AYURVEDA’S WISDOM FOR WINTER

In NATURAL MEDICINE by Cary TwomeyLeave a Comment

There is a fundamental rhythm present and alive within each of us. This is a rhythm that tells us when we are hungry, that we are tired or overworked, and that we need to extend outward or to pull back inward. This is a pulse that we have forgotten how to listen to, and too often we have chosen to ignore. Vitality, clarity, health and inner peace are available to us in abundance, but these cannot be obtained through our external pursuits alone. A vital inner connection must first be made in order to awaken the internal resources of wisdom. That connection is made through the recognition that we must have balance in our lives. If that desire is not present, then we will have difficulty setting an intention to find a healthy discipline. Committing to a life of balance is not for the weak at heart! It is a tireless and honest observation of oneself in all actions. It is the pursuit of what is real and often times quite uncomfortable as we discover that we must change our habitual tendencies or move against the stream of what the collective is invested in.

We Tend To Ignore Inner Wisdom

Due to what Ayurvedic Medicine refers to as prajnaparadha, crimes against wisdom, the tissues in our body lose memory and in their confusion, they become distorted and lose the ability to restore health. We may have never learned or had a connection to our own inner mothering capacity, that sense of how to nurture and care for oneself properly. This is reflected in how as a collective society we have continued to disparage Mother Earth as a whole, and this ravaging and disrespect of her resources are showing up in our bodies as disease and disharmony.

The fundamental rhythms that will bring true healing at the deepest level have been pushed aside by our collective culture leaving us with poor models for genuine health. We have grown so accustomed to continuous stimulation and have lost a sense of connection to our own deeper resources of healing. The rise in a multitude of ways to have a quick fix, a good body, and perfect health is another manifestation of our cultural sickness. Simple direct ways to live, eat and follow the flow of nature have become totally uninteresting to our hyped-up western culture. If it’s not sexy, trendy or going to make us famous, then it’s not of value to us at all. This is the danger of our current way of being in relationship to our lives and a direct affront to the sacredness and true purpose of life itself. In many circumstances, even as we work toward balance and try to align ourselves with what are accurate resources for healing, we still find that we are struggling to find a sense of health and peace due to the disharmony of the collective as a whole. The ancient teachings say that this will be a very difficult time in the world with more darkness and disharmony. So now more than ever, we must make a very real commitment to stay connected to the inner source of healing and to see this through into all areas of our life.

Those that harmonize themselves will be a harmonizing force in the universe around them.

Each season has its own particular nurturing rhythms. We are not meant to be eating and living in the same manner in every season. By acknowledging the cyclical rhythms of the seasons, we can begin to re-awaken the memory of our tissues and cells and connect to healthy rhythms that will guide our lives. Each season has an inherent pace and wisdom energy that if followed will ensure stronger health and vitality in the next season. Maintenance of health is a lifetime process, not just an occasional thought or a burst of inspiration in the new year.

What To Do In Winter

We are well into the winter season, and having passed through one of the most difficult seasonal junctures of the year as autumn turns into winter, it is now time for rest and self-care. Early winter is the time to gather and collect ourselves and our families to move into the deep retreat of winter. Try to bring closure to the unfinished business of the past year and turn more inward. It isn’t the time for externalizing too much or for new projects to manifest. Now we can allow our deeper energies and our bodies to rest and find an internal connection. Allow yourself to wind down and run around less. Now is not the time to embark on projects that take you outward. Enjoy stillness! This can be difficult as our holidays fall during the time when we should do less, but we can make a personal effort to be less frantic and more thoughtful in the way we move through them, getting back to the true spirit of what they represent.

It is a vulnerable time in terms of health as the season becomes colder, windier and wetter. During this time the body’s natural immunity can become weakened, although it doesn’t have to.  We can make efforts to move through the season with enough rest, wholesome food and a steady stabilizing routine. This is the most natural flu-shot remedy.

The fundamental energy of winter is rest, retreat and turning within. 

Generally, if one is healthy, digestion will get stronger in the winter, as our metabolic fire is stronger at this time of year.  The physical channels will shrink due to the cold, causing the internal heat of the fire element to draw away from the extremities and move toward the core of the body. This is why we are often very cold in our hands and feet in winter.  With the stronger Agni (fire) in the belly, it will create a feeling of increased hunger which also allows us to handle a bit heavier, more comforting foods.  This will keep us more stable in environments that are harsher. The body needs the warmth of hearty soups and warm cooked grains such as quinoa, millet, amaranth, whole grain rice, and oats. The body needs more protein in forms of homemade paneer, lentils, and if you choose to include them in your diet lighter white meat, lamb and fish.

Eat wholesome, organic, freshly cooked foods. Eat locally as much as you can.

Avoid cold drinks, ice, cold milk, ice cream and frozen foods.

Carry a thermos of hot herbal or spiced tea and sip throughout the day.

Reduce raw veggies and instead eat cooked or steamed seasonal vegetables with healing, metabolizing spices like turmeric, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, fennel, cardamom, basil, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, and black pepper.

Root vegetables are encouraged in this season as we are attempting to root down more. Beware to not eat too many winter squashes, although they are full of nutrients they are channel clogging.

Stay away from nightshades: tomato, bell pepper, white potato, and eggplant. These plants from the nightshade family contain many neuro-toxins and will immediately go to the nadis (subtle, vibrational channels), disturbing them and delivering poison to the entire physiology very rapidly. Nightshades wreak havoc on the body in several different ways (another topic). Best to take other veggies in their place.

Don’t skip meals, this will weaken the constitution and make us more vulnerable to getting colds and flu.

Good herbal teas for winter are ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom to warm the body from the inside out-they will help to burn toxins and keep digestion robust. Clove protects from roaming viruses. Coriander will give good urination and help with removal of toxins from the bladder. Soothing licorice and tulsi are good for immunity, and chamomile helps to calm winter anxiety.

Gently boiled, warm spiced milk with 1/2 tsp of turmeric or with 1/2 tsp cardamom and nutmeg before bed will soothe and counter the cold, will increase Ojas, the juice of immunity, and will support restful sleep.

Ginger tea, particularly Sunthi (Ayurvedic Ginger) on its own or with a spoonful of raw honey is one of the best healing herbal teas for winter.

All six tastes should be included in our diet. In the Winter, try to balance what you are eating by taking some of all six tastes but not overdoing anything.

Astringent taste, such as all kinds of small lentils, small beans, quinoa, sprouts, baked or stewed apple and pear, and some pomegranate.

Pungent tastes like ginger, chiles, black pepper, garlic, and onions, (reduce garlic & onion if you wish to increase Sattva) need to be taken a little to keep channels open, but again don’t overdo.

Bitter taste should be taken in moderation.  Warm, sauteed dark leafy greens of all kinds, bitter gourd, warm or lightly cooked (not raw): radicchio, arugula, endive, cauliflower, artichokes, broccoli and the bitter spices of fenugreek and turmeric in your cooking are alright.

Salty in moderation with discretion.  Good quality Soma Salt should be used. Salt can make the body retain too much water, so be aware.

Sour taste should be taken in moderation:  fermented foods, pickled foods, yogurt (take as a spiced lassi at lunch instead), sour cream and hard cheeses should be avoided, eat soft cheeses instead. Limes are especially good to add to your food all year round.

Sweet taste mostly in whole grains, ghee, baked or stewed fruits, warm spiced milk, and honey, rather than pastries and sugary sweets.  Sugar will weaken your immunity, so steer clear of refined sweets.

Try to take in the dark berries like blueberries, blackberries, figs, raisins and dark grapes. Enjoy natural whole foods that are in season in your local area, as they will provide the nourishment the body longs for and needs to create the building blocks for the next season to come.

Take warm, mildly unctuous foods in a moderate quantity.

This is not the season to fast or to do cleanses, it will weaken the body and distort our Prana.

Winter is not the time to go on extreme diets or to do a heavy detox.  This will harm the body and distort our pranic energies. Instead, make sure that you are having 1-2 bowel movements daily, good urination and having a good sweat every day through steady exercise.  This will keep toxins moving out on a daily basis. Self-massage daily or at least 2x weekly is rejuvenating and will support the opening of detox channels. Awaken your own natural healing potential through the use of wholesome foods, herbs, and spices. The memory and energy contained in the prana will awaken and enliven your cells. Acknowledge Mother Earth with gratitude by giving the herbs that you used to make your teas back to her-you can put them in your backyard at the base of a tree. Allowing the healing memory that you imbibed to go back to Mother to be born again. This simple act reminds Mother Earth that we have not forgotten her, creates an energetic connection of respect and gratitude, and thus our own memory for healing is restored.

Earth and water elements are slowly increasing in the body during the winter, so it is natural for the body to hold a few extra pounds at this time of year. Keep yourself energized! Stay with a balanced exercise routine so the inertia and sluggishness of these elements don’t become excessive. Take a brisk walk every morning for 15-30 minutes-this will keep your metabolism invigorated.

Keep your spine flexible. Do gentle stretches to keep prana flowing. You can remember something simple: stretch the back of your body (forward bends), open the front of your body & chest (back bending, chest opening movement like cobra pose), and twist your mid-section (standing or seated twist poses).  Have some kind of daily movement routine, even if it is just 15 minutes. It is easy to become lethargic, attached and greedy at this time if we don’t keep that in check.

Keep yourself warm and keep toxins moving out of the body. Dry brush the skin before bathing to keep the body from becoming stagnant.  Do regular oil massage with warm Ayurvedic herbal oils that are particular for your constitution, and follow this with a 20-minute soak in a warm bath. You will feel warm all day when you do this and it is a mild form of detox that is permitted in winter.

Follow the flow of Nature by winding down and stepping away from social media, computers, TV, and stimulation by 8:30 PM. Doing this will allow your energy to wind down. Go to your meditation cushion, take a bath or do some easy reading instead. Try to crawl into bed no later than 10 PM in order to stay in alignment with the nocturnal movement of the elements. If we are asleep by no later than 10 PM, we are receiving the nourishment the body needs to detox and rejuvenate as we sleep. If we stay up beyond this time, we are depleting Ojas, confusing our endocrine system, and creating disturbance in our Prana-this will over time create the seeds for dis-ease.

Gather Inward and Hibernate 

This is the time to gather one’s energies and prepare to spend the winter in a more inward and quiet manner as Mother Nature is rooted in her resting season, deep in the earth, preparing for spring. It is the time to retreat or to stay close to home with family and loved ones.  It is time for meditating and turning inward, sitting around the fire, snuggling, and strengthening relationships.

Clear up unfinished business and messes at home so that you can make space, rest, reflect and wait for what is meant to emerge in your rebirth this spring.  Don’t plan, just wait and be receptive.

To help with seasonal blues, stay with a nourishing diet and keep up a steady routine that involves some form of movement and breathing practice to help with the natural depression that can arise when the season becomes dark and gray. Alternate nostril breathing, 9 purification breaths, and slow deep belly breathing are all good basic breathing practices that will affect your prana and state of health for the better. Get in touch with your lower belly, your Hara center. Stop a few times each day and breath deeply into your lower abdomen for 5 minutes.  Try it, it feels very good!

It is natural to feel more down during the dark months. By allowing a return to the basic ground of being, we can discover what needs to shift in our lives. We should not be constantly moving outward. Depression can arise when we are not eating right or not taking care of ourselves well.  We become sad, fearful, and distraught when we are not connected with the internal source of refuge. We need to receive our own inner messages. When we don’t allow for that time, the body will try to communicate to us through illness or some form of discomfort until we pay attention. The body and spirit require rest in order to connect to the source of healing within. This is the time to do it.

Winter invites us to meditation and prayer. Try to make time for this daily. This is our connection to the most fundamental source of guidance and healing. Whatever is meaningful to you, do it. Whatever contemplative practices or meditations you do, make them a part of your winter retreat. Read material that brings you closer to the Source within, this will hold you in moments of sadness, depression, loneliness, and fear. It will keep your mind anchored to a greater purpose. Create a meditation space at home where you can return daily to enter the sacred space of contemplation, meditation, and prayer.

For greater health and well-being, answer nature’s call to enter a period of dormancy now as we move more deeply into winter. Take advantage of the winter season’s natural gift of building our immunity by supporting that with your meaningful self-care.

Allow time for rest and receptivity so the energy of renewal can rise up and be received when spring season calls us to rebirth.  According to Ayurvedic Medicine, going against what the season is asking of us is one of the root causes of all kinds of disease and disharmony. Nature is wise. Listen to the call of winter and clear your calendar of all unnecessary activities, go into your cave and return to the Source. In living the rhythm of the seasons, we open to the gift available in each one and find a support that allows the continual change of life to be less threatening. Instead of holding tightly to what is fleeting and ever-changing, we begin to embrace the space within which all change is occurring, and begin to trust that we are held in the flow of Grace.

These recommendations are general. Each individual has their own unique constitution and a current state of health. It is best to have guidance from an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner if you wish to make personalized choices for your health and self-care.

About the Author
Cary Twomey

Cary Twomey

Cary Twomey is a Jungian Analyst, Practitioner of Ayurvedic Medicine and holds a degree in Dance. She has a great love of working with others through dreams, psyche, movement and the Unconscious. She and her husband Lee own Haymarket Studio, a healing center in Lincoln, NE where they offer Jungian Therapy, Dharma practice, Mentoring, Movement, Pilates, Yoga, and Ayurvedic Medicine. Cary is a Teacher and Mentor in Ayurveda and Dharma Meditation programs. She offers personal sessions and mentoring, as well as group retreats and classes around the world. Her website: haymarketstudio.com

Photos supplied by author.

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