An Ayurvedic guide to surviving winter

Gopali Dasi-Doyle Ayurveda , , ,

Ayurveda is an ancient Vedic health and wellness system and is the sister science of yoga. Ayurveda literally means “the science of life”. Ayurveda offers profound wisdom as to how to live a healthy and balanced life; emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually.

One of the fundamental principles of Ayurveda is that one must live harmoniously with nature in order to maintain balance and enjoy optimum health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, many more modern interpretations of healthy living do not acknowledge the importance of adjusting diet and lifestyle according to the rhythms of nature as Ayurveda does. Eating and living according to the seasons is such a simple way to improve your health and wellbeing.

So how do we apply this ancient wisdom to our modern lives? And how best do we support our bodies to be healthy and balanced in the upcoming winter months?

First we must understand the nature of winter according to Ayurveda.

The first half of winter is dominated by Vata (a combination of air and ether), think of that airy creative wonderfully eccentric friend who always runs late but it so doesn’t matter because when they finally arrive they make you laugh and have a million amazing things to say, and many projects on the go, none of them quite finished yet, that is Vata. The first half of winter we notice that often our energy starts to burn out more quickly, the chaos of Vata energy can take hold and anxiety increases, the cold really gets to us and our skin gets super dry.

This is a time to rug up, nurture and love oneself!

Focus on deep breathing, warm nourishing foods, take time to rest, to be still and contemplate. Ayurveda works on the principle that “like increases like” the Vata energy is dry mobile, cold, light and rough. In autumn and the first half of winter these qualities will increase, so things like warm oil massage, grounding and warmth are required. Ways that you can help to balance Vata energy during the first half of winter include adding a yin practice to your yoga routine, focus on grounding in your practice, nice deep breathing and long savasnas! Sounds good to me!!

Eat warm nourishing meals, avoid raw food as raw food will increase the cold, dry and rough qualities of Vata.

Kapha dominates the second part of winter. Kapha is a combination of water and earth. Kapha is that super reliable, steady friend who always has a big hug and a kind word to make you feel better, so very loving but just that little bit slow to move and get motivated! Hence the second part of winter can lead to accumulation, stagnancy, weight gain and snotty noses!

Kapha is slow, heavy, sweet, cold, sticky and dull so we need to move a bit more to shake that kapha up (particularly if you have a more kapha dominant constitution).

More dynamic, heating yoga practices are good at this time. It might be a total struggle to get up and get going but you will feel so much better for it.

You can also reduce the heaviness by eating lighter but still warming foods, again raw food is not best at this time of year but to bring the light quality into your food whilst also maintaining warmth to avoid kapha accumulation try swapping salad for steamed vegetables with some fresh lemon juice to increase digestive capacity.

Kapha energy moves into the first part of spring, as the weather warms up the kapha that accumulated over winter begins to “Melt”, because of this spring is the ultimate time for a detox to cleanse any accumulation and stagnancy that developed over winter.

Develop a daily routine:

Ayurveda recommends routine to help support the nervous system and increase stability in our body and our minds. This is particularly important in the winter months.

Practice cleansing the senses daily to support healthy flow of prana (governed by Vata) and to prevent stagnation, congestion and ill health.

Some examples of this include using a Netti pot (pouring salty warm weather through the nasal passages), oil pulling (swishing black sesame or coconut oil in the mouth for 10 minutes and spitting back out), tongue scraping and self-massage with warm sesame oil (leave on skin for 15-30 minutes before having a hot shower).

In the morning drink, Fresh ginger and fresh turmeric tea with lemon or lime juice and teaspoon of honey, ginger and turmeric anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial properties, the lemon or lime juice alkalise and boost digestion whereas the honey adds a “scraping” effect so helps to remove congestion and break through excess mucous. However due to its heating nature people with a pitta constitution should take care to have honey in moderation and Vata types should also due to its scraping nature and Vata already being inherently quite dry.

The daily practice of drinking this tea in the morning before breakfast keep colds and flus away and also boosts Agni (digestive capacity described as a” fire” and named in Ayurveda after the god of fire: Agni ).

Often Agni will drop in strength in the colder months, so warmth and mindfulness in our eating is important to nourish the digestive “fire”.

The health of your Agni is everything, it is transformation, it transforms our food into substance that our cells can recognise and absorb.

Seriously you can eat all the best food in the world but if you are not digesting it you may as well be eating potato chips (well maybe not to that extent but you get the picture!).

There is some truth in the old saying you are what you eat but I prefer the saying you are what you digest, if your digestion is not sufficient you will not absorb the nutrients you need to nourish the tissues. According to Ayurveda the biggest health concern in anyone is indigestion, as this is where almost every imbalance in the body begins.

A basic guide to winter eating:

Start your day right, winter requires us to focus more on nourishment and grounding in our eating habits. For those of a pitta or Vata constitution warm oat porridge is a fantastic start to the day. Make sure to use whole oats not quick oats and soak them over night. Adding raisins is a good way to offer extra nourishment and also help improve absorption and iron levels.

Adding warm but sweet spices will also help add nourishment to this meal, for example ground cinnamon and cardamom, add some maple syrup or a small amount of honey as a sweetener to make it tasty and add to nourishment.

For those with a more kapha type constitution if the hunger is not there in the morning it is ok to simply have a warm drink or if you do have an appetite then something like quinoa would be a better grain to have at breakfast time as it is not so heavy and higher protein.

Lunch Should always be the biggest meal of the day as the digestive capacity is at its peak (powered by the warmth of the sun… yes we are kind of solar powered!).
A good balance of protein, low GI grains such as basmati rice, quinoa or barley and plenty of fresh vegetables (organic where possible).

Add spices to your meals to make them more digestible and increase your absorption of the nutrients in the food. Spices such as ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel are great spices for all body types. In winter and particularly if you’re a kapha type go for even more pungent spices such as cayenne pepper, chilli, onion and garlic in moderation.

Dinner Should be warm, light but nourishing, it is best to avoid grains at dinner time and where possible eat dinner before 7pm to allow time to digest before sleeping.
A warm and nourishing soup is the best option for dinner. Soup is easy to digest but it still helps ground you and give you a big warm food hug!

When it comes to snacking try and be mindful of your reason for snacking, are you truly hungry? Or has snacking simply become a habit?

Try and go for healthy alternatives when it comes to snacking some good options are nuts (that have been soaked overnight) or fruit can be eaten in between meals, dried fruits such as raisins, dates and prunes are a good way to get extra nourishment and a little healthy sweet hit!

Because digestive capacity is automatically that bit lower in winter it is the time of year to be especially conscious not to overeat.

That being said sometimes we have just got to enjoy that piece of cake, so if that happens just smile while you eat it, enjoy it and then sip on some ginger tea or chew some fennel seeds. Ayurveda teaches us the art form of finding balance, it is all about becoming empowered with the wisdom to bring ourselves gently back into balance.

Life is made for living and becoming too rigid or letting guilt get the better of us can have a detrimental effect on our health, the guilt is worse than the calories!

That doesn’t mean you have a free ticket to live off junk food, it just means allow yourself to be human from time to time, be kind to yourself and enjoy your food with a healthy attitude and balanced moderation.

My mum would always tell me, “everything in moderation including moderation itself”


Lots of love,