Ayurvedic guide to stay healthy in winters

Dr. Ankita
Winter is coming. With the change in season, the change is evident in the environment we live in. We see various changes in bio-life around us.
As humans are also part of the same ecology, our body is greatly influenced by external environment. When winter arrives, we should be on guard as the warm summer days are behind us. It’s time to prepare our body for the cold weather of the winter season. To remain healthy and to stay in harmony with nature, it is quintessential to make lifestyle and dietary adjustments. The desire to eat more during winter is a natural instinct of the body designed to put on additional weight and insulate itself. Mother Nature gives us what we need by providing us with a whole range of healthy cold weather food like nuts and a variety of winter vegetables. With these winter foods, the blood and skin becomes thicker to protect the body from the cold. Mother Nature prepares our bodies against the harsh and cold winter season but we ourselves should also take good care of our diet and actions.
Ayurveda, the Indian System of Medicine; considers seasonal routine as an important aspect of health-care. ‘Ritu’ the season, classified by different features expresses different effects on the body as well as on the environment. Ayurveda has depicted various rules and regimens (Ritucharya), regarding diet and behavior to acclimatize seasonal enforcement easily without altering body homeostasis. The year according to Ayurveda is divided into two periods Ayana (solstice) depending on the direction of movement of sun that is Uttarayana (northern solstice) and Dakshinayana (southern solstice). Each is formed of three Ritus (seasons). A year consists of six seasons, namely, Shishira (winter), Vasanta (spring), and Grishma (summer) in Uttarayan and Varsha (monsoon), Sharata (autumn), and Hemanta (pre winter) in Dakshinayana. As Ayurveda has its origin in India, the above seasonal changes are observed predominantly in Indian subcontinent. Ayurveda believes that basically there are three body types depending upon the biological humors i.e. Doshas (Vata-Pitta & Kapha). These doshas behave differently in different seasons. For e.g. Vata gets aggravated in Rainy season, Pitta increases in autumn season and Kapha accumulates in winters and aggravates afterwards in spring.
The winter is considered predominantly the Kapha season as Kapha dosha increases in this season. This Kapha season extends from frigid winter days, when the ground freezes to early spring. Interestingly, Ayurveda has advised to follow certain rules regarding diets and lifestyle in order to pacify the increased Kapha in our bodies during winter season.
Diet regimen: According to Ayurveda two months of pre winter or early winter i.e. Shishira and two months of winter i.e. Hemanta comprise Winter season. During this season, the environment remains cold, along with cold wind. Cold weather increases digestive power or Agni, which is usually stronger in winter than in other seasons. Therefore, you can eat a little more and slightly richer food. If you eat too lightly, your strong Agni would begin to break down body tissue and put Vata out of balance. Similarly, wind and cold increase Vata. This is easy to understand when you know that the main characteristics of vata dosha are, “airy”, “dry”, “cold” and “irregular”. Therefore, the Vata reducing measures are particularly recommended in winter season. Following dietary advises are given:
* Favor warm and nourishing foods, for example, stews, pasta dishes and casseroles, dairy products such as cream and milk rice, almonds and nuts, soaked dried fruits such as, dates, raisins or figs.
* On the other hand, reduce raw foods, salads, all kind of cabbage and dry foods like raw rolled oat flakes, crisp breads or cornflakes with cold milk.
* Always use ghee (clarified butter) when cooking. Ghee is particularly highly valued in Ayurveda for its health promoting properties.
* Favor sweet, sour and salty flavors.
* Include Vata – pacifying spices like Cinnamon, fennel, anise, nutmeg, cumin, cardamom, licorice, cloves, fresh ginger, parsley and basil in your recipes.
* Avoid ice cold drinks – favor warm drinks instead.
* With lunch, you may drink a glass of Lassi: Thoroughly whisk one part of yogurt with three parts of water, plus a little rock salt and a pinch of cumin.
* If you prefer, you can also prepare sweet lassi with sugar and, for instance, cardamom, cinnamon, or vanilla.
* Regular sipping of hot water is highly recommended. It should simmer for about 15 minutes with the lid off. Transfer it into a thermos and drink it in small sips throughout the day.
* Avoid stimulants such as coffee, black tea and cigarettes, because they quickly produce a Vata imbalance.
* Exercise, body and head massage, use of warm water, sunbath are advised.
* Exposure to strong and cold wind, habit of day sleep is to be avoided.
* A full body morning oil massage is one of the most pleasant Vata balancing measures. Try it! Before showering or bathing, massage the whole body with warm sesame oil. Leave the oil on the skin for a few minutes to let it penetrate.
* A warm foot bath in the evening balances Vata in a soothing way.
* Wear warm, natural clothing, (e.g. fine lamb’s wool) and avoid drafty or dry conditions in your room.
In nutshell healthy levels of activity, rest, sports, adequate sleep, fortifying, nutritious and hot meals, regular daily routine – especially regular eating habits, warm oil massage, hot food, warm clothes and Strengthening of the physiology with Ayurvedic food supplements can be very helpful to stay healthy during winters.
(The author is Assistant Professor, Govt. Ayurvedic Medical College, Jammu.)