Ayurvedic Tips to Combat the Winter Sniffles
Winter’s onset brings with it a new balance of elements, predominantly water (precipitation), and air (wind). These elements are cold and dry and tend to aggravate vata (ether+ air) and kapha (water + earth constitutions) in all individuals, particularly those constitution types. In order to remedy vata and kapha imbalances (particularly colds) we can make changes to our day to day activities to maintain harmony throughout the cold season, boost our immune systems, and stay warm.
Spice for food and teas:
Use cayenne pepper and other pungent spices on your foods. Cayenne is one of the best expectorants to wash out any residual phlegm and flush ama (toxins) through the digestive system, while also stimulating agni (digestive fire). Also take ginger, clove, cinnamon, and cardamom teas, eat fresh ginger, and don’t be afraid of fresh garlic with or in your meals. You can also do a eucalyptus snuff or rub eucalyptus essential oil on your chest if you have stuffy sinuses or upper chest congestion. Licorice root tea is also a great expectorant and tonic.
You may also consider taking goldenseal tablets, but be sure to purchase organic.
Kriya (cleansing) techniques:
For stuffy sinuses, and also for prevention of colds, especially during flu season, you can rinse your mucous membranes out with a neti pot containing lukewarm water with a pinch of salt and a drop or two of grapefruit seed extract. Also practice tratak (gazing at a candle flame with eyes open until they tear).
I recommend avoiding dairy or cheese during the winter since they aggravate kapha and increase mucus production (as well as have a cooling virya (digestive effect), though goat milk should be fine since it actually has a heating vipak [secondary or post-digestive effect]) and reduces aggravations of all doshas. If you’re going to consume cow milk, try to procure raw, organic, unpasteurized milk (almost impossible to find thanks to the FDA, unless you own a cow or have cowherd neighbors), or if it’s the store-bought stuff then boil it with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom to neutralize its effect on kapha.
The best tastes to emphasize in meals during winter are pungent and salty (but be careful if you are a pitta and have a tendency to heartburn). Bitter, and sour, and astringent can be enjoyed in small amounts, but it’s best to minimize consumption of sweets (particularly ice cream or cold desserts). Honey can still be enjoyed in small quantities (not cooked!) as it has a warming effect. Warm and spicy soups are excellent and will make you feel wonderful and fend off chills – think tom kha soup, sweet and sour curry, carrot-ginger, etc. Also embrace cooked grains and avoid too many raw vegetables.
You can also adjust your yoga practice for winter! I recommend more vigorous yoga in a heated room for the winter. This might be the only time I ever recommend Bikram Yoga (actually, no, I still won’t recommend Bikram, never do Bikram yoga, it’s silly) and I generally practice ashtanga vinyasa yoga. Check out these videos from Banyan Botanicals on Kapha pacifying and Vata pacifying yoga flows:
Pranayama (breath-control) exercises are also recommended for maintaining the nadis (or energy channels) clear of granthis (blockages) for a free flow of prana (life-energy), and I recommend daily practice of kapalabhati, bhastrika, and surya bheda pranayama during the winter for heating and cleansing, as well as brahmari pranayama if you are experiencing winter depression or seasonal affect disorder.
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After graduating from school in January of 2009 from Harvard University with an AB in the Comparative Study of Religion I moved back home to the San Francisco Bay Area and worked in a variety of trades from college test preparation to coaching a high school rowing team. I later co-founded and spent a year working as the Director of Logistics and Operations for Quetsol S.A., a micro-scale solar company in Guatemala aiming to provide 500,000 families without electricity with access to LED illumination and cell phone charging systems. I also served as a consultant for Core Foods which produces an organic, whole food meal replacement bar called the Core Meal, now available in Whole Foods and Costco in the Bay Area. The path of spirituality kept calling me and so I earned RYT – 200 Yoga Teacher certification at the end of February 2010, which I did through Laura Camp’s Camp Yoga at the Monkey Yoga Shala in Oakland. After moving to Guatemala I continued to pursue the path of sharing yoga with others and earned RYT-500 hour certification in July 2010 with Vedantin Ping Luo of School Yoga Institute in San Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala. I was blessed to live and teach/facilitate two yoga teacher trainings in Guatemala on Lago de Atitlán from July-December of 2010 where I began studying ayurveda, herbalism, Sanksrit language, Mayan cosmology, and shamanic energy healing with Vedantin and Mayan Elder Tata Pedro Cruz as well as through personal study. I have now returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and my mission is to share my experience in entrepreneurship, business, yoga, meditation, ayurveda, shamanic energy healing, and Buddhist studies with businesses, start-ups, NGOs, and yoga studios around the Bay.