Winter’s here – the leaves have fallen from the trees, it’s much colder, the days are shorter and the nights are longer and all around us nature has withdrawn, is hibernating, slumbering, dormant, resting and renewing before reawakening in Spring.
There’s a stillness all around us that we didn’t see earlier in the year and the Earth’s energy is now focused inwards inviting us to do the same – rest, reflect, dream and renew in readiness for the return of light after the Winter Solstice.
In Ayurvedic terms, the seasons are characterised by cycles of Pitta, Vata and Kapha. Earlier in the year, in my Women’s Wellness in Autumn blog post, we saw that Autumn is a Vata season characterised by being cool, light, dry, windy and unpredictable. But now, we’ve moved into the coldness, dampness, heaviness and darkness of Winter, which is a Kapha season (characterised by being cold, wet, heavy, stable, solid, unctuous and slow) with some Vata undertones.
In Ayurvedic philosophy, like increases like and opposites balance. The qualities opposite to Kapha are predominantly warm, dry, light and active, and those opposite to Vata are moist, grounding, warming, smooth, oily and stabilising. During Winter, it is therefore best for us to seek out physical and emotional environments, routines and foods that possess these opposite qualities.
So how can you adapt your daily routines to counteract these Kapha and to a lesser extent Vata imbalances, as well as supporting your own natural prakriti?
In Winter, your agni or digestive fire is at its strongest as your body needs more food to stay warm and healthy. So, you’ll naturally want to eat larger quantities of hearty warming ‘comfort’ food and you’ll avoid cold or chilled food and drinks.
A Kapha diet will help to reduce the fluid and congestion of Winter and can be useful for counteracting the tiredness, heaviness and sluggishness we often feel at this time. Ideally, try to eat only when you’re hungry, choosing light, dry or warm foods and avoiding foods that are heavy, oily or cold. It’s best to avoid snacking between meals or overeating and steer clear of raw or refrigerated foods as well as yeast, salt, cheese, yogurt, chocolate (difficult, I know, at Christmas), refined sugar, flour, low quality oils and red meat.
Kapha foods you may want to incorporate into your diet include eggs; vegetables such as beetroot, broccoli, carrots, cooked spinach, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage; all spices but especially ginger, garlic and black, cayenne and chilli pepper; lighter fruits such as baked or stewed apples and pears; meats like venison, chicken or turkey, as well as seafood; and cooked grains like oatmeal, cornmeal, barley, tapioca and basmati rice.
And you’ll be very pleased to know that dry, red wine (in moderation) is great for balancing the Kapha tendencies of Winter, as is a nurturing decongestant tea made with half a teaspoon each of dried ginger, cinnamon and cloves boiled in water for five minutes. And a lovely treat just before bedtime to help you to sleep is a mug of warm milk with a pinch of turmeric or dried ginger and nutmeg.
If you’ve overindulged during the festive period or you’re particularly prone to Kapha imbalances such as coughs, colds and congestion, you may benefit from the cleansing effects of a one-day water or juice fast. Or you may want to try a Mizan Abdominal Massage which is particularly effective for supporting digestion and other abdominal conditions.
Some of us suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and feel the effects of Winter more than others, but most of us experience the isolation, loneliness and gloominess of the season, so, without rushing, we need to incorporate some lightness, laughter and companionship into our routines; we need to incorporate some hygge.
In Winter, it’s fine to sleep in a bit later as remaining in the warmth and comfort of your bed will help you to rejuvenate before starting your morning routine. Brushing your teeth with a cinnamon toothpaste to help reduce your sensitivity to the cold and then holding about 50ml of warm sesame oil in your mouth for around three minutes is a lovely nourishing start to the day. While it may sound a strange thing to do, the sesame oil is effective for balancing Vata and helps to strengthen the teeth and heal bleeding and receding gums.
Incorporating self massage and Yoga Nidra into your daily routines can have a powerful healing effect in releasing toxins, relieving tension and rejuvenating your body and mind.
Warm your sesame oil, olive oil or coconut oil in the airing cupboard or a pan of water before massaging into your whole body starting at your feet and working upwards and including your scalp and the crown of your head. Use long strokes on your arms and legs, circular strokes on your joints and massage your chest and abdomen in a clockwise direction, following the direction of your large intestine on your abdomen – up on the right, across under the ribs and then down on the left. Massage your body for between five and 20 minutes and then just rest, letting the oil be absorbed into your skin. You could relax into a wonderful Yoga Nidra here before having a warm bath or shower to wash off the excess oil.
Unless you are pregnant or menstruating, a castor oil pack can be especially nourishing at this time of year, promoting your circulation and helping to relieve reproductive issues, digestive upsets, bladder conditions, liver disorders and inflamed joints.
As well as helping to combat the Winter ailments caused by Kapha imbalances such as coughs and colds and aching joints, essential oils can also be useful in lifting your spirits and reducing the stress of the festive season.
Citrus oils, such as Lemon or Orange, and Peppermint oil can boost your mood and if you suffer from aching joints or poor circulation, choose three of the following warming essential oils and add two drops of each to 10ml of carrier oil: Black Pepper, Cardamom, Clove Bud, Ginger, Juniper Berry, Marjoram or Rosemary. Then simply massage the oil into your fingers, toes and joints.
For blocked sinuses or congestion, you could try adding Cypress, Eucalyptus, Frankincense, Peppermint, Pine or Tea Tree oil to your diffuser or simply add two drops of your favourite three oils from the list above to a bowl of steaming hot water, and inhale.
During Winter, your Yoga practice should be stimulating, invigorating and powerful to balance Kapha, increase your circulation and clear any congestion, with a focus on the lower back, chest and stimulating the abdomen.
Perhaps try a few rounds of Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) until you are nice and warm and you are breathing deeply and always try to include some strong back bends and forward bends into your practice to open the chest and move stagnant Kapha.
Forward Bend (Pashchimottanasana) will help to open your spine and nourish your kidneys, whilst Camel post (Ushtrasana), Wheel pose (Chakrasana), Cow pose (Gomukhasana) and Cat pose (Marjarasana) are particularly useful for opening the chest.
Make sure you look after yourself this Winter but if you feel you need further support with your wellness, please get in touch.
I specialise in working with women one to one and enjoy being part of their journey of reconnection and self-discovery. I support women to find more balance and harmony in their lives by deepening their inner connection to their own body’s needs, helping them cope pre-conception, with fertility issues, prenatally, postnatally or during times of transition, grief or loss and helping alleviate the symptoms of menstruation, perimenopause or menopause.