Ayurvedic Tips to Beat the Winter Sniffles. ~ Matthew King
Defrosting the Doshas!
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) doshas in all individuals, particularly people of those constitutions. In order to prevent and 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.
Fresh lemon juice or dried lemon peels can be added to teas to purify the liver and boost the immune system. You can also use a eucalyptus vapor snuff with leaves and hot water or rub a small amount of 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 nasal cavity 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).
It’s best to avoid dairy or cheese during the winter since they aggravate kapha by increasing mucus production and their cooling virya (digestive effect) makes it harder to fully digest meals, 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). 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 get heartburn). Bitter and sour tastes can be enjoyed in small amounts, but it’s best to minimize consumption of sweet (particularly ice cream or cold desserts) and astringent (pomegranate, raw greens and hibiscus) tastes as they have the highest tendency to derange kapha and vata.
Honey can still be enjoyed in small quantities (though 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 Thai tom kha soup, hot curry soup, carrot-ginger, butternut squash-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—Bikram yoga is silly) and I generally practice ashtanga yoga in a mildly heated room.
Pranayama (breath-control) exercises are also recommended for maintaining the nadis (energy channels) clear of granthis (blockages) for a free flow of prana (life-energy). 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.
(All herbs and products mentioned here can be ordered from Banyan Botanicals and Bazaar of India, both of which I highly recommend. Many can also be purchased bulk and cheap from the SF Herb Company.)
Matthew King graduated from Harvard University in 2009 with a B.A. in Buddhist Studies and moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area where he earned RYT-200 Yoga Teacher certification through Laura Camp’s Camp Yoga in Oakland, CA. He earned RYT-500 hour certification in July 2010 through SchoolYoga Institute in Guatemala. Matthew returned to the San Francisco Bay Area where he has fluctuated between working in the renewable energy industry and sharing yoga, meditation and healing arts with students and yoga studios around the Bay. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and his website.
Editor: Jamie Morgan
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