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December 3, 2015

Surviving Winter with Ayurveda: Facing & Embracing the Nature of Death.

Caleb George/Unsplash

The secret to a healthy experience of winter lies in having a healthy relationship with death.

Can we let go of the need for growth and life and go within? Can we stop rushing and slow down so that we can truly nurture our bodies and minds?

Winter is a time to strip back to basics and cut back on what isn’t necessary so that we can make peace with the simplicity of surviving. Our culture is terrified of getting bare like this, but when spring comes, we can thrive again.

Working with the cycles of the seasons connects us to the larger rhythms of nature and gives us an opportunity to tune into our bodies’ changing needs.

Winter is a time to honor the need to do less. Our ancestors had no choice. Since humans mastered agriculture, winter meant long periods of inactivity, where we mostly spent our time eating stockpiled food and drinking copious amounts of alcohol to keep warm.

Our current culture values pushing past our physical, mental and emotional boundaries at all times. Unfortunately, this mindset has even seeped into the spiritual world, where we are encouraged to constantly strive for insight, breakthroughs and catharsis, to the detriment of the psyche’s need for quiet space to integrate lessons.

By learning to move with the changes winter brings, we can come out of it refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to ecstatically explode into spring.

Winter Lifestyle

Instead of lamenting the loss of motivation, we can embrace the opportunity for reflection. Take stock of the year since last winter.

Ask yourself: What have I learned? What am I happy about? What would I like to change?

Relish the chance to ponder these things without needing to take action. Instead of fearing inertia, we can practice acceptance of what is, with the greater knowing that it will pass and winter will become spring.

What in your life are you impatient with? Where do you try to control things? What poor dead horse do you keep flogging over and over again?

Understanding where we can let go and what we can let die will allow space for something new to be born in the spring.

As hard as it may be, try to get outdoors in some fresh air for at least 30 minutes a day, ideally in nature or a park. A little daily exercise can help fight off the winter blues. If you really can’t go for a walk, a bit of yoga or Tai Chi in a warm house will be helpful too. This is more about self-care and looking after the body than it is about fitness goals and pushing ourselves.

Make sure you are getting good quality sleep by being in bed before midnight and waking up by eight a.m. at the latest. Getting in the habit of really winding down and letting go of the day before bed and reducing electronics use closer to bed time encourages our minds to be calmer.

If movie nights in bed are all you can get excited about, just go with it. Enthusiasm will return with the sun and longer days. Learn to appreciate the pleasurable art of doing nothing.

Winter Diet

Our bodies tend to amp up the appetite in winter so we can put on that little bit of extra weight. This extra fat helps you keep warm so that your body’s energy expenditure goes where it really needs to: your immune system. As long as you are eating fresh, wholesome food, there is no need to resist the hunger. If you get a little “winter coat,” it should shed in the spring if you stay active and eat well.

As always, eating seasonal food is the best. They are naturally imbued with all the things your body needs in winter to stay warm and healthy:

Stock up on root vegetables like carrot, beetroot, pumpkin, parsnip, turnip, celeriac, fennel, Jerusalem artichoke, daikon and kohlrabi. All the Asian greens are excellent for the immune system, as are winter leafy greens like spinach, silverbeet, kale, rainbow chard, beet greens and rocket.

Mushrooms will be at their freshest and most nutritious, and onions, leeks and shallots will help fight bacteria and keep you warm.

Citrus fruits are full of vitamin C and abundant in winter.

Go for hearty, well-cooked meals that retain moisture, like soups, stews, casseroles, curries, steaming and blanching.

Eat warm, freshly cooked foods that are spiced with any of the following to boost immune function: garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, cayenne, black pepper, ginger and turmeric.

Switch to a warm breakfast. Have porridge or put warm milk on your cereal.

Drink warming herbal teas like ginger, lemongrass, rooibos and tulsi.

Avoid cold food and drinks, raw vegetables, salads

Reduce consumption of white sugar, sweet foods and dairy.

Living with the seasonal cycles for nine years and my studies of Ayurveda have taught me how to take advantage of the winter and use it as the perfect antidote to society’s “striving sickness.”

I hope it helps you to surrender to the beauty of the dark and cold months and value your worth, regardless of how much you are achieving.

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Relephant Read:

See You Later, Alligator: Ayurveda for Winter Skin.

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Author: Echo Andarta

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Caleb George/Unsplash // Yegor Chekmarev/Unsplash

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Echo Andarta