Ayurveda is a close sister of yoga. It’s an ancient and holistic system of medicine, developed in India thousands of years ago. It’s grounded in the simple principle of balance — because with balance comes good health.
An extensive study by two health scientists in 2016 highlighted the potential of ayurvedic knowledge to influence contemporary healthcare. They defined health from an ayurvedic viewpoint as:
“a state of equilibrium with one’s self (svasthya) but which is inextricably linked to the environment.”
Balance means adapting to changes in your environment that affect your physical and emotional wellbeing. What works for you in the heat of summer will be different from what makes you feel healthy and nourished during the winter.
Food and physical movement are two key components of Ayurveda. By recognising the qualities of winter, you can counterweight them with balancing qualities in your food choices, and with asana (yoga postures).
In the tradition of Ayurveda, there are three doshas, or biological energies, which exist in every living being. They are:
- Vata — Air. Qualities include: thin, physically cold, often tall. Creative and quick; changeable; excitable. Irregular. High energy, but in short bursts.
- Pitta — Fire. Qualities include: oily, hot, and light. Sharp — quick-thinking and intelligent. Liquid, moving, motivated.
- Kapha — Earth. Qualities include: slow paced, heavy, relaxed. Stocky and strong. Stable and reliable; honest, compassionate and faithful.
We humans usually have one dominant dosha which is natural to our body and personality type. This online quiz can help you figure out how the doshas are balanced within you.
When we know our dosha, and what symptoms to look out for when we're out of kilter, we can use food, meditation and movement to stay balanced.
And different seasons also come with a shift in the dominant dosha of the environment.
What Are the Properties of Winter?
With shorter days and longer nights, and a drop in temperature, winter is very much a kapha season. Vata is dominant during the transition through early winter — but when sets in, so can feelings of heaviness winter truly; slowness; and for some of us, low mood.
But if we use Ayurveda to tap into the opportunities winter brings, we can embrace this time and use it to rest and heal.
Winter is a time to reduce the amount of energy you’re sending out and, instead, focus your energy inwards. You may feel the desire to withdraw. To hibernate. To spend time alone, or with close family and friends. To be inside, putting things in order and taking stock of what’s been happening in your life lately.
In Ayurveda, winter is said to be a time of strong physical immunity — as long as we respect the changes we need to make to adapt to the cooler weather. When you become unbalanced during winter, and don’t pay attention to what your body needs to do, you’re more likely to catch colds or the flu, and feel congested and stiff.
How To Stay Balanced In Winter
Your diet is key to physical health and emotional wellbeing at this time of year. To keep your energy flowing and your immune system functioning well, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Eat warm, cooked foods, with oils and spices.
- Aim for tastes to be balanced; avoid foods that are too sweet, too sour, pungent, or bitter.
- Whole root vegetables are perfect for winter time. Try veggies like carrots, sweet potato and onions, flavoured with warming spices like black pepper, cinnamon, ginger and garlic.
- Cooked whole grains will raise your energy levels and give you the motivation to keep moving in the cold.
- Increase your Vitamin D intake to meet the lower levels of sunlight, either through your diet, or with a supplement.
- Reduce dairy intake; but turmeric spiced warm milk before bed helps to reduce inflammation and encourage good quality sleep.
With a nourishing and hearty, vegetable-focused winter diet, you’ll find yourself feeling more energetic and less likely to sink into a winter slump. You’ll feel even better if you rise early in the mornings and start your day with a mug of hot water with lemon juice to revitalise your digestive fire.
Movement To Raise Your Pitta
With the pull of kapha slowing you down, it’s important to keep moving in winter. Just a short yoga practice every day helps to shift any sluggish energy and make you feel strong and motivated.
Try this simple 15 minute practice first thing in the morning — and sip your hot lemon water when you’ve finished!
- Start seated, and close the eyes. Take a few moments to bring the awareness to the breath; checking in with how it feels. How the body feels. How you feel.
- Slowly, gently, flow through three Surya Namaskara (sun salutations), to get the blood flowing and the mind moving.
- Then come into savasana: lying supine with the palms facing up. Here, observe the vitalising effects of Surya Namaskara.
- And then move to seated again. Find a comfortable position. Close the eyes and rest the hands comfortable on the legs; breathe easily. Practice Natural Breath Awareness for a minute or two.
- Finally, take 5 rounds of Nadi Shodhana — alternate nostril breathing which promotes balance and clarity. You can find full instructions here.
I wish you a healthy, happy and balanced winter. It’s the perfect time to come back to yourself. To get really grounded in who you are and to connect with your purpose.
I’ll leave you with a gift…
A recipe for the perfect simple Ayurvedic winter soup!
Spiced Butternut Squash Soup
- 1 butternut squash
- 1/2 large onion
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 can coconut milk
- Juice of half a lime
- Salt to taste
- Lightly fry the onion and garlic.
- Chop the butternut squash into chunks and once the onion has softened, add the squash to the same pan and pour in boiling water until covered.
- Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down slightly and simmer until the squash is soft.
- Use a hand blender to blend the contents of the pan until smooth.
- Keep the pan over a low heat, and add the can of coconut milk, the spices, and the lime juice.
- Simmer for ten minutes, then add salt to taste. That’s it!