Ayurveda (ayur = life, veda = knowledge) is an ancient Indian wisdom tradition that contains diet and lifestyle practices for living a healthy and balanced life. It is based on the understanding that all living beings are made up of the same five elements found in nature, ether, air, fire, water and earth, and that our body can be our wisest teacher if we are able to mindfully listen to our deepest needs and cravings in response to internal and external stimuli.
During winter in the northern hemisphere the sun is at its maximal distance south of the celestial equator, decreasing the amount of light, or fire, present, and reducing our body's natural ability to combat disease. Winter is phlegmatic in temperament and governed by elements ether and air. These qualities contain the potential for colds, dryness, anxiety, depression and fear. In order to balance out these effects we may call upon the fire element to help bring warmth to our hearts, bodies and minds.
Especially since we are encouraged to stay indoors due to the pandemic, it can be important that we actively seek out energizing sources of movement, connection and conversation to help support the management of any dark and depressing feelings inherent to this seasonal time. Listening to and chanting mantras such as "Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu," practicing guided meditation that inspires a sense of spacious awareness, and reflecting on quotes such as the following may be helpful:
"The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves." ~ Alan Watts
Below are five Ayurvedic tips to promote physical, mental, emotional and spiritual resilience during the winter months. If you are interested in learning about how you can use Ayurveda to help balance your unique bodily and astrological makeup, you can learn more about my individual offerings as a Practitioner of Basic Ayurveda and Certified Alchemical Astrologer here.
1. Get in touch with Ayurveda's sleep/wake cycles. Ayurveda works like a clock. If we can get in tune with its natural rhythm, we can work to create balance in our own lives. As often as possible, make 6-10a.m. and 6-10p.m. the parts of your day that are the most active. Invite the hours between 2-6a.m. and 2-6p.m. to be for resting, reading, and reflecting. If possible, try to make it to bed between 8 and 10p.m. each night to be able to awaken between 4 and 6a.m. each morning. When we arise out of bed after 6a.m., we awaken with a more lethargic energy that can dull or dampen our ability to be productive during the day.
2. Ignite your digestive fire. Many of us immediately start the day with a good ‘ol cup-o-joe, but this could actually be adding to our body’s stress levels. Caffeine tells the central nervous system to contract the muscles of the body. By choosing to intake warm water instead, you are preparing your internal organs and mind for an open and relaxed approach to digestion and consumption. If you tend to run cold, incorporate naturally warming additions such as lemon, cinnamon and ginger. You may find that drinking this warm beverage early stimulates elimination and satiates your appetite so that your largest meal can wait 'til about 10 or 10:30a.m. I like to steep my daytime tea with immune-boosting herbs such as oregano and echinacea from The Herbal Path Natural Pharmacy.
3. Adopt a "to rest is best" mentality. We can think of wintertime in terms of one long "new" or "dark moon phase." When there is less light present we may naturally feel inclined to do more resting, nesting, reflecting, meditating and intention-setting. Mindful walks in nature and movement practices such as yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi can help to inspire quiet reflection and introspection. If you tend to run cooler, try a power or vinyasa yoga class. If you run warmer, give restorative or yin yoga a try. (I teach restorative yoga every Tuesday night from 7-8, and am adding a brand new gentle yoga and meditation class Thursday nights from 5:30-6:30 starting 1/14!)
4. Burn incense to uplift the spirit. Aromatic smoke is seen in many religious and spiritual traditions as a way to attract and please the gods. At the very least, watching smoke rise may remind us of our connection to spirit and inclination toward ascension. Create a sacred space for your morning meditation by burning all-natural sage, pine or cedar or incense purchased from a health food store. As you go about the rooms and corners of your space, meditate upon feelings of gratitude and connection to all beings present, past and future. Inspired by the Balinese, I like to create and carefully leave a small offering to the deities with coins, flowers and incense on my front steps outside my home in the morning.
5. Get the blood and lymph flowing. In the winter our bodies can hold onto water in an attempt to keep us warmer, which can actually dry out our skin. Balance feelings of coldness and dryness and get things moving with self-massage, or abhyanga. Administering self-massage before or after a shower using a warming oil like sesame promotes circulation, stimulates tired and sore muscles, and offers the opportunity to lovingly connect with yourself. Sesame oil is seen as "King of the Oils" in Ayurveda for it quickly permeates and nourishes the dhatus, or tissues. Apply the oil in long strokes on long bones and small, circular motions on joints and small bones. Offer careful and affectionate attention to your body as you do so. You can purchase affordable and organic sesame oil online from Banyan Botanicals.