Seasonal Wellness Guide: Winter

I truly believe that the better you feel, the more magical you are. When you feel good, content, nourished, and supported – your personal energy is strong. When I was in my first training as a yoga teacher, we were introduced to Ayurveda, an alternative system of medicine with its roots in India. I decided to try and incorporate some of its teachings into my life, and I’m thankful I did, especially during the changing of the seasons. The Ayurvedic practices that I adopted into my own routine have really helped me remain balanced and stable in each season of the year, and I have found new appreciation even for the season I generally tend to dislike! (It’s actually spring…I just don’t like the muck and mud – my ducks sure do though). Right now we’re in the middle of winter, and if you feel like you’ve been really off or struggling to compensate for the lack of sunlight and cold, take a look through this guide and see if there’s anything that calls to you to incorporate into your wellness routine!

Information adapted and expanded upon from Banyan Botanicals, a great source for Ayurvedic products. I am not affiliated with them in any way – I just really enjoy their products and the information they have.

Winter is certainly here. Everywhere around you, nature is dormant, withdrawn, and settled into the long, dark season of slumber and rest. There’s a particular stillness and quiet that really characterizes winter, and with it comes a subtle invitation to redirect our own energies.

            The winter season is the perfect remedy for the fast-paced activity of the summer and autumn. Winter is a time to rest, reflect, hold space, vision, hibernate, and withdraw some of your outwardly focused energy and redirect it inward. However, at the same time, the calm, peaceful nature of winter can also feel a bit oppressive at times, and can leave us feeling weighed down, stagnant, uninspired, and even lonely or depressed. Every season has the potential to either uplift or push down your sense of well-being.

            Seasonal routines are incredibly important for our health, and many of us have fallen away from these routines because we are no longer connected to what is going on outside of our homes or workspaces. We can feel a lot better and more balanced if we watch Mother Nature and mimic her seasonal routines. It takes a very, very long time for our physical bodies to evolve. We may be living in a technological era advancing at breakneck speed…but our bodies are not evolving as quickly as this. No, we are still physically much closer to our ancestors of the last 1-2,000 years. In order to take care of our bodies in the way that they’re still used to, we need to be connected to the outside world and aware of our routines.

            If we consider the Ayurvedic principle that opposites together equal balance, winter (which is cold, heavy, moist, grounded, slow and sometimes dry with the wind and central heating) will be less aggravating if you fill it with warmth, oiliness, deep nourishment, more rest and sleep, loving relationships, and a sense of stability and routine. It will be helpful to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of typical imbalance during winter so that you are better prepared to address them immediately if they arise:

Winter (Kapha) Imbalance Signs and Symptoms

Mind

  • Generalized feeling of heaviness or lethargy
  • Sluggishness, drowsiness, or brain fogs
  • Excessive sleep, laziness, melancholy, or depression

Digestion

  • A sense of heaviness
  • An uncomfortable feeling of fullness in the stomach
  • Nausea
  • Excessive salivation
  • Poor appetite
  • A sweet taste in the mouth, even if you haven’t eaten
  • Indigestion
  • Slow or surpressed metabolism
  • Stool that is heavy, oily, pale, or sticky

Respiratory System

  • Colds, coughs, excessive accumulation of mucus, a runny nose, excessive nasal crust, and hay fever.
  • Can also appear as congestion or a feeling of tightness in the sinuses, throat, or chest.

Circulatory System, Nails, Scalp, and Hair

  • Lymphatic congestion, swollen lymph glands, mild (and intermittent) hypertension.
  • Hives, itching, abnormally pale skin, cold sweats, reduction of sweating
  • Loss of strength, formation of lipomas, or weight gain.

Elsewhere in the Body

  • Water retention, excessive urination, low grade fevers, fungal infections, excessive ear wax, dental tartar, excessive hair growth
  • Low sex drive or an exaggerated desire for sex, premature ejaculation (emotional), enlarged prostate, cold or heavy testicles, fibrocystic lumps, and prolonged, slow menstrual cycles.
  • Swelling or stiffness in the joints, a sense of heaviness in the eyes, and whiteness in the urine, eyes, or feces.

So, if you are experiencing any of these imbalances as we come fully into Winter, let’s talk about how to balance and navigate this beautiful season with grace.

Winter Season Diet

  • In general, you’ll want to focus on eating warm, cooked, slightly oily, well-spiced foods, favoring a balance of the six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent)
  • Drink room temperature, warm, or hot beverages and avoid iced or chilled drinks if possible. Your body is trying to stay warm! You can increase heat and circulation while encouraging clean and clear respiratory passages by drinking a tea boiled for 5 minutes with a 1/2 teaspoon each of dried ginger, cinnamon, and clove.
  • Hearty, heating vegetables like radishes, cooked spinach, onions, carrots, and other root vegetables are generally well-received this time of year, as are hot spices like garlic, ginger, black pepper, cayenne, and chili peppers.
  • Breakfasts of cooked grains – like oatmeal, cornmeal, barley, tapioca, rice, or kitchari make a terrific breakfast.
  • Lunches and dinners that include steamed vegetables, whole wheat breads, and mushy soups are ideal.
  • Legumes are generally good for kapha, but they should be well-cooked, well-spices, and garnished with a dollop of ghee (butter).
  • If you eat meat and eggs, this is one of the best times of year to enjoy them. Eggs are best either poached or hard boiled, and meats to favor would be chicken, turkey, rabbit, or venison.  
  • Dairy is best reduced in the winter months, but a cup of hot, spiced milk with a pinch of turmeric (golden milk) or dried ginger and nutmeg before bed can help encourage sound sleep.
  • You will want to reduce your consumption of cold, damp foods, excessively sweet foods, overly heavy or oily foods, and frozen foods.
  • Portion control is essential to balancing kapha in the winter. Make sure that your stomach is never quite full. Aim for 70% full. Ideally, at the end of a meal, the stomach contains 1/3 food, 1/3 liquid, and 1/3 empty.

Fruits to Favor

  • Apples, apricots, bananas, berries, cantaloupe, cherries, dates, figs, grapefruit, lemons, limes, mangoes, oranges, papaya, peaches, and tangerines.

Vegetables to Favor

  • Asparagus, beets, brussel sprouts, carrots, chilies, corn, eggplant, garlic, green beans, cooked greens, mushrooms, leeks, onions, okra, potatoes, rutabaga, spinach (cooked), winter squash, and turnips.

Grains to Favor

  • Amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, basmati rice, brown rice, rye, seitan, and wheat.

Legumes to Favor

  • Brown lentils, red lentils, miso, mung beans, navy beans, tempeh, tofu, toor dal, and urad dal.

Nuts and Seeds to Favor

  • Almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.

Dairy to Favor

  • Butter, soft cheeses, cottage cheese, cow’s milk (not cold), goat’s milk (not cold), and sour cream.

Animal Products to Favor (if in your diet)

  • Eggs, freshwater fish, poultry, rabbit, shrimp, and venison.

Oils to Favor

  • Almond oil, corn oil, flaxseed oil, ghee, mustard oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil.

Sweetners to Favor

  • Honey, jaggary, and molasses.

Spices to Favor

  • All spices are supportive in winter.

Winter Season Lifestyle Choices

            In general, you’ll want to cultivate a light heart and a sharp sense of purpose this winter in order to counter the cold, grey weather and the seasonal tendency towards melancholy and loneliness. Invite warmth into your mind, body, and relationships and create frequent opportunities for fun and laughter. Try to avoid rushing. Instead, make a solid effort to embrace a slower, more relaxed pace through the winter months. This is a great time to engage in meaningful relationships and to socialize, with the holidays and all, but be sure to balance it with some quiet time, reflection, and stillness. After all, the slow, heavy qualities of the winter months offer a rare opportunity to retreat and check in with ourselves.

  • One of the most effective ways to support yourself in winter is to establish a daily routine. Try to do the same things (wake up, exercise, eat meals, go to bed, etc.) at roughly the same times each day.
  • It’s appropriate to sleep a little later in the winter, but you will feel fresher and more motivated if you wake up around 7:00 AM to take full advantage of the silence, stillness, and peace that are naturally included in the early morning hours.
  • Drink some room temperature or warm water when you first get up – your body hasn’t had any liquids in 8 or so hours!
  • Brush your teeth, scrape your tongue, and rinse your mouth.
  • In the mornings, you can calm your nervous system, awaken your tissues, and ground your energy by massaging your skin with warm, organic sesame oil. Do this before a warm, morning shower to give the oil a chance to soak into the skin, even if it’s only for five minutes. The warm water of the shower will open the pores in your skin so the oil can sink in deeper, giving you a protective, moisturizing layer before you go out into the windy cold.
  • Steam baths and humidifiers can help to preserve internal moisture as well, especially if your home is dry.
  • If you enjoy aromatherapy, cinnamon, clove, ginger, sweet orange, peppermint, and sandalwood essential oils are very appropriate at this time of year. Do not put cinnamon, clove, or ginger oils directly on your skin. These are HOT oils and will burn!
  • Ever heard of color therapy? Try dressing in bright, warm colors and see if it has any impact on your sense of wellbeing this winter. Reds, yellows, and oranges are very stimulating this time of year. Also, be sure you wear enough clothes that you stay warm during the day. Layers! When you go outside, be sure to cover your head and ears to protect them from the wind and cold.
  • Try your best to skip daytime naps. The days are so short now that you have a longer evening to relax and unwind.
  • Try and settle down into bed by 10 or 11 PM so your body can rest and restore fully before the next morning.

Winter Season Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to support optimal physical and mental health through the winter months. It’s really important to listen to your body in the winter – if you’re feeling overextended or anxious, aim for slower, gentler, and strengthening exercise. If you feel weighed down, slow, or sluggish, try to increase the duration or intensity of your workout. Exercise is best done between 6 AM and 10 AM or 6 PM and 10 PM, depending on your schedule.

And there you have it! The seasonal wellness guide for winter. Do you feel inspired to try anything suggested? Have you already been acquainted with Ayurveda? How does it support you? Leave it in the comments!

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