It is November and while we’ve been having atypical weather everywhere, the true taste of winter is just around the corner. Speaking in Ayurvedic terms, winter can easily imbalance both Vata and Kapha doshas (body types). Vata is cold, dry, rough, and mobile. Kapha is heavy, static, cool, and dense. While we can consider the doshas on opposite ends of the Ayurvedic spectrum, it is still possible for both to be vitiated during winter. We can examine the components of winter and Ayurveda.
In Ayurveda, Vata is the principle of movement and it enjoys change but would do well with following a routine. Whenever we skip meals, eat erratically, eat on the go, Vata is likely to get vitiated. Vata is made up of ether (space) and air. Winter often brings the wind-chill, lake effect winds, and gusts of cold air. While Vata is primarily situated in the colon, it is also located in empty spaces and the bones. So, when we don’t cover our heads or necks and let the wind enter our ears and chill our bones, then this lends to Vata becoming vitiated. Vata is aggravated by cold; the cold quality constricts our capillaries. When this happens, nutrients cannot properly circulate throughout the body and they don’t reach the extremities. It’s common for people with a Vata imbalance to have cold hands and feet. Eating cold food or having chilled drinks further irritates Vata, especially when the external environment is already cold.
People with a Vata imbalance tend to have dry, rough, cracked skin. Eating dry, rough food like salad, raw vegetables, and wheat grass juice will cause more dryness in the body and increase the Vata disturbance. The dry quality in the body can cause aches, stiffness, cracking and popping of the joints.As the primary seat of Vata is in the colon, a common complaint when Vata is imbalanced is constipation. If there is dryness in the body, then our digestion and elimination is impaired. One way to counter-act dryness is to do an oil massage before showering. Sesame oil is beneficial for balancing Vata. Massaging and then showering helps the oil internally lubricate the body and removes dryness from the inside out. Just make sure there are bath mats in the tub as it can get pretty slippery!
The primary principle in Ayurveda is that like increases like. To counter the dry, rough, cold qualities, we would balance it with qualities like oily, unctuous, and hot. This is both in diet and in our environment. Taking cold showers, keeping the windows open at night in the winter, exposing our extremities to the cold further provokes Vata and Kapha in the disease process. Advanced Vata disorders can eventually lead to illness such as Parkinson’s, rheumatism, sciatica, and muscle wasting.
Whereas Vata enjoys activity, Kapha is more likely to enjoy inactivity. Kapha is made of water and earth, which are both heavy. A person with a Kapha imbalance gets the typical “couch-potato” syndrome. Since there is not a lot of activity, nutrients once again do not circulate properly in the body and the digestive fire slows down. A major theory underlying Ayurveda is that if the digestive fire (agni) is strong, then one is free from dis-ease. The primary location of Kapha is in the stomach, where it is present as the gastric-mucosal secretions. If digestion is impaired, then the person can suffer from constipation.
In the winter, we are not as motivated to go out and exercise, and this increases the heavy and static qualities of Kapha. There can be weight gain, especially if a person consumes heavy foods such as sweets, cheese, meat, and beans. When metabolism slows, it can also lead to hypothyroidism. Kaphas tend to be hot all the time, so they favor cold food and drinks. An excess influx of the cold quality in the body will increase Kapha. Kapha is also present in the mouth as saliva and as bronchial secretions. When Kapha builds up, it leads to colds, cough, and congestion. Dairy products, which provoke Kapha when taken in excess, should be minimized when a person has sinus or chest congestion. Further provocation of Kapha can lead to edema, tumors, and diabetes. Kapha people need to stay active, minimize sweets and dairy products, reduce intake of cold products, and eat light, well-spiced meals.
There seems to be a commonly held belief that no one is immune from illness in the winter season. It’s time to change that belief system. By following the proper Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle regimens most appropriate for our doshas, we can boost our immunity and lead healthier, fuller lives this season. A personalized Ayurvedic health consultation can help put you on the right road to health for the whole year. Winter may be upon us, but we can get a leg up on our health first.