“Vegetarian diet stimulates those forces in the organism which bring man into a kind of cosmic connection with the whole of the planetary system.”—Rudolf Steiner
While it’s hard to argue with cosmic connection, sometimes we need to be brought back to earth.
As the clarity and illumination of early fall morphs into biting winds and dreadful temperatures of late autumn and early winter, a discernible shift takes place not only in the weather, but energetically as well. I’ve misplaced my keys, can’t seem to settle into meditation, my hands have turned freezing and will not return to normal temperature for at least four months. I’m spacing out in the middle of conversations, getting distracted in yoga class, more easily aggravated by my little ones. I’m craving hot showers every day. And as usual, but in a much more intense way, I’m hungry. I mean really hungry. In Ayurveda, this is the shift into vata season, and I am of a very strong vata constitution and also a vegan. This creates a bit of a conflict with the philosophy of Ayurveda, which recommends dairy and animal proteins to ground that spacey vata energy.
Vata represents cold, dry, wind, air and ether. This can be the most challenging time of year for those of us with vata constitution. Animal proteins are heavy and grounding, oily, filling and warm raw milk at the end of a meal is meant to aid in digestion, cool down and soothe that wiry energy.
Ayurveda is a perfect science—and also ancient and based on ancient assumptions. Taking Ayurveda literally and placing it in the context of modern America can be a tricky thing. I wonder if the ancient yogis would still feel our current systems of agriculture and food processing to be congruent with the principle of ahimsa (non-violence). Something to chew on. But first:
Chew your food, set an intention. Of course this is important year round—but in winter, when all kinds of viruses are going around and we are in “survival mode”, it is extra important to eat your food with intent. What is this meal doing for you? Creating alkaline? Grounding and stabilizing you? Satiating a fierce hunger? Recognize when you are eating impulsively and slow down. Chewing thoroughly releases digestive enzymes in saliva that break down carbohydrates into simple sugars (helping to combat sugar cravings) while you enjoy your meal more slowly and experience healthier digestion. Try using chopsticks. Great satisfaction comes from chewing mindfully.
Stew your food. Hearty soups and stews chock full of grounding root vegetables such as winter squash, carrots, burdock, and potatoes are moist and dense. Find some great recipes that excite you and try them out. Make double batches so you can eat throughout the week (or freeze some so you will have a delicious meal on a cold day too unbearable to leave the house!). Switch it up by stirring in brown rice or quinoa, add water and miso to make more of a different concoction. Add raw garlic and ginger to boost immunity. Don’t be afraid to eat outside the box and have soup or stew for breakfast either, a very warming and grounding way to start the day.
Bake your own bread—what a great project for winter. The idea is that upward vata energy wants to be redirected downward and channeled in a creative way; hand kneading bread is a fantastic way to do this. On top of which a good, hearty, spelt bread does wonders for filling up that hungry belly. Add chia, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds to your dough for extra protein!
Learn how to cook beans. Beans are an indispensable part of a plant based diet, yet Ayurveda recommends cutting them out in winter, when vegans need extra protein the most. Beans have a drying quality because they absorb water in the body. So be sure to soak your beans for at least twelve hours in tons and tons of water, and then cook your beans in tons of water as well. As the beans absorb the water through cooking, add more. The more water the beans absorb through cooking, the less they will dry out the body. Cook your beans for several hours, this is how our ancestors did it. Since it is a long process, cook a lot and freeze for future use. Add herbs that aid in digestion such as epazote, cumin, and garlic (also tasty). Pay attention and see which beans agree with your body the most! For me, the smaller the bean, the easier to digest, so I favor lentils, split peas, and mung beans in winter.
Increase superfoods. Superfoods have so many benefits and most importantly for winter, boost immunity. If you are looking for nutrient dense foods that pack a lot of punch to keep you strong and energized throughout winter, incorporate superfoods rather than animal products. Some of my favorites are maca, spirulina, cacao, and goji berries.
Warm up your smoothie. If you are a smoothie head like me, you will notice that switching up your smoothie routine seasonally can be of great benefit. While in the summer I often have smoothies for breakfast, this time of year I switch breakfast to a bowl of warm oats or stew, and have smoothies in the afternoon when digestion is fired up and the sun is working it’s mojo. Add a knub of fresh ginger and ½ teaspoon of cinnamon to your smoothie and replace ice with cold fruit. Your smoothie will take on a much more warming quality this way.
Oil up. If you love to take warm baths and showers, be sure to slather on some coconut oil before you hop in, especially on the palms of your hands and bottoms of the feet. You will feel more invigorated and energized afterward rather than drained.
Increase meditation and a long cool down period after exercise or yoga. Life is so busy—sometimes we only have five minutes or so for meditation or savasana. Wintertime is not a good time to skimp on these. They are the most grounding practices one can incorporate, so sit down and enjoy the stillness. If you really don’t have time, get creative. Alternate nostril breathing at traffic lights, legs up the wall while talking on the phone, or dare I suggest five less minutes of Facebook in exchange for five extra of meditation?
Enjoy this time of hibernation and don’t worry, this too shall pass! The delicate blossoms of spring would be nothing without winters deep freeze.
Lisa Hicks is a holistic health counselor committed to environmental sustainability through her practice, Grassroots Nutrition. She specializes in veganism and mindful parenting. To learn more check out her website lisahickshc.com.
Editor: Malin Bergman