Ayurveda, a 5000-year-old healing system from India, believes that nature deeply influences our body, mind, and soul. According to Ayurveda, a human body comprises of three energies, or doshas, vata, pitta and kapha. To maintain the doshas in a healthy state, one must follow daily and seasonal regimens.
Vata, the energy of wind, is dry, rough, cold, light, sharp, and mobile in nature. During the cold winter months, these qualities can be reflected as dryness, coldness, cough, constipation, allergies, body aches, joint pains, anxiety, and sleeplessness. To maintain a balanced state in the winter, Ayurveda recommends a vata-pacifying regimen.
During the cold months, the appetite is usually stronger due to powerful digestive fire. Ayurveda recommends the intake of foods that are sweet, sour, and salty in taste and reducing the consumption of bitter, pungent, and astringent foods. The ancient healing philosophy teaches that cold foods and uncooked vegetables may weaken the digestive process. Cooked grains and vegetables provide warm, heavy, nutritional support that helps us adapt to the cold of winter. Whole wheat, Brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oats, red lentils, mung beans, sugar cane products, and healthy fats and oils should be consumed.
Preferred, cooked vegetables include asparagus, avocados, beets, carrots, cucumbers, okra, onions, sweet potatoes, and squash, including pumpkin and zucchini. Recommended fruit includes berries, cherries, coconut, dates, grapes, grapefruits, lemons, melons, oranges, papaya, and pineapple. Warm milk flavored with saffron is also suggested. Eggs, seafood, chicken, turkey, and alcoholic drinks like wine can be taken moderately.
Nuts and seeds are perfect to combat cold, dry weather. Ginger and sesame snaps made with jaggery (unrefined sugar), roasted peanuts and sunflower seeds make good snacks on wintry days. Sipping herbal teas made of ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, and cardamom throughout the day can uplift the mood, enhance digestion, and improve blood circulation, according to Ayurveda.
A morning ritual of a whole-body massage with vata-balancing herbal oils should be performed daily before bathing to prevent dryness. Powders of amla (Indian Gooseberry) soap nut and chickpea flour can be used in place of soaps and body washes that cause dryness of the skin. Lukewarm water should be used for washing and bathing. Light steam treatments are good, but saunas should be avoided. Ghee (clarified butter) can be used as a lip balm for dry lips. Ayurveda promotes moderate exercise like yoga and stretching during vata season. Exposure to the warmth of sunlight and fire as much as possible may prevent seasonal affective disorder. Massaging the feet with sesame oil or coconut oil before bed prevents cracked feet and helps maintain warmth throughout the night.
Many Ayurvedic herbs and formulas can be purchased at local herb shops or online to keep the body healthy and in balance; however, all of them should be treated just like medications and should be used only after consulting with an Ayurvedic Specialist. Chyawanaprash, a mixture of spices and herbs including Amla, a rich source of vitamin C, is used to enhance the immune system and prevent upper respiratory tract infections. Amalaki rasayana is a rejuvenating supplement, containing a high concentration of Amla. Trikatu, which translates as ‘three pungents”, is a combination of ginger, black pepper, and pippali (Indian long pepper) that is used to enhance digestion and absorption. Immune boosting and blood purifying herbs like guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia) and yashtimadhu, also known as licorice ( Glycerrhiza glabra), can help prevent allergies. Guggul ( Commiphora wightii ) and boswellia (Boswellia serrata) may help reduce joint pains, among other functions. Aswagandha is used to reduce anxiety, depression and promotes sound sleep.
During late winter, as the warmth of spring approaches, one should gradually convert to a kapha-balancing diet and herbal regimen and make the appropriate lifestyle changes as well.