The Yoga of Food: Eating for Winter
It’s obvious how winter is a time for hibernation and inactivity—most plants are dormant, animal activity is scarce, and daytime is short. It is much less evident how to live and eat in harmony with the cold, dark, damp and sometimes oppressive energy of winter. Luckily Ayurveda, yoga’s sister healing science, provides valuable insights and wisdom on how to eat in harmony with the energy of wintertime.
According to the principles of Ayurveda, the energy of winter resonates the strongest with the dosha (bio-elemental energy) of kapha—cold, heavy, moist, grounded, and slow. When in balance, kapha is a source of strength, vitality, and stability to our bodies and minds. In winter kapha is prone to imbalance—leading to excess mucus and body weight as well as to feeling sluggish, tired and depressed. Change your diet to keep the energy of kapha balanced and strong this winter with these four simple tips.
Stay warm and keep agni strong
The cold temperatures of winter drive agni, our body’s digestive fire, deep into our core. When agni is weakened we produce ama, toxins that according to Ayurveda are the root cause of disease. Snacking between meals and overeating diminishes our digestive fire. Eating foods with cold, wet and heavy properties—like raw veggies, frozen foods, sweets, and oily or fried foods—weakens our agni and creates excess kapha. To stimulate and strengthen agni, drink hot or warm water (instead of cold or iced) and drink warming teas like fresh ginger or chai. Focus on eating warm, slow-cooked, slightly oily, and well-spiced foods. Fermented foods such as cheese, miso, yogurt, and sauerkraut will also help warm the body and keep agni strong. Add these spices to teas or meals to boost your digestive fire: black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, fennel seeds, licorice, cardamom, and ginger root.
Build up and nourish
When strong and balanced, our kapha dosha lubricates the joints, moisturizes the skin, and keeps our immunity strong. Winter is the best time to boost the immune system by eating foods that are fresh, organic and easy to digest. Add milk and yogurt, fresh seasonal vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and ghee to your diet to activate kapha’s immunity-boosting powers. Adding more healthy protein in wintertime will encourage the body to repair, rebuild and rejuvenate structural strength, skin health, and immunity. To boost your protein consumption consider adding additional protein powders, nuts, seeds, spirulina, yogurt, and eggs to your winter diet.
Reduce excess kapha with light, dry and high fiber foods
If wintertime is creating excess mucus and body weight and/or making you feel sluggish, tired, and depressed, then add more light, dry and high fiber foods to reduce kapha dosha.
Consuming more high fiber foods will reduce feelings of being weighed down, stagnant or uninspired. Focus on adding fresh fruits and vegetables to your cooked meals. Add drying foods like beans, white potatoes, popcorn, barley, corn, millet, buckwheat, and rye to offset the oiliness of kappa.
Ground with roots and winter squashes
Dry, cold, windy weather can also increase vata dosha. If you experience excess vata symptoms (nervousness, anxiety, dry skin, constipation or poor sleep) it’s important to ground, nourish and stabilize with seasonal root vegetables and winter squashes. Adding the heavy, dense, fiber-rich vegetables like squashes, beets, carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes will help support winter nutrition. To keep vata dosha balanced during dry, windy weather, make sure you consume plenty of essential fatty acids, like omega-3s, as well as using additional olive oil, coconut oil, butter, and ghee in your cooking.
All of the above is general advice and should only be considered as a starting point for changing your diet for the winter season. Experiment and make adjustments based on your individual constitution, local seasonal foods, and the specific weather conditions where you live. Most importantly, pay attention to how the weather and the food you eat affects your prana, digestion, and overall sense of health and well-being.