.
As we are maneuvering through uncharted territory this winter, with many quarantine and social distancing regulations in place, we are having to get creative in how we are connecting with each other through the holiday season, and how we are keeping our bodies and souls nourished. The choices we make each day through our rituals and routine lead to our state of overall wellness and vitality. My hope is that this guide provides you with some useful suggestions for diet and lifestyle practices that will leave you feeling energized and grounded enough to utilize this winter season for tending to the soil where you will plant your seeds of potential and grow your gardens of bounty in 2021.
Wishing you all the best through this season.