As winter approaches, a layer of chill slowly engulfs the world and puts it in a state of dormant slumber. A cozy cover of snow envelops the world and all activities and energies dim to a gentle lull. It’s time to withdraw your energies and reserve them for the coming season.
In winter, you direct all your outward energy inwards and settle into a state of reflection, repose, and hibernation. The cold season helps you retrieve all the spent energy over the year and revive you for the next one.
To have a healthy and balanced life, it’s important to stay in perfect harmony with nature. Changing your diet and lifestyle can be a great way to stay in rhythm with the natural cycle of seasons. Once you understand your intrinsic nature and qualities and how they change with each season, it’ll be easier for you to make a healthy lifestyle and diet choices and optimize your immune system, digestion, and energy.
As per Ayurveda, tuning into nature also helps you to be more mindful about your own constitution, or prakruti, which comprises of three energies, or doshas - Vata, the energy for movement, Pitta, the energy for digestion, and Kapha, the energy for stability. These energies are created from a combination of elements, the same ones we find in nature - Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Ether. These elements contain different sets of qualities and are present in both your body and mind.
Ayurveda has laid down a system of seasonal living, also known as Ritucharya. Ritu means season and Charya means regimen. Following these regimens and Ayurvedic practices will ensure that your body and mind acclimatize to the different seasons and the body homeostasis doesn’t get altered. Ayurveda divides the year into two periods or Ayanas based on the movement of the sun. There are two Ayanas - Uttarayana or northern solstice and Dakshinayana or southern solstice containing three seasons each. So while Shishira (winter), Vasanta (spring), and Grishma (summer) fall in Uttarayana, Varsha (monsoon), Sharata (autumn), and Hemanta (late autumn) fall in Dakshinayana. Each of the seasons contains different elements and energies, the imbalance of which creates diseases and illnesses.
In winter, the weather is cold and chilly with a lot of moisture. The winter season is also characterized by a feeling of lethargy when animals and humans generally go into a hibernating mode. These qualities generally define the Kapha dosha and hence winter is generally believed to be a Kapha season. When the Kapha dosha is balanced, it provides strength and stability to the body and mind. However, in some cases, winter also has a cold and dry spell which bears signs of the Vata dosha. You’ll have to balance out the Vata dosha otherwise you’ll end up feeling isolated and depressed.
Many people don’t like winter since they consider it to be a season of cold, flu, and other contagious diseases. So it’s often believed that winter decreases your immunity to a great extent. However, Ayurveda feels otherwise and believes winter to be one where you can strengthen your immunity. The age-old science shows how to improve your immunity and how to stay healthy in winter.
In Ayurveda, Bala means immunity which includes not just physical immunity but psychological and spiritual immunity as well. Bala helps in providing the body and mind with endurance to fight off any problems that affect the different areas of immunity. Various factors affect your immunity such as diet, lifestyle, season, and age. You can maintain a consistent level of immunity throughout any ups and downs in your life.
There are three levels of immunity:
Hereditary (Sahaj) - the inherent immunity level you’re born with.
Seasonal (Kalaj) - the changing immunity levels due to planetary and seasonal shifts.
Established (Yuktikrit) - the consistent level of immunity that can be maintained by leading an Ayurvedic lifestyle.
Ayurveda focuses on strengthening the second level of immunity which fluctuates with changes in seasons and planetary cycles. Winter is a good time to build your immunity since digestion is stronger in the cold weather. As a result, people feel more hungry and digest more which nourishes their bodies.
Many people have the misconception that winter is bad for immunity because it’s difficult to digest. However, that’s not the case. This is because as appetite increases, people tend to eat more junk food which affects their immunity. Having more Ayurvedic winter food can help in boosting immunity instead of weakening it. Choosing these immunity-boosting foods by Ayurveda will help nourish both your body and mind. Lifestyle too plays an important role in helping you maintain good immunity throughout the season.
Here are some simple health tips for winter to keep you going throughout the season:
Rest - Winter is characterized by long nights and smaller days so you should give your body and mind an ample amount of rest. Going to bed early and rising early can help you to create the perfect balance.
Reduce stress - Winter helps you slow down which helps you to reduce stress to a great extent. Having a planned and organized routine for your daily activities can help you avoid clutter and confusion and reduce anxiety.
Exercise - Since the winter season induces lethargy, you need to provide stimulation to your body. Exercise is a great way to achieve this. Depending on your energy levels and the time of the day, you can choose your exercise regimes.
Practice yoga - Yoga is a great way to calm your mind and stay healthy. There are different movements that help produce heat in the body for the cold season and are ideal for balancing Vata and Kapha.
Choose hot, warm beverages and cooked food - In winter, it’s best to avoid chilled beverages and cold food since it may have an adverse effect on the immune system. Opting for cooked food and warm beverages can help balance the Vata and Kapha perfectly for the season.
Choose sweet, sour and salty foods - In Ayurveda, there are various tastes that match the rhythms of each season. In winter, it’s best to choose sweet, sour, and salty foods instead of bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes.
Use Ayurvedic herbal medicines - If you discover symptoms such as cold, cough, and fever, you can go for Ayurvedic medicines for increasing body heat that will create a healthy balance in the season.
Now let’s look at these tips in detail below.
Many people who intend to improve their immunity are not sure about what to eat in winter. To maintain a healthy diet in the winter season, it’s important to choose foods that are natural Ayurvedic immunity boosters. Immunity-boosting foods are those which are fresh, organic, easily digestible, and wholesome. Some of the best foods to eat in winter are fresh milk, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and ghee (clarified butter).
Winter foods that are easily digestible are ideal if you want to increase your immunity. It’s also important to avoid commercially processed food, foods produced with chemicals and preservatives, or even those which are canned, frozen, and packaged. This is because they disrupt the functioning of the digestive system and the immune system.
Your winter food items should also be those which are warm, lightly cooked, less oily and spicy. In Ayurveda, there is the mention of six distinct tastes, namely Sweet (Madhura), Salty (Lavana), Pungent (Katu), Sour (Amla), Bitter (Tikta), and Astringent (Kashaya). Each of these tastes comprises of two distinct elements. Although the foods to eat in winter should have a balance of all tastes, however, your winter diet should include the sweet, sour, and salty tastes more than the astringent, bitter, and pungent tastes.
Home-cooked foods are some of the best winter season foods, provided they aren’t deep fried and are cooked with light oils such as ghee or olive oil. You should also avoid cold food and chilled beverages and instead eat warm food and room temperature beverages. This will help keep your digestive fire burning and keep your body warm.
Another good food for the winter season is tea since it helps in good digestion. You can sip a cup of tea after meals. Some of the other winter healthy foods are heat-producing vegetables such as radish, onions, carrots, and spinach and hot spices such as garlic, ginger, black pepper, and chilli pepper. You can add a range of cooked grains such as oatmeal, barley, tapioca, and cornmeal to your diet in winter. Moreover, legumes are a good option since they are good for Kapha and should be consumed with ghee so as to reduce the effects of Vata. Eggs and meats such as chicken, venison, and turkey are also good foods to eat in winter. Although it’s best to avoid dairy in winter, however, a glass of hot milk with turmeric and nutmeg can induce good sleep. It’ll also help to stick to water or juice-based fast for a refreshing winter Ayurvedic cleanse, especially if you suffer from Kapha imbalances such as cough and cold.
If you’re confused about what to eat in the winter season, here’s a complete list of the Ayurvedic foods for winter:
Ginger and garlic
Millets (in moderation)
Rye (in moderation)
Milk (not cold)
Alcohol (in moderation)
Herb teas such as chamomile and ginger
Coffee (in moderation)
A Vata balancing diet is the key to maintaining good immunity in winter. The two key elements of a Vata-pacifying diet are warm and cooked food. For example, warm soups and stews, hot cereals, and warm beverages such as herb teas are ideal for maintaining your body heat and, consecutively, your immunity. The predominant tastes are sweet, sour, and salty, and bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes should be avoided. Sweet, sour and heavy fruits such as oranges, bananas, cherries, pineapple, and berries and cooked vegetables such as beets, carrots, asparagus, and sweet potatoes are the ideal food to consume in the winter season. Some of the Vata reducing herbs and spices include cardamom, cumin, oregano, cloves, and turmeric.
Many have questions such as how to keep the body warm naturally and how to reduce Vata in the body in winter. A simple solution to achieve these is by maintaining a strict regime for your food and eating them in regular and proper intervals. It’s important not to skip any meals, have a heavy breakfast and lunch, and a lighter dinner. Moreover, remember to have your dinner at least three hours before going to sleep. To satisfy your hunger pangs in-between meals, you can munch on nuts and raisins soaked in water.
Although winter is about slowing down and adopting a gradual pace of life, it’s important to stray away from a sense of purposelessness and melancholy. This is the time to indulge in meaningful relationships, socialize in a balanced way and keep time for quiet reflection.
Inducing certain predictability in your routine will go a long way in keeping the Vata in balance and boost the Kapha. You can divide the different portions of the day into a consistent routine and some spontaneous activity. For example, you can start your day with a regular morning routine such as yoga, spend the afternoons outside dressed in bright and vibrant coloured clothes that cover your body properly and protect you from the cold, engage in some uplifting evening activity and retire early to sleep.
If you’re wondering about how to stay healthy in winter, then you should know that lifestyle is an important factor that affects your health apart from food. Disorderly habits such as staying up or working late at night, having meals at irregular times, and causing stress and fatigue to the body can negatively affect the functioning of the immune system. Keeping the body functioning and your daily activities in a smooth rhythm will help the immune system to be in perfect shape. It’s natural for the body to demand more sleep in winter since the days are shorter and the nights are longer. Moreover, the winter season is also a time to be in a resting period, so it’s ideal to reduce your activities to a bare minimum and provide more nourishment to the body.
In the winter season, things slow down which creates an environment of heaviness and stagnation. To overcome this feeling, it’s important to provide stimulation to the body. One of the healthy tips of winter to provide stimulation is yoga.
Some of the yoga tips to survive the cold season are:
Practice in the morning and evening - Different parts of the day have different energies when the Kapha dosha is dominant. When the energy is high, you feel active, while when the energy is lower, you feel slower. It’s ideal to practice when the energy is on a higher side. The morning time from 6 AM to 10 AM and evening time from 6 pm to 10 pm is the most conducive for practicing yoga.
Focus on the heat-building movements - Many of you may feel towards relaxed movements since it’s winter, however, it’s important to balance out the cold weather with warm heat-producing movements. You can start your practice with a few Surya Namaskar and move on to a Vinyasa.
Wear bright clothes during practice - Colour therapy actually works. It’s easy to let the winter blues take over to make you feel dark and down. This is where bright colors help to lift your mood up. Some of the colors you can try out our reds, oranges, purples, and yellows.
Focus on leg-heavy postures - Incorporating more squats, lunges, and warrior poses can help you to increase the strength in your legs which adds to our mental wellbeing. More power in your legs means that you feel more positive and emotionally stable.
Play some music while you practice - A great way to provide steady stimulation while you practice is by keeping some uplifting tunes in the background. It can really help you get you in the mindset to work it out by overcoming your laziness.
Some of the yoga movements that you can practice during winter are:
Supta Baddha Konasana or Reclining Bound Angle Pose
Balasana or Child's Pose
Sucirandhrasana or Eye of the Needle Pose
Anjaneyasana or Low Lunge
Prasarita Padottanasana or Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana or Pigeon Pose
One of the best Ayurvedic tips for winter you can get for optimal mental and physical health is exercise. A slow and strengthening exercise regime will help to balance out the Vata in the atmosphere. On the other hand, to balance out the Kapha, you can go for a more physically involving and longer exercise regime. It’s important to respond to the signals of the body. If you feel exhausted, then you can go for Vata-pacifying exercises such as walking or gentle yoga, whereas if you’re feeling lazy and heavy, then it’s best to go for a more vigorous regime such as jogging or skiing.
Winter, apart from a feeling of languidness, can also bring in the cold, flu, and fever if you’re not careful. Thankfully, there are several Ayurvedic medicines for cold which can help you be in optimum health. Here are two such effective medicines that can help you survive the winter season with ease:
Myaxyl Balm - Due to sinus and other problems that arise in winter, headaches are a common ailment for many. The Myaxyl Balm is the perfect antidote to headache, joint pain, muscular sprains, and neuralgia. This anti-inflammatory & analgesic Ayurvedic medicine is a counter-irritant and contains specialized oils and herbs that help reduce the effects of cold, cough, infection and other associated problems. The greatest advantage of Myaxyl Balm is that it works really fast and can help reduce joint stiffness and swelling real quick. The essential components in this effective medicine are Yavani (Trachyspermum Ammi), Karpoora (Cinnamomum camphora), and Mahanarayna Taila. Yavani contains anti-inflammatory properties and an essential oil comprising 50% thymol which is known for its antispasmodic properties. Karpura is a natural counter-irritant and helps reduce congestion and swelling. Mahanarayna Taila is a renowned Ayurvedic oil known to help in curing arthritis and inflammation.
Sinactil Oil - This is for external use and can prove effective for a range of ailments such as Sinusitis, Rhinitis, Tonsillitis and problems affecting the upper respiratory tract. Some effective herbs such as Brahmi, Karaskaralata, Aranya Tulasi and Samudra Phal go into this oil which helps in providing relief from congestion and cold. The main components of this Ayurvedic medicine are Bacopa monnieri (Brahmi), Tiliacora accuminata (Karaskaralata), Ocimum canum (Aranya Thulasi), Barringtonia acutangula (Samudra Phal), Boswellia serrata (Kunturushka), Coconut oil, and castor oil.
For people suffering from psoriasis, the symptoms may worsen as the Winter season kicks in. This is primarily due to little or no exposure to UV rays from the sun that prevent the growth of skin cells responsible for causing psoriasis. The lack of humidity during winter also results in dryness-related psoriasis symptoms.
Ayurvedic treatments, like the ones listed below, can greatly help alleviate joint-pain:
Lepa – Involves the application of external herbal pastes on the affected region
Abhyanga – An age-old practice that involves massaging the joints with medicinal oil
Parisheka – Showering or sprinkling herbal/medicinal liquids/milk over the pain areas
Avagahana – Avagahana involves dipping parts or joints in medicinal liquids or milk
Upanaha – The process of placing a heated moist herbal mass on the affected area
Aligning yourself to the rhythms of nature is the key to living a balanced life and maintaining healthy levels of Vata and Kapha. Both diet and lifestyle play an important role in helping you achieve this. Having a personalized routine goes a long way in contributing to the vitality and positivity of your being. In the end, attuning your body and mind to nature’s cycle is the key goal of Ayurveda which can help you lead a mindful and healthy life.
About Dr. Anjali Jayantrao Raichur
Dr. Anjali Raichur (BAMS, PGCPCK) is a holistic medicine expert specializing in Panchakarma who has been sharing her expertise with Kerala Ayurveda for almost a decade. Over the years, Dr. Anjali has successfully treated a wide gamut of skin and joint-related disorders like Psoriasis, hair loss, arthritis, UTI, etc. and has been actively involved in treating male and female infertility issues. “The beauty of Ayurveda lies in the fact that it not only treats the diseased one but also restores the health of a healthy person”, she says.