With the change in season taking us from long, warm days spent outdoors to short and cold ones huddled inside our homes, it is quite ordinary for many individuals to feel a bit "off”, disoriented, out of sorts and low on energy. The hours we sleep, the food we eat, and the activities we engage in can all be affected profoundly by our environment and the climactic conditions that surround us.
Ayurveda, India's ancient system of healing (and the oldest medical tradition in the world) has long recognized the impact of seasonal change on the health of individuals, and for countless centuries has helped individuals manage the change in seasons in a healthful fashion. The change in climate that we all experience tends to place a degree of stress on the human body, and we all tend to respond to it in a fashion consonant with our "metabolic type". Ayurveda postulates three such "types," (known in Sanskrit as the ‘tridosha') roughly analogous to the western concepts of endo-, ecto-, and meso-morphism. Thus, types of individuals are characterized by their predominant energy. This includes Kapha individuals (who tend to be compact, heavy, easygoing, calm and self-indulgent); Pitta individuals(exhibiting high energy, irritability, perfectionism and who are generally "intense" in many respects) and Vata types (who are constantly in a `mental whirl,' fretful, forgetful, disliking organization prone to lack bodily moisture, thin and easily fatigued or depressed).
Seasonal change can often unbalance (or as Ayurvedic practitioners say, “vitiate”) one or more of the energies comprising the tridosha (the singular is dosha) and Ayurveda suggests ways in which such imbalances can be avoided or corrected. Note that one can see any of the doshas fall into imbalance: one's own predominant dosha or another. Thus, one can have a Vata constitution with a Vata imbalance, or be a Vata with a Pitta or a Kapha imbalance, and so on.
Kapha governs all structure, fluid balance and lubrication in the body. It controls weight and growth as well as the functioning of the joints and lungs, and the formation of all seven types of tissue -nutritive fluids, blood, fat, muscles, bones, bone marrow and reproductive tissues. If you tend to be overweight, are often lethargic, experience sinus problems, and wake unrefreshed from a night's sleep, then your Kapha energy may be out of balance. Other signs of unbalanced Kapha include oily skin and hair, emotional possessiveness and over-attachment, discomfort in cold damp weather, laziness and complacency, bloating and water retention. If you exhibit one or more of the foregoing symptoms, you may need to balance your Kapha energy; if you exhibit four or more, then you certainly do. Unsettled Kapha can be pacified by vigorous regular exercise, a little each day; keeping oneself in relatively warm temperatures and avoiding strong winds or chill (in other words, if you go outside, wear sufficient clothing!), and by making sure your diet includes fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes. Pungent, bitter, astringent tastes and light, dry and warm foods are preferred over others, and it is a good time to reduce heavy, oily, cold foods and to avoid sweet, sour and salty tastes. The ancient maxim "Early to bed, early to rise" will also serve Kapha folk well in dealing with winter.
The body's Pitta energy governs heat production and distribution, metabolism and digestion. It also controls how we process our sensory perceptions, and how we discriminate between right and wrong. Do you need to balance Pitta? You may, if your hair is prematurely gray or thinning, or if you wake up in the early hours and find it difficult to fall asleep again. If you tend to be more than ordinarily demanding, impatient, critical or irritable, are often frustrated, angry or intense, your skin is ruddy and prone to rashes and eruptions, and you suffer from excess stomach acid, then you likely do need to tone down your Pitta "fire."
Here are a few ways of doing just that. Don't allow winter to keep you completely indoors, and don't allow yourself to become over-heated. You can take a bit of cold; it surely will do you no harm, as you carry your own internal "heater" around with you as a part of your metabolic make-up. Favor cool, heavy, dry, foods with sweet, bitter and astringent tastes. Reduce pungent, sour, salty tastes and avoid warm, oily and light foods. Allow yourself sufficient leisure time and avoid the temptation to overwork. It's also important to keep to regular mealtimes, and you may want to consume your largest meal of the day at noon. As a regular treat, a nice massage with appropriately scented oils would be a very good preventive health measure as well as make you feel great.
Vata governs all movements and transportation within the body. Vata dosha controls blood flow, waste elimination, breathing and even the movement of thoughts across the mind and the reception of sensory impulses. Since the Pitta and Kapha energies cannot move without it, Vata is considered the leader of the three Ayurvedic energies in the body. It's very important to keep Vata in good balance, but it is by far the most commonly unbalanced dosha. You may need to balance Vata if your skin is unusually dry, rough, or thin; if you are underweight, with a mind constantly in a whirl – restless, agitated and incessantly worried. If in addition you experience constipation, have difficulty sleeping, suffer from dryness, experience discomfort in your joints or are easily fatigued, it is time to implement a Vata reducing strategy.
Such a strategy includes a nice daily massage or self-massage with warmed sesame oil, making sure to keep your environment comfortably warmed, and avoiding cold, undercooked or raw foods. Go for warm, oily, heavier (i.e., denser) foods that taste sweet, sour, and/or salty, and avoid lighter or dried foods with pungent, bitter or astringent tastes. Avoid stimulants of any kind (caffeine is among the worst) and get lots of rest, observing an early bedtime.
With these sensible, time-tested precautions observed and just a little good fortune, winter will come and go with one's health unimpaired.
Article provided by William Courson, BVSA, Dpl. Ayur., C.H. an Ayurvedic Practitioner, faculty member and the College Dean of Institutional Development at Sai Ayurvedic College & Ayurvedic Wellness Center.