Updated: Mar 10, 2020
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Freezing and sluggish? East Coast USA later winter season is the season we all wish we could hide away, dive underneath a warm soft blanket alongside a fire, sleep and will-away the cold. It is only natural. However, culturally we are still running around and our immune systems suffer as we weather the cold.
This article was written from Jaipur, North India, January 2016, when I was studying ayurveda at Charak Ayurveda in Jaipur, where the weather was also considered winter season. Many people think of India as always hot. While it is certainly not as freezing cold in Jaipur as in Washington DC, people are wearing thicker shawls and coats today and wanting to stay beneath the blankets in the morning. Here houses are made more for warmer weather, so there is usually no heater inside and so it feels cold on tile floors and with less insulated homes. Ayurveda described six seasons in the classical texts, including a rainy season, and there is great variance in temperature form South to North India at this time.
Ayurveda, the classical healing system of India, sister science to yoga, classifies not only body types but also the predominating elements of the season.
The gunas or qualities of winter season belong to Kapha Dosha (elements of earth and water), namely: heavy, dull, slow, smooth, dense, soft, sticky, and stable. Like the earth that has frozen over in the United States or hardened from cold here in India, there is also sense of stasis in our bodies. The cold air makes our muscles tense and dense, slow smooth mucous forms to protect from dry air, and we desire the stability of hibernation in the longer nighttime hours. Those who naturally share the qualities of Kapha Dosha as their primary constitution may be more susceptible to the impacts of this season. Kapha individuals tend to exhibit some or all of the following traits:
- smooth, luscious, volumunous, oily skin, hair, and body
- large, round, plump facial features
- large stable bones and teeth
- stocky or large body frame
- tendency toward mucous conditions and growth
- compassionate, forgiving, personality and/or greedy, hoarding type
For everyone, during cold wet season, the body works to keep internal vital and digestive organs warm with blood-flow, so while our limbs feel cold, our digestive organs are powered with fire and appetites increase in winter. Many people put on weight in winter time; not only people, but animals too bulk up in the winter season as appetites increase and mobility decreases. Kapha dosha serves as protection in our bodies in the form of bulk, bones, muscles, fat, and mucous membranes. As kapha dosha reflects in weather, so too it accumulates in our bodies in this season.
After all, we, human beings, are more porous than we like to admit. Modern man likes to think that he is invisible and separate from the nature. Advertisements show that we can just pop a few decongestants and go running off to work (while the organs struggle to keep up). However, without drugs, we quickly learn that we are not only affected by nature; we are the nature. What’s outside is inside and what’s inside is outside. When the immune system is taxed, these qualities of Kapha season, heavy, dull, slow, smooth, dense, soft, sticky, and stable, begin to manifest in excess in some common ways, like:
- Cold, cough, congestion
- Weight gain and slow metabolism
- Oozing type of psoriasis
- Stones, cysts, and growths
- DepressionSluggishness, heaviness, and fatigue
- Lymphatic congestion
Think of a thick claylike substance, earth and water, which could be likened to the sticky stuck feeling in the sinuses during a mucous-filled cold. The way to liquify that cold, hard mud, is to melt it. Warmer potency herbs and spices are used to liquify the congestion in teas, soups, and sauces cooked with warming oils. Warm potency herbs like eucalyptus and camphor are also used externally in balms, pastes, and massage oils. Just ask elderly people of most cultures and you will find that they or their loved ones used home remedies to liquify the sticky slimy substances of the body. I remember my grandmother used to put Vicks Vapor Rub in a pot of hot water, put my face over the pot and a towel over my head to trap the heat and have me breathe in the steam. Vicks contained active ingredients of a synthetic camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol, herbs used for millennia in ayurveda. The best is to be aware of your body and to avoid harsh manifestation of disease by thinking preemptively. The opposite of Kapha Dosha qualities are light, sharp, mobile, rough, liquid, hard and subtle. Opposites heal. Look for these qualities in your chosen antidotes and preventatives.
Here are some recommendations for winter, Kapha Season:
RECIPE GIVEAWAY: SPICED GREEN BEANS
Add cumin seed, mustard seed, and ginger/garlic paste to taste. Cook for few seconds until aromatic.
Add 1-2 cups green beans and mix together.
Add hing powder, turmeric, garam masala, coriander powder, salt, and cook for 10-15 minutes or until beans are ready.
Add a garnish of ground peanut powder (blended), and fresh coriander.
Light, warm, slightly spicy meals in smaller quantity. Use spices like ginger, black pepper, pipali (piper longum), cumin, cinnamon, and clove. Buy garam masala from the Indian grocery or you may even find it in Whole Foods or other groceries. Eat vegetables like pumpkin, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, and onion. Grains like wheat, maize, black gram. A tip from my teacher here in Jaipur, Dr. Rajesh Kalvadia: Cook rice in excess water and then drain the water a few times to reduce starch intake. Teas like tulsi-ginger tea. Avoid eating fruits within half an hour of mealtime or naps just after meals. Avoid excess sweet, sour, and salty foods.
Find poses guided here.
More Sun Salutations and heating practices
Heating standing poses like Virabadhrasana 1,2,3 series
Chest openers for the lungs like most back-bending asanas, such as Dhanurasana, Bhujangasana, Salabhasana, Matsyasana.
Overall, a more vigorous or fluid practice to induce mobile quality in the body, move stagnation of lymphatic system, and sweat.
Full guided pranayama practice found here.
Of those recommended are:
- Surya Bedha
- Kriyas like Agni Sara
Try a salt scrub. 1/2 cup oil mixed with 1/2 cup coarse salt. Rub all over the body for exfoliation and movement of lymph. Then take a hot shower without soap. Self Abhyanga: 10-15 minutes vigorous oil massage followed by hot shower with oils like sunflower, mustard, or flax. 1/2 cup ginger powder and baking soda bath.
Snuggle up and keep warm… Be kind to yourself. Nature intended us some rest.