Explore the best ways to kickstart an Ayurvedic practice this winter.
Ayurveda, India’s indigenous medical system, observes daily rituals that change with the seasons. As our environment changes, we maintain balance through our food choices and self-care practices. Doing so creates mental ease, good energy, and sound digestion.
The Ayurveda principle is opposites balance. So, if the winter season is dry, cold, and rough, we want to increase moist, warming, and smoothing qualities by eating warm,oily foods and applying oil to the skin, for example. For those with dry, light, cold qualities in the body, imbalances are more likely, and this is the time of year to be on your self-care game. Those with hot constitutions will feel refreshed and stronger this time of year.
Winter is described in Ayurveda texts as that time when Earth is tilting away from the sun, making the environment more cold and dark. Without the drying heat of bright sun, winter starts out with more moisture. Something else to consider, however, is the climate indoors. If a place is cold enough to require heaters inside, this heat is going to dry the air. If you spend a lot of time indoors in winter, dryness will result, especially in your respiratory channels. This might require more effort towards moisturizing practices like oil massage and nasya (described below). Dryness in general increases as freezing temperatures bind moisture in the air.
A proper winter diet is an excellent way to stay strong, moist, and warm. With seasonal cold, the fires of the body recede into the digestive organs. The fire in the stomach will be stronger, and the capacity to digest more food—and more food of heavier qualities—increases. In cold weather, sour, sweet, and salty tastes are favored and better digested. These building tastes will feed the stronger fires, while a light diet in winter can set the body up for deficiency. It’s easy to notice an increase in the appetite when the temperature drops, and natural to start baking seasonal favorites like pies and casseroles.
Give yourself a 10-minute oil massage at least once per week with sesame oil. Follow with a hot bath. This does wonders for keeping skin smooth and soft, and it protects your energy system.
How to do Oil Massage
- Warm sesame oil by placing the bottle in a pan of hot water for a few minutes.
- Place a tablespoon of oil in the palm and rub your hands together.
- Use the palms to make wide circles over your face, avoiding the eyes. Oil ears and the area behind the ears, using your pinkies to put oil in the ears and nose. Rub oil into the sides of the neck and across the tops of the shoulders.
- Place a few tablespoons of oil in your palms and rub it down your arms and legs, using more oil as necessary. Coat limbs first, then vigorously rub the oil into your arms with long, downward strokes. Next work the oil into legs. Use circular movements to massage the joints, and don’t forget your fingers and toes. Apply more oil to your chest, abdomen, lower back, and your sides with large, clockwise circular movements. Be gentle on the
abdomen. Massage the breasts well. Use an up-and-down action on the breastbone.
- Finish by massaging your feet, using side-to-side strokes across the soles. When you’ve massaged in all the oil, lie back on your towel and relax for five to thirty minutes, or lie in a moderately hot bath. Take care moving about with oily feet, and quickly wipe down the area after so no one slips.
Keep the nasal passages moist by applying warm sesame oil or a medicated nasya oil to the nostrils each morning. This practice supports clear breathing and protects the passages from pathogens. Be sure to use a sterile dropper for your nasya practice.
How to do Nasya:
- Warm the oil by standing the dropper in warm water.
- Tip the head back (or just lie down).
- Apply two drops in each nostril, take a few deep breaths, and allow the oil to seep through. When you feel it has coated the passages, get up and spit out any mucous.
- Rinse the mouth and gargle with a bit of warm water.
3. EAT BUILDING FOODS
Enjoy foods that build the body, such as wheat and oats, meat if you eat it, root vegetables, bananas, dates, and least-processed sugar cane products.
4. EAT WARMING FOODS
Enjoy a moderate amount of foods that warm the body. This includes ferments, warming spices, cashews, pickles, citrus fruits, and olives.
5. EAT MOIST FOODS
Enjoy foods that incorporate sesame, dairy, almonds, ghee, and olive oil to moisturize the body. If you don’t get enough good fats, you may begin to notice dry colon or dry skin.
6. SLEEP MORE
Sleep with the sun, which means you get more sleep! It’s natural to get tired earlier and stay in bed a little later this time of year.
7. COVER YOUR EARS
The ears are one of those sensitive places where cold air can get in easily. Cover your head and ears when you go into the cold, and keep warm in general.
8. GET DAILY MOVEMENT
Since the body is stronger and slower in winter, up the exercise a bit. Daily movement will keep the fires burning bright and circulate warmth as well as moisture throughout the body.
9. DRINK WARM WATER
Support the body’s work of staying warm by drinking only warm water.
10. DRINK SPICED WATERS
Water boiled with spices like ajwain, cumin, ginger, and cinnamon will support digestive fire and circulation. Exploring even a few of these routines this winter is sure to bear fruit. Maintenance of health is a slow and steady practice of self-care, just a little bit every day. Take good care.