According to Ayurvedic wisdom, health is a result of a harmonious balance of energies within the body and mind, as well as with the external energies of the environment and its natural cycles, both diurnal (day/night) and annual (seasonal).
Just as important as having a daily health and hygiene practice, or dinacaryā, in tune with one’s personal schedule and the natural rhythm of day and night, is being able to adapt one’s daily practice and routine according to the change of seasons, called ṛtucaryā.
Each season brings with it a change of energies related to physical factors such as temperature, humidity, length of day & night, weather patterns of wind & rain, etc., and to keep our body and mind in optimal health and balance, our daily routine should be adjusted to account for these impactful changes in our environment.
Now as we transition from autumn and approach the cold-weather winter season in the Northern Hemisphere, bringing with it a predominance of the kapha dosha and the elemental energies of earth (pṛthivī) and water (apas), with a little bit of vata thrown in for good measure*, it’s good to reflect on some traditional Ayurvedic wisdom for keeping ourselves healthy and well through the winter.
*Please note that the exact balance of doshas and energies will depend on your local climate and the below advice may be tailored accordingly.
Keeping up our Digestive Fire
Digestive fire, or agni, is central to the Ayurvedic notion of health and wellness. With a strong digestive fire (metabolism), our bodies are able to stay properly nourished and we feel light & energized, all the while keeping a healthy weight for our body type. As the autumn season progresses into winter, our digestive fire naturally starts to increase. It is good to support this increase by drinking warm beverages and eating warmly-spiced food such as with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, nutmeg and cumin seeds. This can be continued throughout winter. Drinking hot water, lemon & honey in the morning on an empty stomach is very helpful to stimulate digestion during this time.
As the winter season stabilizes, our digestive fire generally becomes strong and it is natural to eat heavier and more nourishing foods, higher in fat and protein. While this is a natural response of the body in this season, the modern lifestyle is generally already high in this type of food so it is important to keep things in moderation and not to overindulge in sweet and fatty foods and high-calorie alcoholic beverages (especially during holidays and festivities!) as this will lead to weight-gain and increased ama, the byproduct of improperly digested food matter which can lead to illness and disease.
Welcoming the Sun, or Surya Namaskara!
In the winter season, the Sun stays low on the horizon and the days are shorter and the nights longer. This gets more pronounced in northern latitudes. Thus during winter it is important to prioritize getting out and being exposed to the Sun. This will help to keep up our levels of Vitamin D, which keep our bones healthy and are only made by our body when exposed to sunlight, and also stave off low-mood and seasonal depression connected to a lack of natural light. (Check out some more tips for dealing with SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder)
In the same vein, to keep harmony with the season Ayurvedic experts advise against day-time napping during the winter. Enjoy the sunlight while you can!
During the winter, it’s natural to want to stay inside where it is warm and protected from inclement weather. But don’t let that prevent you from staying active and getting regular exercise! Go outdoors when weather and daylight permits, or get regular exercise indoors at home or at the gym or studio. If you do go outdoors, just be sure to have adequate protection from the elements.
Staying active will support a healthy metabolism during the winter months and boost your circulation and immune system, helping you to resist seasonal colds and flus as the weather gets cold. A regular practice of breath control (prāṇāyāma) is also helpful in keeping the mind and body light and energized and to counteract the heavy kapha energy prominent in this season. If you have a regular yogāsana routine, extra emphasis on chest-opening postures would also be an appropriate prophylactic measure.
Protecting our Skin
While winter may be a season of moisture, rain and snow, depending on your local climate, we tend to spend most of our time indoors at the home or office where generally the air gets very dry due to central heating and insulation. This aggravates the vata dosha and as a result, our skin can become very dry as well, resulting in irritation, itching and cracking.
Here are a few tips to protect your skin in winter:
- Refrain from taking long, hot showers or baths as this tends to really irritate the skin. Similarly, reduce the thermostat a little and your skin will definitely thank you.
- Use gentle, moisturizing soaps and lotions (like Auromere’s Vanilla-Neem Ayurvedic Soap and Ayurvedic Hand & Body Lotion).
- Regular abhyanga, or self-massage with oil (including head massage) will not not only protect your skin, but also give the extra benefit of increasing circulation in the limbs and relieving joint pains and stiffness due to aggravated vata and cold, contracted tissues. Not sure which oil to use? Ayurvedic experts generally suggest Sesame Oil, and there are many more advanced herbal formulas which have a Sesame Oil base, such as Auromere’s Ayurvedic Massage Oil.
- For sore and cracked skin, use an Ayurvedic herbal balm to rejuvenate the skin. And don’t forget your lips, which can be especially sensitive to peeling and cracking in winter.
We hope these tips are helpful in developing your own winter ṛtucaryā, and helping you to get through the season in optimum health. Stay warm and stay positive!
***With best wishes to your health and wellness from Auromere***