Ayurveda is the sister science to Yoga and has a wealth of wisdom when it comes to staying in balance with the seasons. January in North America, specifically in the Purcell Mountains here, is Cold Cold Cold! It's a time of year where the two Doshas of Vata, air and ether, and Kapha, water and earth, are predominant, which can create challenges to staying balanced and healthy.
Here are a few tips to help you stay balanced:
Eat a warming, nourishing diet that will reduce Vata without enhancing Kapha: Rice, wheat, healthy oils (ghee, coconut, linseed, avocado, hemp, olive), warm water and milk help promote longevity. Raw honey is excellent as it helps clear any mucous and aggravated Kapha due to its heating, drying and channel-clearing effect. Have a warm breakfast (porridge is excellent) and end the day with hot milk (almond milk is a good choice), ginger, cinnamon, cardamon and honey. Nutmeg will also aid sleep, but you only need a small pinch. Winter is the time for Soups, Stews and one-pot wonders! Drink spicy teas throughout the day, avoiding cold water, ice cream and other cooling foods which will aggravate Kapha and Vata.
Warm up: Massage with warm oil and saunas or steam rooms are all good to ward off the cold. As in Autumn, Vata is drying, so skin needs extra care. Ground yourself with a daily self-massage with a warm sesame oil or olive oil, followed by a warm shower/ bath to prevent feelings of coldness, and stiff, aching joints.
Get moving! Or curl up on the sofa? Its fine to get up later than in Summer, but it's still a good idea to be up at 7am. Practice some form of vigorous exercise to get the lymph moving in the body, preventing future congestive problems. Exercise is also one of the best ways to stimulate a sluggish digestion, regulate the metabolism and aid the removal of toxins from the body. The Sun Salutations are a great way to start to the day, as they build up heat in the body and work all the major muscles. The Kappalabhati breathing exercise is also excellent for generating internal heat and improving the digestive fire (Agni). However, Winter is also a natural time for resting and reflecting on the past year, as well as preparing for a new year. Whilst keeping physically active, its also a time for feeling grounded with a sense of internal stillness.
Herbal help from Ayurveda: One special formulation is called Chywanaprash, which can be taken daily to strengthen the lungs and boost the immune system. I like to drink this as a tea, in which you simply add a spoonful to hot water and stir. This delicious, herbal jam acts to rejuvenate all the body tissues, increasing strength and virility, as well as alleviating respiratory conditions. It is named after the sage, Chywana, who had become very old but used this formula to become young again and satisfy his young wife! If you have recurrent colds, or a persistent cold, you may also want to try Trikatu, an herbal blend made of ginger, black pepper and long pepper. These spices act to dry up mucous and clear channels. It is traditionally taken with raw honey, which also aids in clearing mucous. It should not be taken if you are pregnant or suffering from the effects of aggravated Pitta dosha (eg: heartburn, hyperacidity or stomach ulcers). Finally, Turmeric is a potent natural antibiotic and can be used to help fight all respiratory tract infections. Boil half a cup of water with 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, add a little milk (or almond milk) then use as a gargle.