Ayurveda is a traditional Indian medicine system. It is called Yoga’s “sister-science”. Although it may seem that Ayurveda is primarily focused on bodily health and Yoga on psycho-spiritual wellness, there is quite a bit of overlap between the two. This is because they ultimately have the same goal: paths towards health that allow the practitioner to experience a state of union with the Numinous.
Illness is a major distraction from our spiritual practice. When our bodies are sick or injured it is difficult for us to focus on anything besides regaining a sense of equilibrium in our body. When it comes to health and Ayurveda, balance is key. That means that Ayurveda takes into consideration an individual’s unique constitution, as well as things like the season and climate the individual inhabits.
Winter Wellness Nutrition
In the winter, our bodies require more energy to stay warm. According to Ayurveda, winter is the best time to eat heating, more energetically-dense foods. This is the time of year for comfort food: soothing soups, nutritious stews, and well-cooked root vegetables are on the menu!
It can be difficult for many people to stay hydrated during the winter. We may avoid drinking water in favor of hot coffee or black tea. This may help us stay warm, but the caffeine in both coffee and black tea can contribute to dehydration. Fortunately, there are many cold-weather drinks that not only keep us warm, but help us stay hydrated. Decaffeinated herbal teas, particularly ginger with cinnamon, are delightful during the winter!
Here is a recipe for vegan golden milk, a rich, nourishing beverage that can serve as both a warming drink and dessert!
Moving the Body in Cold Weather
Moving our bodies in different ways maintains and builds vitality and physical mobility. Hatha yoga, or the yoga posture practice, is one wonderful way to cultivate physical strength and flexibility. However, just like a healthy diet incorporates a variety of delicious foods, physical activity should be joyful and varied as well!
It is important that we find a way of regularly moving our body that works well for our own unique constitution. Some people love to run. Others prefer dance. Jumping rope or hopping on a trampoline challenges our cardiovascular system and is said to contribute to a healthy lymphatic system. When it comes to physical movement, what is most important is that we find activities that give us pleasure, move our bodies in a variety of ways, and that we do these activities regularly.
During the winter our bodies often contract in an effort to maintain heat. This can make us feel stiff and achy. Vigorous movement is warming and helps us channel stagnant energy. Taking time to stretch afterwards is physically, mentally, and energetically soothing.
Winter Day Rhythm
Ayurveda teaches the importance of creating a daily routine. A routine differs from a schedule in that a routine is a particular order in which things are done. A schedule is the time allotted to particular activities. Usually, a schedule exists within a routine.
Rising and retiring with the sun is an important part of creating an Ayurvedically-informed routine. Technological advances and work schedules make this challenging. However, there are things we can do to help ourselves.
First of all, we can stick to a normal sleeping schedule, waking and going to bed at approximately the same time every day, including weekends. It is very jarring to our bodies, and not very effective, to try to “catch up” on sleep over the weekend.
Secondly, we can create waking and sleeping rituals. Some like a bit of quiet time early in the morning, while others feel their best going for a run. No matter how we prefer to begin our day, what is most important is that we find what works best for us. However, from an Ayurvedic perspective, the morning is a very special time that sets the tone for the rest of the day. Rolling out of bed at the last minute and groggily driving to work is not advised. Take time to wake well, even if that means just reading a few inspirational passages and sitting quietly for five minutes.
An evening bedtime ritual is a lot like a morning ritual. Our evening ritual prepares our bodies to relax and sleep. Many people enjoy doing a few gentle stretches, having a calming cup of chamomile, or curling up with a good book before bed. No matter what we choose to help us relax and unwind, it is always a good practice to avoid unnecessary stress before bedtime. One of the best ways to do so is to turn off our technological devices at least an hour before bed. There is nothing on Facebook that will not wait for morning!
Self-Care Practices for Cold Seasons
Here are some of my favorite winter self-care practices….
- Dry brushing is a simple technique that is said to have a detoxifying effect. Usually, people dry brush before bathing. Brush the entire body with long strokes moving towards the heart. Take care to use a brush with firm bristles. Do be gentle to avoid scratching!
- Body oiling is good for our skin, and feels luxurious! Massage oil in your body from head to toe before bathing. The oil can be as simple or fancy as you like! There are certainly ethically sourced massage oils on the market, but a regular oil used for cooking works well, too! Olive, coconut, and sesame oils are excellent choices for body oiling.
- Essential oils are a wonderful addition to our self-care routine! What I like best about essential oils is that I can be flexible in the oils I choose depending on what I need on any given day. Some oils that help to keep my mood elevated when I have the winter doldrums are grapefruit, sweet orange, and rose. Peppermint gives me a decaffeinated lift and Roman chamomile calms me at the end of the day.
What are your favorite ways to take care of yourself in the winter?