Working with Winter
Its that time of year again, the nights draw in, daylight becomes less and our wonderful bodies give us all the signals of slowing down…Welcome hibernation mode! If you have been in classes the past few weeks I have mentioned these wonderful seasonal cycles and how we must learn to listen and tune in to the changes our body and mind naturally create as the seasons come and go. Summer we experienced Pitta Dosha in dominance, which means if your natural constitution is Pitta this can sometimes create over heating, dry skin, aggravation, and fatigue. If you’re Vata you’ll be sun bathing until sunset, So as we move into Autumn and winter months Kapha Dosha qualities can become more prominent.
Everyone has a combination of all three constitutional dosha, but one of them is usually primary, one secondary and the third less prominent. Meaning each person has a particular pattern of physical characteristics that make up their individual constitution known as ‘prakriti’. If you look at any current imbalances in your health, known as ‘vikriti’, you can help to correct this imbalance by having more awareness, adapting your diet and evolving your yoga practice. Ayurveda teaches us that like increases like and that opposites balance. As a result, the same experience can affect two different people in different ways, depending on his or her inner nature. Each season ushers in a unique set of qualities that can either pacify or aggravate the inner workings of your being. This is why some people relish the heat of the summer (As explained above!) while others loathe it, why some can spend an entire winter playing in the snow while others avoid it like the plague.
Autumn is cooling and drying, the cool dry air can actually help keep a kapha less congested. The risk of being tipped out of balance can occur towards the end of the autumn months, during the onset of winter, so it’s important to keep the cold out throughout the autumn. Vata Dosha can also play its wonderful role through the seasons, like increases like, opposites balance, so if your climate is exceptionally cold and dry, or if you tend to feel more isolated during the winter months, Vata may also be a strong component of your winter season, and you will want to actively keep Vata placated as well.
A balanced kapha gives a person strength of mind, solidity, protection and endurance. They are very robust and strong individuals both physically and mentally. If we allow kapha to become out of balance in late autumn then we will start to see signs of excess. When kapha builds to excess in the body, it can lead to a wet cough, stagnation, congestion, growths, sluggish digestion, slow bowels and an excessive desire to sleep.
Changes in your mental state will often be one of the first indications that an imbalance is on the horizon. Signs that kapha is increasing in the mind include a generalized feeling of heaviness or lethargy, sluggishness, drowsiness, brain fog, and a tendency towards excessive sleep, laziness, melancholy, or depression.
The digestive tract is one of the first places that aggravated kapha will make itself known. Early signs of kapha imbalance include a sense of heaviness, an uncomfortable feeling of fullness in the stomach, nausea, excess salivation, a poor appetite, a sweet taste in the mouth, indigestion, and a slow or suppressed metabolism. Excess kapha in the digestive tract can also cause the stools to be heavy, oily, pale or sticky. Kapha is also at the root of mucoid diarrhea and pre-diabetes.
Signs of kapha imbalance in the respiratory system include colds, coughs, excessive accumulation of mucus, a runny nose, excess nasal crust, and hay fever. Aggravated kapha can also cause congestion or a feeling of tightness in the sinuses, throat or chest.
How can you find balance this Winter?
As previously mentioned we can adapt with the changing seasons if we have a little more awareness, this can mean tweaking your diet (and understanding why you’re doing it). Moving the body in different ways through Yoga and exercise, recognising your moods and behaviours. For example, I love the heat of summer the freedom, the high energy, dry hot nights, my mood lifts, I feel motivated and passionate, my dominate Dosha is Pitta, then VATA, then Kapha. SO for me these qualities are my favourite and where my body and mind function happiest. So as I approach the colder months my body and mind want to rest, I want to sleep more, my motivation isn’t necessarily lost but it takes me a little more time to get my body moving and then I’m not pushing my body past its limits. Winter is a time of slowing down and generating heat and mobilising the body mindfully.
Adapting your diet.
You can reduce the amount of kapha in your system by favoring the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes, eating lots of fresh vegetables, indulging your taste buds with a variety of herbs and spices, and limiting your intake of heavy, oily foods, meats, dairy products, and sweets. Large quantities of grains and breads are also best avoided. In general, you’ll want to eat foods that are warm, light, and dry in nature. Portion control is also essential to balancing kapha. Make sure that the stomach is never quite full. Ideally, at the end of a meal, the stomach contains one third food, one third liquid, and remains one third empty. Eat a light breakfast, snack as little as possible, and eat a healthy lunch and dinner that includes lots of vegetables, adequate complex carbohydrates and fiber, and a low-fat source of protein, like legumes. It’s also helpful to drink room-temperature, warm, or hot beverages, and to avoid iced drinks. Boost your agni (digestive fire) and stimulate your appetite with some fresh ginger tea with a little honey between meals.
The Kapha diet is most beneficial towards the end of autumn and throughout the winter months.
Eat only when hungry, allow the body plenty of time to properly digest its food
Emphasise foods that are light, dry or warming to stimulate movement and heat
Favour foods that are spicy, bitter or astringent to power through sticky congestion
Reduce foods that are heavy, oily, cold, sweet, salty and sour. These are considered to be energetically ‘cooling’ for the body
Avoids stimulants, dairy and highly fatty or processed foods
Kapha constitutions will benefit from more stimulating exercise that gets the blood flowing. Yoga postures that are more stimulating and invigorating such as the sun salutations and flowing practices.
One of the most important things you can do to balance Kapha (or any Dosha for that matter) is to get plenty of exercise. Kapha tends to stagnate easily and one of the best ways to get it moving again is to engage in physical activity, increase circulation, warm the tissues and break a sweat. In other words, get a good dose of exercise every day. Depending on your personal dominant constitution you will feel drawn to certain foods with the seasons and you will also notice how your body naturally lets you know what it wants at a certain time of year, month and even to the day.
If vata is predominant in the atmosphere—with dry, cold weather—you will want to favor a slow, gentle, and strengthening exercise routine. On the other hand, if kapha is the more influential force at any given time—with heavy, cloudy weather, and rain or snow—you will want to push yourself physically, increasing both the duration and intensity of your workout. It’s important to listen to your body this winter. If you’re feeling overextended and stretched thin, favor vata-pacifying types of exercise like walking, tai chi, or gentle yoga. If you’re feeling sluggish and heavy, give kapha a bit of a push with a more vigorous workout—perhaps a bike ride, a jog, or a challenging hike, snowshoe, or ski.
An invigorating and expansive yoga practice this winter can be surprisingly supportive of your overall well-being. Beneficial poses include Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I), Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana), as well as forward bends, and backward bends. Postures that stimulate metabolism like Cobra (Bhujangasana), Bow (Dhanurasana), Side Plank (Vasisthasana), Spinal Rolls, Leg Lifts, and supine twists like Revolved Abdomen Variation (Jathara Parivartanasana Variation) are also very appropriate. You can adapt your pace on a daily basis to coincide with your local climate and your internal needs. If vata is strong in the atmosphere or if you feel stressed and depleted, move at a slow and gentle pace. If kapha is a stronger influence or if you feel unmotivated and lethargic, move at a faster pace, allowing your breath to quicken and your inner heat to intensify. Either way, practice with purpose and invite precision into your poses. Have an expansive heart and hold your poses long enough to feel challenged. If you’re trying to balance vata, close your practice with a long Corpse Pose (Savasana). Or, if kapha is high, consider Savasana with Support. If you practice pranayama, Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath), Bhastrika (Bellows Breath), and Surya Bhedana (Solar Breath) will bring a sense of lightness to the mind and are all wonderful for increasing heat, circulation, and the digestive capacity. Full Yogic Breath and Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) are especially balancing in cases of high vata or stress.
So however your feeling, physically and emotionally use your yoga practice to listen inwards and work with the shifts of the seasons. Its a busy time of year so remember if you feel the need to rest, DO!!
Big loves this Winter!!