by Karen Mandell
Winter officially begins on December 21, the date of the December solstice, or what we in Jersey City, 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. As a result, 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 increase the presence of kapha in our bodies. 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? That might be okay to do every 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 hibernate until spring. As busy people, we don’t have that luxury!
Therefore we must do the opposite: bring more movement to our routines, amp up our exercise regimens and yoga practices. More cardio, more heating flows with core work and twists add heat and aid both digestion and metabolism, which inherently slow down in winter. We should add more back bending and chest openers to our asana to help reduce congestion and mucus build up in the lungs.
Maybe now is the time to sample a hot yoga class in a moist, heated room to counteract the dry, cold weather. Heated yoga is 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 we can take an extra walk instead of driving and experience the bit of sun we still get during the winter. We can allow the fresh cool air to fill our lungs because too much dry heat indoors can make us feel sleepy. We should dress warmly; wearing a hat, gloves, and several layers to protect skin and stay insulated. Dressing appropriately can mean the difference between muscles feeling exhausted and taxed from being outdoors and a fun, invigorating walk.
Nearly everyone experiences an increased appetite in cold weather; we tend to snack more during the day for energy and crave heavier foods. Eating more is actually good for the immune system, and adding a few pounds of padding to protect us from the elements is not a bad thing this time of year. However, we should be careful not to over do it, as too many carbohydrates can make us feel lethargic and lead to unhealthy weight gain. We can 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. We should avoid overly cold beverages and think about asking for water with no ice or keeping drinking water in a filtered pitcher on the counter instead of in the fridge. Trying warm teas with ginger, honey, or lemon can keep the throat moist and warm the 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, or begin a new healthy one. Writing in a journal daily, coming to yoga more regularly (just thought I’d slip that in there), and setting some goals is a great way to reorganize, stay focused, set the path and stay motivated. Setting realistic goals within a reasonable time frame will keep us from feeling overwhelmed.
Inhaling essential oils such as eucalyptus, peppermint and lemon grass is an awesome way to prevent nasal congestion, and they are energizing as well. Dabbing some lavender oil on the forehead can 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 ourselves. Isolation breeds depression; let’s 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 we feel exhausted and just DONE with the cold, we can remind ourselves that spring will surely arrive on winter’s heels, and nothing is permanent. Nature 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.