Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth,
for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:
it is the time for home.
The month of Margashirsha signals the start of the four-month long winter season – Hemanta & Shishir rtu. Hemanta rtu is the time of intense, deepening cold weather. As a season, winter takes us indoors and inwards. Kalidasa describes winters thus in his epic poem “Ritusamharam: A Gathering of Seasons”:
“It is a time that people pass
with a fire, or in bright sunlight,
with heavy garments for young ladies
and windows kept shut in the house.”
Ayurveda & the Winter Season
As the seasons change, so do we. In Ayurveda winter is the season of Kapha dosha dominance but with a strong Vata presence as well. This season is characterised by cold weather, heaviness and general dryness. For many winters also mean a rise in mucous related illnesses.
At its best, winter can translate to being a time of strength and stability. Our digestive fires are at their strongest in the winters. This is the time to consume warming spices, nuts and seeds, whole grains and root vegetables along with dark leafy green vegetables. Fats such as Ghee are also vital for wellbeing in winters. According to Ayurveda Sweet, Sour and Salty tastes should be predominant in the foods that we consume in winters. This is also a good time for the consumption of warming spices such as Cinnamon, Turmeric, Cloves and Black Pepper. If you do experience excess mucous build-up or congestion try to include these herbs and spices in your diet: Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Honey, Cardamom and Ginger. A simple way to enjoying the benefits of these spices and herbs is to make tisanes – just steep a small quantity of the desired herb or spice in half a cup of boiling hot water and drink.
Note: Honey should never be heated or steeped in hot water according to Ayurvedic principles.
More than any other season, winter is the time when exercise should be a regular part of our daily routine, because the Kapha dominance in the season can also lead to stagnation and sluggishness. Regular Abhyanga (a self-massage routine) with gently warmed oil is also excellent for maintaining supple skin, helping your circulation & pacifying Vata dosha.
Winters & SAD
The days are now filled with frost and fog. The skies seem grey as the warmth and presence of the Sun lessens. For many people this lack of sunshine and other aspects of the winter season can bring on SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder. Those affected by it can experience lower energy, moodiness, tiredness, weight gain, oversleeping and general sense of gloominess. It is thought that the lack of sunlight can cause a drop in Serotonin levels for some people. And this can be one of the causes that lead to the experience of SAD. Serotonin is “a mood-enhancing chemical in the brain that affects mood, feelings of well-being and a way to regulate hunger. Serotonin also improves positive sleeping patterns for a more restful and rejuvenating slumber.” Natural light and certain foods can help increase Serotonin levels. For most people experiencing SAD a change in diet – including eating foods that naturally boost your Serotonin levels can help. These include: Nuts and seeds; foods and fruits rich in Tryptophan such as Pumpkin, Avocado and Banana; Leafy Green Vegetables such as Spinach, Mustard and Turnip Greens, Milk and Yoghurt and Pineapple. Medical consultation is advisable if your SAD symptoms are severe or remain persistent.
The Winter Solstice for the Northern Hemisphere is on December 21 this year. On this day the Sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn and the North Pole is titled away at its furthermost from the Sun. In the Northern Hemisphere this is the shortest day of the year. The name Solstice is derived from the Latin word ‘Solstitium’, which means ‘the Sun stands still’. For the ancient observers of the sky it seemed that the Sun moved until it reached a point, that we call the Tropic of Capricorn, and then seemed to reverse its direction. “In the Northern Hemisphere, astronomers and scientists use the December Solstice as the start of the winter season, which ends on the March Equinox”. For meteorologists, December 1 usually marks the beginning of winter. In the traditional calendars of the subcontinent Kartika Purnima marks the end of Sharad rtu and the onset of winter season from the next day. In many older traditions Winter Solstice was a day of rituals and celebrations. But today the most celebrated December day around the world is December 25, which is celebrated as Christmas.
Winter’s pleasures are quieter than the riotous bloom of Spring or the tumultuous sensuality of Monsoon. But no less beautiful for their quietude. The colours are deeper and richer. The foods are warmer and heavier. Warming spices fills our senses. In the stillness of its dawn and the grey tones of its dusk, Winter offers us a quiet space, peace for our senses and calmness to our mind. Winter brings us home.