Winter’s onset brings with it a new balance of elements, predominantly water (precipitation) and air (wind). These elements are cold and dry, tending to aggravate vata (ether+ air) and kapha (water + earth) doshas in all individuals, particularly people of those constitutions. In order to prevent and to remedy vata and kapha imbalances (particularly colds), we can make changes to our day to day activities to maintain harmony throughout the cold season, boost our immune systems and stay warm.
Spice for Food and Teas
Use cayenne pepper and other pungent spices on your foods. Cayenne is one of the best expectorants to wash out any residual phlegm and flush ama (toxins) through the digestive system, while also stimulating agni (digestive fire). Also, take ginger, clove, cinnamon and cardamom teas, eat fresh ginger and don’t be afraid of fresh garlic with or in your meals.
Fresh lemon juice or dried lemon peels can be added to teas to purify the liver and boost the immune system. You can also use a eucalyptus vapour snuff with leaves and hot water or rub a small amount of eucalyptus essential oil on your chest if you have stuffy sinuses or upper chest congestion.
Kriya (cleansing) Techniques
For stuffy sinuses and also for prevention of colds, especially during flu season, you can rinse your nasal cavity out with a neti pot containing lukewarm water with a pinch of salt and a drop or two of grapefruit seed extract. You may also try practicing tratak (gazing at a candle flame with eyes open until they tear).
It’s best to avoid dairy or cheese during the winter since they aggravate kapha by increasing mucus production. Their cooling virya (digestive effect) makes it harder to fully digest meals, though goat’s milk should be fine since it actually has a heating vipak (secondary or post- digestive effect), reducing the aggravation of all doshas.
If you’re going to consume cow’s milk, try to procure raw, organic, unpasteurised milk (this is very difficult, however, unless you own a cow or know someone who does). If you are unable to locate unpasteurised milk, try boiling regular milk with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cardamom to neutralise its effect on kapha.
The best tastes to emphasise in meals during winter are pungent and salty ones, but be careful if you are of the pitta dosha type or have a tendency to get heartburn. Bitter and sour tastes can be enjoyed in small amounts, but it’s best to minimise consumption of sweet (particularly ice cream or cold desserts) and astringent (pomegranate, raw greens and hibiscus) tastes as they have the highest tendency to derange kapha and vata.
Honey can still be enjoyed in small quantities (though not cooked) as it has a warming effect. Warm and spicy soups are excellent and will make you feel revitalised—think Thai tom kha soup, hot curry soup, carrot-ginger, butternut squash-ginger, etc. Also, embrace cooked grains and avoid raw vegetables.
You can also adjust your yoga practice for winter! We recommend more vigorous yoga in a heated room for the winter. Generally, ashtanga yoga in a mildly heated room is more effective than bikram yoga.
Pranayama (breath-control) exercises are also recommended for maintaining the nadis (energy channels) clear of granthis (blockages) for a free flow of prana (life-energy). We recommend daily practice of kapalabhati, bhastrika and surya bheda pranayama during the winter for heating and cleansing, as well as brahmari pranayama if you are experiencing winter depression or seasonal affect disorder.
For more information about Ayurveda’s role in maintaining health, please call us on (02) 9389 2581