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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Ayurvedic Wisdom for Winter Self-care

Feb 01, 2021 08:30AM ● By Jayashree Ramamurthy
The winter solstice is behind us, but winter is still a force to contend with, and it will be for at least another couple of months. Ayurveda, a holistic healing system from ancient India very much in use today, focuses on seasonal wellness and recommends shifting one’s self-care accordingly to best adapt to the environment.

What does this mean in everyday practice? Daily routines must shift slowly from that of the preceding season to the succeeding one to maintain well-being. Winter is cold and dry; in Ayurvedic terms, it is the vata season. Ayurveda talks of three doshas, or fundamental life forces, called vata, pitta, and kapha. These doshas combine in unique ways to make up our natural constitutions. Knowing this helps one optimize one’s health in both body and mind.
According to Ayurveda, the qualities of winter are cold, dry, rough, mobile, and light. These qualities tend to aggravate and unsettle the nervous system for many, especially those who are vata by nature. It means an increase in feelings of restlessness or instability and an increased propensity for anxiety and overwhelm. People who have trouble focusing on daily tasks or falling and staying asleep might find winter to be particularly challenging. Painful conditions such as achy and arthritic joints also become more pronounced, as does dryness in the digestive tract, which can often manifest as constipation.

To maintain balance and stay healthy, it’s advised to counter the attributes of winter with their opposites—warm, moist, smooth, slow, and heavy. It is best to favor heavy, moist foods made with good fats, such as ghee, virgin coconut oil, and sesame oil, especially to alleviate constipation and keep the bowels moving daily. It is recommended to include the natural tastes of sweet, sour, and salty and to reduce intake of foods that are astringent, bitter and pungent—as in large quantities of raw greens, which are naturally drying and cooling. It is also important to avoid cold, dry and light foods. Items such as chips, cereals, granola bars, and cold salads can aggravate dryness and imbalance the body.

Winter’s produce typically includes starch-rich tubers and fleshy, sweet vegetables such as squashes. Also, winter lettuces are crisp, green and fresh and, when eaten in small to moderate amounts, they can bring a vibrant green energy into the daily diet. Rich, aromatic spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, black pepper and nutmeg are warming and help digest heavier foods such as bean-based soups, chili and stews. In fact, the popular Indian blend Garam Masala is made from a combination of these spices, toasted dry and ground up. When cooking with these spices, it’s important to first extract them in a good fat. In other words, put ghee or an expeller-pressed oil in the cooking pot, then heat, add the spice, and let them sizzle before adding other ingredients.

Ayurveda tells us that digestive power is highest in winter, a time when many people experience an increase in appetite. Each day, one’s appetite follows the sun, peaking in the middle of the day. Eating smaller breakfasts and suppers and having the heaviest meal around the middle of the day allows the body to optimize digestion.

Abhyanga is a wonderfully soothing and calming Ayurvedic daily self-care practice that is helpful in the winter. Abhyanga, which involves massaging the body with custom oils, helps counter winter’s drying and unsettling propensity, helps protect the skin from the drying effect of a warm shower so much so that topical lotions often are not even needed afterward. To make the oil, start with extra virgin olive oil and add a few drops of a warming essential oil, such as frankincense, patchouli or ginger. Alternatively, sesame oil is traditionally used for its warming property.

The Ayurvedic daily practices of neti and nasya are invaluable to help protect nasal membranes and sinus passages during this dry time of year. Neti is the practice of washing the sinuses with saline water, which keeps sinus passages free of allergens and congestion. Neti pots are easily available online. Nasya is the practice of placing a few drops of oil—typically, sesame oil—inside each nostril with a dropper and inhaling deeply. Nasya keeps nasal passages from drying out, thus providing a strong barrier against seasonal germs.

In winter, take care not to expose the body to the drying effect of cold temperatures. It is best to protect against the elements, erring on the side of being warm rather than cold. On frosty mornings, a brisk yoga practice in a sunlit room may get the job done, creating warmth and flow, and making for an energetic start to the day.

These simple recommendations can help bring about the necessary balance for total well-being.

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Warming Kitchidee
Yield: 4 servings
Kitchidee is a one-pot meal usually made of a cooked grain plus a cooked lentil, appropriately spiced. For detox and digestive rest purposes, white rice and mung lentils are typically used. Note that roasted cumin/coriander powder can be made ahead.
1 cup jasmine white rice
½ cup split yellow mung or whole green mung, sometimes called “moong dal”
2 to 3 Tbsp peeled and grated ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp roasted cumin/coriander powder
½ tsp coarse ground black pepper
Coarse ground cumin seeds
Seasonal vegetables, cleaned and diced evenly
Fresh chopped cilantro to taste
3 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil
1.    Cook the rice and lentils separately. Cooking methods vary for different kinds of lentils. If using whole green mung, soak them for a couple of hours in hot water. If using split mung, wash and cook them in 1 - 2 cups of water, covering lightly, until mushy and done. Whole mung takes a bit longer to cook.
2.    In a large, heavy-bottom skillet, heat the ghee or coconut oil. Add the ginger and the rest of the spices, roasting them for a minute or two. (For convenience, you can take the same amount of turmeric that you used for the seeds and add it to the cumin/coriander powder and mix well.) Add the vegetables, then cover and let steam until you get the desired doneness.
3.    Add the cooked rice and lentils to the skillet and run a potato masher through the kitchidee, making sure all the parts come together in a soupy whole.
4.    Add sea salt to taste and remove from heat.
5.    Garnish with fresh cilantro and enjoy warm with a drizzle of ghee or coconut oil.

Roasted cumin/coriander powder

Combine equal amounts of both seeds. Toast on a hot, dry skillet until they turn light brown. Let cool and turn into a powder using a coffee mill. Then store in an airtight jar and freeze the excess in a strong freezer bag. Keeps for six months.
Jaya Ramamurthy, whose Indian roots inspired her to share the restorative wellness offered by Ayurveda’s health care methods, is a state-certified clinical Ayurveda specialist in private practice. Reach her at [email protected] or
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