by Karen Mandell
Winter officially begins on Dec. 21, the date of the December solstice, or what we north of the equator refer to as the Winter Solstice. On this day the Earth is at its farthest distance from the sun in our hemisphere, which for us means we experience this day as the shortest of the year. As the days grow colder and we spend more time indoors “nesting” and less time actively outdoors we enter into what is considered our Kapha season in Ayurvedic terms.
Kapha represents the earth elemental in our system and the cold, heavy, darker days during the winter months increases the qualities of Kapha in our bodies. So we need to find balance by adding more heat (fire element) and movement (air element) into our daily routines so that we don’t become too lethargic and stagnant. Who hasn’t experienced those winter days when we just want to burrow under the blankets and not come out all day? OK, sure that’s fine once in a while but in order to maintain balance we need to take action so as to not feed the kapha imbalance that is telling us to stay in the cave until spring. We don’t have that luxury, we are busy people after all!
So therefore it becomes very important that we do the opposite – bring more movement to your routines, amp up your exercise regimens and yoga practices. More cardio, more heating flows with core work and twists to add heat and aid digestion and metabolism which inherently slows down in winter. Add more back bending and chest openers to your asana to help reduce congestion and mucus build up in the lungs. If you’ve never tried hot yoga, maybe now is the time to sample a class in a moist heated room to counteract the dry cold weather. It’s great for the joints and the skin which both tend to get dry in the winter and to remove toxins that can build up in the system. Perhaps take an extra walk instead of driving and experience the bit of sun we still get during the winter. Allow the fresh cool air to fill your lungs, too much dry heat indoors can make us feel sleepy. Dress warmly. OK, I know that sounds like a no brainer, but seriously, wearing a hat, gloves and several layers to protect your skin and keep yourself insulated from the cold can mean the difference between your muscles contracting from the cold and your body feeling exhausted and taxed from being outdoors and a fun invigorating walk.
Everyone experiences feeling hungrier in the cold, we tend to snack more during the day for energy and crave heavier foods. Eating more is actually good for the immune system, even adding a few pounds of padding to protect us from the elements is not a bad thing this time of year. But be careful not to overdo it, too many carbs will make you feel lethargic and could lead to unhealthy weight gain. Stick to warm, spicy foods high in protein as well as nuts, dried fruits, brown and basmati rice and roasted veggies. Fruits rich in vitamin C such as oranges, lemons and tangerines help flush toxins and boost the immune system. Avoid overly cold beverages. Think about asking for water with no ice when you go out, or keeping your drinking water in a filtered pitcher on the counter instead of in the fridge. Try some warm teas with ginger, honey or lemon to keep the throat moist and warm your body from the inside.
Winter is an important time for setting goals. Whether it’s to clean out a closet, reach a certain level of fitness, put an end to a bad habit and begin a new healthy one, write in a journal daily or come to yoga more regularly (just thought I’d slip that in there), setting some goals is a great way to reorganize, stay focused, set your path and stay motivated. Set realistic goals within a reasonable time frame so as not to overwhelm yourself.
Inhaling essential oils such as eucalyptus, peppermint and lemon grass are an awesome way to prevent nasal congestion and they are energizing as well. You can also dab some lavender oil on your forehead to counteract depression which is most common during the winter. Lack of sunlight and excess kapha energy can often manifest as the winter blues, one more reason to avoid falling into the trap of staying in the cave and isolating. Isolation breeds depression, get out and mingle, join community events and stay active! As much as we would all love to stay in bed on frigid winter mornings, too much sleeping in can also lead to more kapha energy in the body and less motivation to get active, it’s a cycle we need to be mindful of as we think about a healthy balance this winter.
And remember that this too shall pass…when you feel exhausted and just DONE with the cold, remind yourself that spring will surely arrive on winter’s heels. Nothing is permanent. It’s all part of the cycle that is nature. She won’t give us more than we can handle and she never denies us that light and warmth just in the nick of time when we need it the most.
Karen is a yoga instructor at Yoga in the Heights in Jersey City.