Ayurvedically winter is very much the season for Kapha. Kapha is the dosha dominated by earth and water. Hence everything feels damp, heavy, sluggish, cold and wet. Kapha is considered to be the subtle energy for lubrication and providing strength to the body and mind. When in excess it can lead to mucus-related ailments, weight gain and laziness. Negative emotions linked with a kapha imbalance include attachment, envy and greed. This can be an attachment to foods and we all know what eating the wrong kind of foods does to the body. If we continue to eat sugars, for example, then weight gain and potential blood sugar problems and diabetes can ensue. Winter can be a time to reflect on your sensory attachments and may be a good time to look at where this desire comes from. Attachment after all is a mental quality of the mind that can be changed if we recognize something within us that perhaps is not so beneficial to our wellbeing. Kapha in nature is reflected as plants withdraw and the earth cocoons herself to replenish and restore for the spring. In Ayurveda winter becomes the season for nourishing and building up our immune system ready for the spring The workings of the body are intrinsically connected and a healthy digestive system leads to a healthy immune system.
There are three elements of our immune system in Ayurveda.
Hereditary nature: the level of immunity we are born with
Seasonal: the part of our immunity linked to the seasons
Established: an immune system we create through a health lifestyle
Whilst we cannot do anything to raise our hereditary immune system , we can work with the fluctuating levels of immunity triggered by the seasons. If you want to stay healthy all year round you should try to live in harmony with nature and the seasons. We traditionally associate winter with colds and these are generally signs of a Kapha Vata imbalance. Ayurveda sees winter as a great time to boost out immunity as our digestive fire, agni, is stronger and it works harder to keep the body warm. We feel hungrier and digestion is effectively stronger. So it is a time to nourish and replenish ourselves and ward off kapha imbalances. It is a great time to take in herbal elixirs as food and nourishment is assimiliated much better when agni is strong. It is not a time to start implementing weight loss regimes. Feed your immune system strong with ginger and cinnamon tea. Both these spices can help to reduce excess mucus. Be sure to eat breakfast to keep your inner fire adequately stoked up. Otherwise you may find your bodily tissues dry out and vata conditions such as arthritis become a problem. Vata can be kicked out of sync too in a winter. Foods to take in should be organic, fresh and easy to digest. Processed, reheated and cold icy products should be avoided if you want to keep your digestive fire stimulated and active. Take in more protein in the form of tofu, eggs, chicken and fish if you are not vegan. Interestingly, Ayurveda does not insist on vegetarian practices as it sees that occasionally someone’s health may benefit from a little meat from time to time. It recognizes that there may be a karmic effect of eating meat and so encourages individuals to be mindful about their actions and suggests a simple, ‘sattvic’ vegetarian diet as it is more readily digested and assimiliated by the body. A sattvic diet has the qualities of balance and stability. It encourages lightness and positivity of mind. Tastes to favour should be sweet, sour and salty. Keep bitter, astringent and pungent tastes to a minimum. It is important to recognize that all six tastes are essential for balance so don’t exclude any completely. Food should be warm, home-cooked and not reheated. Favour whole grains, organic milk, root vegetables and ghee to help pacify the doshas to keep seasonal depression at bay. Try not to eat deep fried foods.
- Eat locally grown, seasonal produce. Organic if possible. In winter root vegetables dry the effects of wet cold weather. Eat less salads which are more of a summer food designed to cool off the body. If you enjoy salads opt for warm salads with wilted spinach and roasted vegetables.
- Add ginger and lemon to warm water and enjoy this as your first drink of the day. Ginger stimulates the digestive fire, agni and lemon acts as a cleansing tonic.
- Milk is incompatible with many items so you may like to keep your dairy intake away from: meat, fish, fruit, eggs, bread and beans. Add nutmeg to warm milk as an aid to sleep.
- Include warm, spicy foods such as stews or soups in your diet. Barley is a fantastic grain for kapha as it encourages the body to clear excess fluid from the system. Avoid eating sweet, damp, cold or wet foods.
- Avoid leftovers or microwaved food and anything straight from the fridge/freezer.
- Enjoy porridge for breakfast, made with almond milk. Add cinnamon for sweetness. If you do add honey, don’t heat it. It is ok to add honey to warm food or a hot drink if you choose it as sweetener.
- Black pepper is a useful spice to reduce kapha-induced mucus. It makes heavy vegetables such as potatoes easier to digest too.
- Give yourself permission to stay in bed longer. But still keep a sleep routine
- Try oil pulling with sesame or coconut oil. Take a teaspoon in the mouth and swill around for five minutes. Do not swallow the oil. Spit it out into a container for disposal.
- Self massage, abhyanga, with sesame oil can help keep achy joints that may be feeling the effects of the cold. Allow the oil to absorb for at least a few minutes before showering it off. It can help with detoxification and soothing the skin. Self massage allows us to feel reconnected and in touch with ourselves. It is a deep expression of loving compassion for ourselves. Enjoy getting reacquainted with yourself and discovery how to relief tension through touch.
- Ayurvedic nasya oil drops placed in the nostrils will soften any symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is also known for its qualities to help depressive symptoms and migraines.
- Take a teaspoon of Chawanprash daily. A herbal concoction that boosts the immune system and pacifies all elements.
- Practice yoga to keep moving and avoid stagnation. Start slowly to wake up the system and opt for a more flowing style. The sun salutation, surya namaskar, can be a great option that can be varied to meet your needs. Add a few backbends, twists and forward folds to help move kapha stagnation and congestion from the chest
- Breathing practices should include strong stimulating pranayama such as kapala bhati, bhastriki belllow’s breath or agni sari to clear the chest and nasal passages as well as activating digestion.
- Gluhwein or mulled wine infused with warming spices is approved of but remember to drink it in moderation. Winter time is when even those less tolerant to alcohol may find they can enjoy the occasional glass without detrimental effects
- Stay warm but make sure to expose yourself to the elements from time to time. Nature is wonderfully restorative.