Winter can be challenging to some people more than others. In Ayurveda, we generally can divide the winter season into two phases. The first phase, begins in early fall and to early winter. This is considered Vata season (generally October to January); its primary qualities are cold, light, dry, rough and subtle. Therefore, Ayurveda remedies these attributes with warming/heating, heavy, moistening and soft qualities. The second phase, begins in late winter to spring where snow starts to thaw out, which is Kapha season. The typical Kapha qualities of cold, heavy, moist and smooth with warming/heating, lightening, drying qualities and rough attributes. And, just to complete the basic understanding of the seasons, we can briefly mention Pitta, consists of the qualities of Hot, moist, light and sharp; which mainly exists in the season of summer, starting around June and ending around September.
In Ayurveda, we know that Kapha actually becomes aggravated when the sun starts to thaw out the snow. It's not so much during the accumulation and aggravation phase of Kapha season that aggravates Kapha. For instance, the snow keeps adding and compacting itself under the influence of cold and moisture, with dryness in between as things freeze from the air influence. Kapha keeps getting bigger and bigger. It can become eventually stagnant and simply stop moving. The way this manifests in the body is that it there is a blockage that occurs. Weight increases, sluggishness increases and a lack of motivation increase. It's with the addition of heat that causes Kapha to liquefy and melt, causing the drippiness that so often occurs during the spring time. Yet, it is this Kapha that is liquefying that requires even more support to keep it moving efficiently, even for Kapha types.
As we start to feel heavier this time of year, it's important to keep things moving by adding heat not only in our homes but through your digestive homes. Otherwise, we are left feeling sluggish which then contributes us to have lymphatic congestion, lethargy and an overall sense of heaviness. For Pitta predominant types, which is the general manifestation of fire in the physiology, this heaviness isn't as much of an issue. To the Pitta person, the sun is generally shining consistently and each day. Though, as a Pitta predominant person myself, I can say that after prolonged cloudiness I am affected somewhat and more inclined to either push hard to motivate myself or surrender and do some hibernating. Anything for too long, can cause each of the three types imbalances. It's with awareness being the first step to change that we can influence our health. For instance, understanding the ebb and flow of the seasons and the qualities they manifest, compared to our constitutional configuration of the elements is a good preventative way to making changes that will align us with optimal health. Another example, is knowing that there is a general flow and progression that happens after summer is over when the autumn climate enters into the atmosphere and the momentum towards the holiday season picks up. This momentum usually ends in a climax and once we have reached the peak of the holiday season, where gifts and foods are shared, it happens to be somewhere in late December to beginning of January that many people feel the drop after the holiday excitement and rush. Emotions can be amplified, magnified and stimulated during the holiday season when the heart strings are tugged upon. Once the running around has come to a halt, adrenaline, cortisol are now reduced and in some cases exhausted. Let's add in that during this time of festivities we are challenged on various levels that compromise sleep, exercise and eating patterns.
These previous examples are some ways to keep in mind as we undergo the yearly cycles. Within this reflection on this time of year, we can come to our own conclusions to where we are at and determine the best protocol to help regain or remain in good health. We know that such stress of the holidays can challenge our immunity, that combined with the poor sleep patterns, eating habits and fluctuations in exercise (if any) can cause the body to be compromised and this is why it is common for many people to suffer the consequence and have symptoms such as colds, flu's, other respiratory infections, depression, anxiety, constipation, congestion, lethargy, and fatigue. Monitoring the atmospheric qualities as the vacillate from dry to moist with the common quality of cold makes the whole situation trickier. Homeostasis is essential to maintain health. The body is a historical system and requires consistency of daily routines to maintain health.
So here are some recommendations to help with transitioning into January as we move through winter.
1) Check out this recipe. This soup will help to stimulate digestion, keep the lymphatic system moving, the mind clearer and inspired and the body lighter.
2) The article I wrote last month regarding Seasonal Affective Disorder has a list of great recommendations that are still helpful here and this month through the month of April. Check it out here.
3) There are six tastes in Ayurveda. There are three tastes that decrease Kapha which are Bitter, Pungent and Astringent. Whereas, the three tastes that increase Kapha are sweet, salty and sour. When Kapha has increased, we want to decrease it. If there appears to the following symptoms of congestion, excess mucus, increased weight, lymphatic sluggishness, mucus in stools, slow(er) digestion, lethargy, melancholy and an overall sense of heaviness, then it's safe to say that Kapha has vitiated. It's more common for Kapha predominant individuals to experience this more easily and feel more aggravated by these symptoms during this time of year.
4) Favor light and airy, over dense and heavy foods. Favor warm over cold foods. Favor drying foods over moistening. (Unless you have Vata in your constitution.)
5) This breathing technique is great for Kapha. It is called Solar Breathing.
6) Digestive enzymes/stimulants are great this time of year. One of my favorite recommendations for sluggish digestion is a formula called Trikatu, what Banyan Botanicals calls "Kapha Digest." Other spices such as cayenne, dry ginger, dry garlic, oregano, chili powder, red pepper flakes, Thai Spices and Cajun Spices are great because they stimulate appetite and digestion.
7) A sluggish liver can also cause sluggishness in the whole body. Herbs like Kutki, Guggul, Chitrak, Black Pepper, Turmeric, Cinnamon and Ginger are great for moving things as well. These herbs can be purchased through this link of Banyan Botanicals. Here's a tea called "Warm You Up", that is great to add to your daily regimen.
8) As always, increasing cardio activity is essential to get it all going, including digestion, circulation, lymphatics and respiration. Increasing oxygen in the cells has a stimulating effect in general. Make yourself go for a hike. Go up and down your stairs with a purpose, or simply make the purpose to go up and down the stairs as an activity. Just move it. Go exercise.
9) Get to bed by 10/11 and up by 6, 7 the latest. Sleep regulates metabolism. When we stay up late we increase cravings for sweets, carbs and caffeine later in the day.
10) General meal rules: Breakfast by 8, is a light breakfast (if any and if you're hungry). Lunch is the MAIN meal and between 10 and 2. Dinner is a light meal. It is supplemental and I usually tell my patients that dinner should be half the portion of lunch, no later than 7. The later the meal, the less it is digested and the more it accumulates in your body becoming unused food and stored in your fat cells. The body is meant to be burning the right amount of fat, which happens mainly through diet and exercise. Avoid snacking. This is a powerful piece information because by avoiding snacking you force the body to burn fat as fuel, the way it was designed to. Snacking only prevents this process. If you're craving something, it's usually due to lack of proper sleep or a balanced diet, more specifically lunch. Additionally, cravings can also indicate a lack of adequate hydration. So drink more hot liquids and juices for electrolytes.
11) Food for thought. Cravings can also be attributed to emotional factors that require your attention. Check it all out before you indulge in sweets. We tend to substitute the lack of internal sweetness with external supplementation, as we are always trying to capture the sweetness of life.
12) Keeping a healthy level of hydration is important for the cells and for metabolism as well. It is usually said that drinking half your body weight in ounces of water is great. Though, if you already have too much water in your body then diuretics are essential to balance the water system of the body which also regulates sugar metabolism. Hot water is ideal for Kapha and Vata types. Pitta should be on the cooler side but not cold and definitely NO ICE for any of the constitutions. Ice, according to Dr. Marc Halpern "Ice/chilled water, creates a rapid superficial coldness which causes the excess heat in the body to be trapped in the core of the body and causes more heat. It is considered a stress in Ayurveda." You can read more about ice here.
13) I discussed at the beginning of this article the basic manifestations of each season and relative qualities. Similarly, these are the qualities that express themselves in the body and mind, which Ayurveda takes great pride in assessing with regards to individual constitutions. This is why in Ayurveda we know that learning about your constitution is a critical component to understanding the prevention of imbalances and the return from imbalances to a healthier state. Therefore, a consultation with a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner is a great investment for a happier now and a healthier future.
DISCLAIMER: This information is meant for educational purposes only and not considered medical advice. Any changes in lifestyle should be reviewed with a qualified practitioner and/or primary care physician if you are currently under their care for specific conditions.