One of Ayurveda's strengths as a science for health is the recognition that we are influenced by our environment. Everything in nature is characterized by qualities--dry or wet, turbulent or stable, etc--and the changing of seasons presents a new environment that can affect the balance of our system.
Winter arrives with short days, overcast skies, less light, and bitter cold. The air is either dry and windy, or heavy and damp. This is the season of kapha, the earth and water element, and vata, the air and space element.
Kapha has the tendency to slow down and settle; it is what builds the substance of your body and gives a healthy glow to skin. Because of the strong presence of kapha in winter, this is considered the best time of year to build strength, immunity and health.
It is the perfect time to rest--to get better, more satisfying sleep, and enjoy quiet reflection and meditation.
It is the perfect time to nourish yourself with warm, healthful foods.
And it's a wonderful time to enjoy creative pursuits and bond with family and friends.
But if you happen to have a tendency to go out of balance toward kapha or vata, the gray skies and cold, windy days can increase those qualities and have a negative impact on your health.
Here are some ways you can feel your best this winter, based on your constitution:
If you have mostly kapha in your constitution, the lower light levels, gray skies and cold, wet weather may leave you prone to congestion, weight gain, and depression or apathy.
The best thing you can do for yourself in the winter is get lots of natural light. The more time you can spend outdoors in daylight or near sunny windows, the better.
Kapha has a natural inclination to darkness, and can experience symptoms of depression, boredom and dissatisfaction when away from light for too long.
The next best thing for kapha is movement. Kapha likes to be still and sedentary, and while some stillness is certainly appropriate in the colder months of the year, too much can lead to stagnation, weight gain and congestion.
Kapha also loves to sleep, and should avoid getting too much sleep in winter, which tends to increase lethargy. Seven or eight hours of sleep are recommended, with waking before 7:00 am, to take advantage of as much daylight as possible.
Food should be relatively light, preferably cooked with warm spices like cinnamon, ginger and pepper.
Although gray days are less likely to be a hindrance, the wind, dry air and cold can increase vata and leave you feeling scattered, achy and prone to illness.
Vata naturally tends toward movement, and sometimes that movement can turn to chaos. Keep yourself grounded by sticking to a regular, daily routine. Go to bed, wake up and eat your meals at regular times each day. And take advantage of this time for slowing down by not overbooking or overextending yourself.
Oiling with a self-massage routine, or abhyanga, is one of the best ways to pacify the dry, light qualities of vata. Sesame oil is best. You'll want to warm it in your hands and gently massage into your skin.
Eat warm, dense foods, with plenty of healthy fats. Naturally sweet foods, like fruits and grains, are also very nourishing for vata.
Winter is often the easiest season for those who have predominately pitta characteristics, as the cold and damp give balance to their fiery, sharp nature.
Although there are no particular challenges for pitta, sometimes those who have this quality need reminding that winter is an opportunity to slow down and enjoy. Once the weather turns, pitta can sleep a bit more, stay in and rest, and spend time with their loved ones. It's important for pitta to take some time to wind down in this slower part of the year, or their natural drive and enthusiasm gets worn out.
Hopefully these tips will give you a good start to making the most of this time for rebuilding and renewal!
I'll be writing more posts for the Winter Wellness Guide over the coming weeks. Check back here for the following posts:
Get a Fire Going: Best Foods to Support Digestion