Ayurveda for Winter Care
Dec 20, 2013 05:18PM
By Andhrika Kondeti
Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old healing system from India, believes that nature deeply influences our body, mind and soul. According to Ayurveda, a human body consists of three energies, or doshas–vata, pitta and kapha. In order to maintain the doshas in a healthy state of balance, one must follow daily and seasonal regimens.
Vata, the energy of wind, is dry, rough, cold, light, sharp and mobile in nature. During the cold winter months, these qualities can be reflected as dryness, cold, cough, constipation, allergies, body aches, joint pains, anxiety and sleeplessness. To maintain a balanced state in the winter, Ayurveda recommends a vata-pacifying regimen.
During the cold months, the appetite is usually stronger due to powerful digestive fire. Ayurveda recommends increasing the intake of foods that are sweet, sour and salty in taste and reducing the consumption of bitter, pungent and astringent foods. The ancient healing philosophy teaches that cold foods and uncooked vegetables may weaken the digestion process. Cooked grains and vegetables provide warm, heavy nutritional support that helps us adapt to the cold of winter. Wheat, brown rice, quinoa, oats, red lentils, mung beans, sugar cane products and healthy fats and oils should be consumed.
Preferred vegetables include asparagus, avocado, beets, carrots, cucumbers, okra, onions, sweet potatoes and squash, including pumpkin and zucchini. Recommended fruit includes berries, cherries, coconut, dates, grapes, grapefruit, lemons, melons, oranges, papaya and pineapple. Warm milk flavored with saffron is also suggested. Eggs, seafood, chicken, turkey and alcoholic drinks, like wine, can be taken moderately. Nuts and seeds are perfect to help combat cold, dry weather. Ginger and sesame snaps made with jaggery (unrefined sugar), roasted peanuts and sunflower seeds make good snacks on wintry days. Sipping herbal teas made of ginger, black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom throughout the day can uplift the mood, enhance digestion and improve blood circulation, according to Ayurveda.
A morning ritual of a whole body massage with vata-balancing herbal oils should be performed daily before bathing in order to prevent dryness. Powders of amla (Indian gooseberry), soap nut and chickpea flour can be used in place of soaps and body washes that cause dryness of the skin. Lukewarm water should be used for washing and bathing. Light steam treatments are good, but saunas should be avoided. Ghee (clarified butter) can be used as lip balm for dry lips. Ayurveda promotes moderate exercise like yoga and stretching during vata season. Exposure to the warmth of sunlight and fire as much as possible may prevent seasonal affective disorder. Massaging the feet with sesame or coconut oil before bed prevents cracked feet and helps maintain warmth throughout the night.
Many ayurvedic herbs and formulas can be purchased at local herb shops or online to help keep the body healthy and in balance; however, all of them should be treated just like medication and should be used only after consulting with an ayurvedic specialist. Chyawanprash, a mixture of spices and herbs including amla, a rich source of vitamin C, is used to enhance the immune system and prevent upper respiratory tract infections. Amalaki rasayana is a rejuvenating supplement containing a high concentration of amla. Trikatu, which translates as “three pungents”, is a combination of ginger, black pepper and pippili (Indian long pepper) that is used to enhance digestion and absorption. Immune-boosting and blood-purifying herbs like guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia) and yastimadhu, also known as licorice (Glycerrhiza glabra), can help prevent allergies. Guggul (Commiphora wightii) and boswellia (Boswellia serrata) may help reduce joint pains, among other functions. Aswagandha is used to reduce anxiety, depression and promotes sound sleep.
During late winter, as the warmth of spring approaches, one should gradually convert to a kapha-balancing diet and herbal regimen and make the appropriate lifestyle changes as well.
Richmond-area Ayurvedic Specialist Andhrika Kondeti, educated in India, holds a degree in Ayurvedic Medical Sciences. She is a nutritional consultant and is certified in the U.S. as a master herbalist. For more information, email [email protected].