A recent blog post I wrote for YogaMatters. Read on if you’re feeling the effects of Winter!
After what seems like a very long January which may have been full of cleanses, detox juices, harsh gym schedules and a tone of self-imposed pressure, we can be left feeling drained before month #1 is even finished. We’re still in the midst of Winter… and the weather is getting even colder. Which means nature is asking us to stay warm, nourish ourselves and listen carefully when the body or mind are asking to rest. If we lived more in tune with nature and the principles of Ayurveda however, we wouldn’t stress, rush or ‘power through’ January like we pressure ourselves to do so much, because January is Kapha season, representing slowness, strength stability and methodical thinking.
Winter: Kapha Season
The dosha or energy of Kapha links to earth and water, like a thick mud or syrup. Kapha is cool, calm and can also be a little lethargic, so we don’t want to harbour an excessive amount of it within us. Kapha type people usually don’t opt for high-intensity exercise, but once they get going on a run or bike ride, they have great endurance. Illnesses associated with Kapha are those that come with phlegm and mucus, and happen to be common in Winter too. Whilst late Autumn and early Winter was governed by Vata (movement, dryness, instability, fragility), late Winter and early Spring is all about the slow, cool, moist and heaviness of Kapha, which we can learn to both work with, and to balance out.
Kapha energy is strong, also known as Bala, meaning youthful, strong, powerful or ‘with child-like vigour’. Kapha type people usually have strong bodies and immune systems, as opposed to Vata types who usually have thinner frames and joints that crack, and seem to tire easily. Working with the physical, mental and immune system aspects of Kapha, this is a great time of year to build our own sense of bala or ‘strength’ and carry it through the whole season.
Gut health plays a huge part in the immune system, so if your food choices weren’t the best over Christmas, this is a good time to pay attention to your gut bacteria. Some of the best sources of natural probiotics include sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi, kombucha, pickles and miso. These foods also have the added benefit of enhancing agni, the digestive fire, and the taste of sour, both important when balancing Kapha. Strong agni means strong digestion, and strong digestion equates to good health, as all the nutrients from food are more likely to be utilised well. Other ways to increase agni include the use of spices such as cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, cardamom, chilli, cumin and mustard seeds – also great for heating and cutting through any excessive kapha qualities.
Eating fresh fruits and vegetables as opposed to sugar and processed meals is a simple yet powerful way to strengthen the immune system, and to make these even more potent, buy locally grown foods to fight off the allergens and pathogens in your local area. Movement and outdoor exercise, as well as a good balance of quality sleep are two seemingly simple keys to a strong immune system too, even though the latter especially doesn’t always come top of the to-do list.
The Takeaway: consume fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir or kimchi to get your natural probiotics in, get your heart beating with some outdoor exercise, and make sleep an important part of your wellness plans to strengthen the immune system.
If you practice yoga regularly, there are a few areas that are especially useful to consider, especially if you’re on the overly flexible side. Movements in yoga classes include a lot of pushing, so practice simple body weight exercises like pull ups to balance your ability to do these opposing actions. Stretching whilst in an active range of motion (i.e. one you can hold without assistance) is a wonderful way to simultaneously build mobility and strength, and changing up your movement practice can also hugely enhance your physical stamina and strength. Try something new (it is the new year after all!) like swimming, climbing, boxing or martial arts.
Traditionally, Ayurvedic regimes prescribe rasayanas or ‘rejuvenatives’ to strengthen the body during Winter, including herbal jams like Chywanaprash, Amalaki and Ashwagandha, which are now quite easily available. Caring for the body by balancing movement and rest is something especially important to consider when adapting your self care routine for Winter.
The Takeaway: Move in lots of different ways, change up your exercise routines, and if you’re a bendy yogi, complement your practice with opposing movements like pull ups. If you need a boost, try Ayurvedic rejuvenative herbs and jams like Chywanaprash and Ashwagandha.
Even if the body and immune system are healthy, they’re governed overall by the health of the mind. You already know from previous experience whether you’re historically ‘good’ at sticking to resolutions, or whether you tend to quit things after a short time. A strong mind however, doesn’t have to be one that pushes through everything no matter what – it’s more about having the guts to meet yourself exactly where you are right now, accept your mind and body, and start from there. That said, getting out of your familiar comfort zone is indeed a sure-fire way to strengthen the mind, helping you become more resilient to what comes up in day-to-day life.
Even something like taking a 30 second cold shower can translate to taking on life’s challenges with greater confidence, as can speaking up for yourself when you know you’re not being treated fairly. If you notice you tend to reach for distractions when you’re alone, worried or bored, try counting to 20 before you allow t
hat distraction to happen. It’s likely you’ll find out why you’re feeling the need to distract yourself, offering up the opportunity to face an issue head on and work through it, building an incredibly strong mind along the way.
The Takeaway: While strengthening the physical brain may entail taking quizzes, swallowing herbs and boosting circulation, the mind is strengthened through action and experience. The more we face challenges no matter how great or small, and the more honest we are with ourselves and others, the stronger the mind becomes. If you find yourself reaching for your phone or switching on the TV just to distract yourself, count to 20 first and try being with your mind to see what’s there.