Ayurvedic Winter

· Heal

Ahhh... Take a slow deep breath. Winter is here. As the days become shorter and the weather turns cold and frosty, it is as if nature itself is telling us to slow down and go within. Each season has its own beauty and we connect to them in our own unique way. Some love the heat of summer, others connect to colours of Autumn. Still, some love winter. Growing up, I used to be one of those people who loved winters. I grew up in a country where there was an abundance of snow and frost and cold sunny days. We used to go skiing and ice skating for our PE lessons and spend hours queuing to go down an ice slide at nearly arctic temperatures! As kids, we didn't mind the cold so much. We used to laugh at how our trousers would stand up by themselves because of how frozen they got and enjoy watching the snowstorms out the window. My relationship with winter has changed somewhat since I moved to the UK. In Wales, there is virtually no snow, no ice slides and no snowstorms. But even though it doesn't look white, it is still winter and this season comes with its own set of rules. It is the season to slow down, relax and reflect. Naturally, we turn to warming, wholesome foods, like soups and stews and spend more evenings at home.

Ayurvedically, winter is predominantly a Kapha season with its cold, heavy and damp qualities. However, some winter days also exhibit Vata qualities, like coldness, dryness and wind. Therefore, Ayurveda recommends a Kapha Pacifying lifestyle in winter with attention to signs of Vata aggravation and consequent Vata pacifying adjustments. Because our digestion is naturally stronger in winter, it is a good season to indulge in eggs, meat and red wine. But, of course, do it in moderation :-) Bright, warming colours, like red and orange, can help brighten up your days as will good company and strengthening your connection to family and friends. Winters, with its short days, thick clouds and grey skies are conductive of loneliness and depression so make sure to maintain close ties with your community.

There is no need to get up early in winter - 7AM is a good start. It is important to maintain a daily routine and get enough sleep, so bed time of 10pm is ideal in the winter season. Ayurveda does not recommend day time sleep in winter as it would aggravate the Kapha dosha. If you feel tired during the day, I suggest a short, 15-20 minute yoga nidra session. Yoga Nidra is an old tantric practice that was revived by Swami Satyananda Saraswati of Bihar School of Yoga. It is an incredibly healing and powerful relaxation and meditation technique. However, you need to beware when you look for yoga nidra on the internet. There are many recordings that are streamed on YouTube claiming to be authentic Yoga Nidra practices. However, not all of them are the real thing. In fact, the majority are simple relaxation practices that do not apply the scientific basis of the real technique. I recommend the Tripura Mandala YouTube channel and website if you want to experience the real thing. Devatma, the person behind the channel, is a highly experienced teacher focussed exclusively on yoga nidra, meditation and prana nidra, as taught by Swami Satyananda. I know because I have studied the technique as part of my YTTC at the Mandala Yoga Ashram. I am planning to add Yoga Nidra recordings to my website in the near future so watch this space!

The other two practices I would recommend during winter is Jala Neti and Nasya. Jala Neti is part of yogic shatkarmas, the cleansing practices. It is performed by pouring mildly salted water into one nostril so that it flows out of the other using a neti pot.

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Some of the health benefits of using the neti pot daily include:

  • Clearer nostrils to allow free breathing
  • Removal of excess mucus
  • Reduction of pollen or allergens in nasal passages
  • Relieve of nasal dryness
  • Reduced cold and flue symptoms
  • Alleviation of sinus headaches
  • Improved sense of smell and taste
  • Reduced snoring

I recommend using the neti pot as part of your daily routine every morning or at least twice per week. Here is the link to a neti pot that I have used for years and I think is very good. It comes with its own measuring spoon and has a water level indicator too. Please use natural salt, without additives, for the solution, which should be comfortably warm - not cold or hot.

Nasya, is one of five cleansing techniques used in Ayurvedic Panchakarma treatment. It involves administration of medicated oils into the nasal passage. Nasya therapy is very useful to address the disease related to head region, including insomnia, stress, anxiety, early greying of hair and various allergies. It is also a very effective practice to treat chronic sinusitis. I would recommend administering 2 drops of warm oil into each nostril to begin with and, if you have the chance, steam and gently massage the face before administering the oil. Alternatively, you can administer the oil after you had a hot shower. I would also recommend doing this in the morning 30 minutes before food. You can use warm liquid ghee for this practice, which is also a good treatment for recurring headaches and migraine.

Lastly, one of the most useful and effective additions to your daily routine should be drinking hot water with lemon, ginger and honey first thing in the morning and throughout the day. It stimulates digestion, acts as gentle detoxifier and kindles the agni (digestive fire). This should be part of your routine all year around, not just in winter.