Bringing Comfort & Joy to Winter with Ayurveda
Updated: Jun 21, 2021
I’m a California girl living in NE Ohio. Even though it’s been years, I still have to make a conscious effort to appreciate the winter season and all that goes with it: grey skies, cold temps, snow, sleet, and rain.
Doppler has become my BFF. (I’m not joking). I have supplies in my car to combat the elements: an ice scraper, snow brush, umbrella, blanket, and sunscreen. Yes, I said sunscreen. Because I’m an optimist and it just MAY be sunny one day out of 100!
Let’s face it. It gets cold AF in some places. The elements of nature can be brutal and uninviting. Winter brings cool, dry, and barren conditions PLUS shorter days and longer nights. What's a Cali-girl to do?
Top 10 Guiding Principles for Thriving in Winter
Over the years, I’ve cultivated a lifestyle that serves me well during the winter months, bringing me more comfort and joy than I would have thought possible.
Much like the supplies I keep in my car, I have assembled various lifestyle practices and “guiding principles” that I use to support me through the seasons of my life. These practices and principles provide a foundation with flexible options to use as needed — as the weather changes, as the seasons change, and as I change.
I’m a true believer in the practice of Ayurveda (Ayu-whatta?), so it should be no surprise most of these principles are steeped in this very ancient wisdom. Because let me tell you, those wise sages were on to something!
For example, Ayurveda recommends everyone follow a seasonal routine (ritucharya) to preserve balance as the seasons change. Embracing this approach has helped me and I want to share.
Here’s a list of the top 10 guiding principles I use to not only survive the winter months but to THRIVE!
#1: Connect with nature, fall in love with its rhythms, and learn to live in harmony with nature instead of fighting against it
Every cell, organ, and system in your body is governed by the cycles of rest and activity that have developed in synchrony with the rhythms of nature.
These cycles influence our genes, as well as the genes of the microbes that live within our bodies. Yes, you have microorganisms living inside your body — that’s how crazy connected we are to nature.
Learning to live in harmony with the cycles of the seasons enables greater physical health and emotional well-being. When our inner biological clocks are out of harmony with the pulses of nature, we experience irritability, fatigue, and an increased likelihood of illness.
It's essential to listen and honor the messages your body sends you. Pay attention to how these signals are related to nature and your environment.
Your body intrinsically knows when it’s time to eat, rest, and act in order to experience radical well-being. Are you listening?
A pillar of Ayurveda is the belief that we are all part of the continuous, flowing, and changing rhythms of nature. While this concept might seem obvious, realizing the truth of it truly was an aha moment for me. It helped me make peace with the things I can’t control and ease into a state of being that’s more connected and in sync with my environment.
If you pay attention, the rhythms of nature will help you organize your days. As an organism, we have biological rhythms to take into consideration — things like the wake / sleep cycle and optimal times to eat. Rising with the sun, eating your largest meal when the sun is the highest and your digestion at its strongest, and slowing down at sunset are few foundational things to try.
When our internal rhythms are in tune with those in nature, we experience vitality and joy.
These same patterns are found within the cycles of nature and we can adjust our routines to be in harmony with them:
Circadian Rhythm: the 24-hour cycle of day and night
Seasonal Rhythm: the 12-month cycle of the Earth around the Sun
Lunar Rhythm: the monthly cycle of the moon around the Earth
Tidal Rhythm: the gravitational influence of the Moon on the water
Celestial Rhythm: the rhythm of planetary movement
Our bodies also have cycles and rhythms:
Hormones fluctuate according to a 24-hour rhythm
Digestion rises and falls in sync with your mind-body system
Moods, mental agility, and motor skills cycle through highs and lows throughout the day
Even the years of our life move through the seasons:
Spring reflects our youth (newness and growth)
Summer our adulthood (energy and accomplishment)
Autumn is the season of our older years (transition, change)
Winter is our final season (composure, maturity, and insight) This is the time of reflection and investment in future generations.
#2: Know your dosha (huh?) to help guide you in your quest for comfort and joy
Doshas represent the three energies (defined at conception) that determine your makeup: Vata, Pitta, Kapha. Knowing your dosha is the first step in Ayurveda to helping you live a healthier, more balanced life.
Doshas have seasons too. Early Winter is Vata season, which runs from mid-October to mid-March and is associated with the primary elements of space and air. Vata energy is dry, rough, windy, and cold — which makes sense if you think about the winter weather, i.e. blizzard conditions! Vata is the dosha that most easily gets out of whack, so it’s really important to make sure you have these tools to keep you in balance.
Want to know your dosha? It’s easy. Get started by taking the Dosha Quiz.
#3: Listen to the signals your body sends you and adopt a daily routine that makes you feel healthy, balanced, and stoked to be alive!
Adopting a regular daily routine helps us be in sync with our environment, creating greater energy, happiness, and well-being. Lifestyle habits can be used to stay in harmony with the changing seasons and help prevent some of the disorders common throughout the seasons — like cold and flu during winter.
We’re all busy and moving so fast that we aren’t paying attention to the natural rhythms of our bodies. Instead, we’re driven by habit and convenience. The result is often compromised health, both physical and emotional.
When symptoms occur, this is your body’s way of screaming for attention. And though it can naturally fight its way back to balance (very cool), it needs an assist.
The most common signs of imbalance during winter are:
Physical: everything is dry — skin, stool, hair, eyes, and nails
Emotional: anxiety, insomnia, feeling flighty and “spacey”, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
To help your body get back into balance (with that assist!) and to manage symptoms, you need to do the exact opposite of dry, rough, windy, and cold. Guiding principles 4–6 are key.
#4: Get Grounded (not the teenage kind)
Because the air and space elements of the Vata winter make us feel unstable, having a strong foundation is critical. One way to feel more grounded is yoga. Amongst other amazing benefits, yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system and triggers the “rest and digest” response. Give down-dog or child’s pose a try.
#5: Heat Things Up
The best way to combat the cold is to generate heat through movement. Breathing exercises can be done anytime anywhere and results come quickly. It doesn’t have to be a workout. Focusing on any type of movement that makes you happy (dancing, walking, vacuuming, etc), is fun and gets the job done.
#6: Add Moisture From the Inside Out
Because everything is so cold and dry, we need to moisturize like crazy. No, no, no, put the lotion down! I mean moisturize from the inside out — paying attention to diet as well as your physical body.
Drink lots of liquids (water, tea, broth, soup)
Incorporate more oils into your food. Always use quality organic grade and make it interesting by exploring the different types, blends, varietals — it’s like shopping for fine wine! You can cook with it or drizzle some on top of almost anything.
Use oils (not lotion) after a warm bath or shower, or try self-massage (abhyanga) to keep your skin and hair healthy
Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. It’s a great way to combat the dryness caused by central heat
#7 Use all five senses — sound, sight, smell, taste, touch — to cultivate your own personal climate to balance, nourish, and heal. Common sense, I suppose. (pun intended)
We’re sensory beings so using the gift of our senses to achieve radical well-being is free and easy! Our five sense organs are gateways through which our outer environment enters and connects with our inner environment. Our brain processes the sensory input, which affects our physiology, experiences, and well-being. We can use our senses to put our mind and body back into balance.
BALANCE THE MIND — use sound, sight, and smell to quiet the constant chatter and negative self-talk
Listen to the primordial and elemental sounds found in nature — ocean waves, wind, rain… any natural sound that reminds us of our essential nature
Check out “nature” playlists on your favorite music app or Alexa
Activate the root chakra by jamming to some music with a strong drum beat
Chant mantras, sing, or hum to create a vibration within your body that can be very balancing and grounding
Sight: The visual images that enter our eyes have a profound effect on our body, mind, and emotions. Beauty is a powerful energy source that can not be ignored.
Look at natural beauty — like the moon with its feminine energy
Gaze into a flame such as a candle or a fireplace
Try Light box therapy to mimic outdoor light and help with SAD
Watch a video that touches your heart or makes you laugh. There’s a reason cat videos bring joy to the masses!
Smell: The nose is the first line of defense against allergens and pollutants. It’s our strongest and most primitive sense — deeply connecting us with our emotions, memories, and instincts.
Oil your nose (nasya) and ears daily with an organic oil
Use warming essential oils for aromatherapy: cinnamon, clove, ginger, orange, sandalwood
Play with neuro-associations: choose an aroma you like and inhale its essence whenever you feel happy or calm. Eventually, your mind-body system will begin to associate the smell with the feeling and you can use the scent as a tool for well-being
Think of the smell of cookies baking, the first spring rain, a walk in the forest
Beauty is an energy source.
BALANCE THE BODY — focus on taste and touch to combat insomnia, weight fluctuation, inflammation, and other physical imbalances
Sip on hot tea or broth throughout the day (keep hydrating)
Prepare food and drinks with warming spices: cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves. Yum!
Eat the Rainbow 🌈 and eat in-season, local, whole foods to get the best phytonutrients to feed your cells
Enjoy warm, soft, tasty foods like cooked fruits, root veggies, squash, sweet potatoes, beans, hot cereal
Try using ghee and heavier oils
Our skin is the largest organ in the body — rich in nerve receptors, neurochemicals, and immune modulators.
Try self-massage (abhyanga) before bed using warming essential oils: cinnamon, clove, ginger, orange, sandalwood
Make direct skin contact with the surface of the earth. Walk barefoot outside to ground yourself — or across your floor if it’s too cold to go outside. Get close to the Earth
Physical contact is a basic human need. Any touch will do — cuddles, hugs, and holding hands, a pat on the back... I personally LOVE to get a scalp massage at the hair salon — such a treat!
Indulge in fabrics that feel like a hug and are luxuriously soft: cozy blankets, scarves, and clothes
The wrists and back of the neck are points that trigger the nervous system to regulate metabolism so prioritize your head and hands with hats and gloves (I mean, mittens). #bernie
#8: Trust your instinct to slow down, go inward, be reflective. Sloths are kinda cool
Even though it’s cold, stark, and scarce above ground, there’s a party happening underground as the hidden plants continue to grow in preparation for spring. We have less energy in the winter so let’s take advantage of that, using the time to cultivate things we have in the works or to sprout new ideas for the months ahead.
Set your intentions: New year. Blank canvas. Focus on the experiences you desire and not on goals or resolutions like losing weight or saying the F-word less
Find your inner rhythm: Get in a groove and routine that feels comfortable and easy. Follow the beat of your own drum, rather than reacting to the pressure of others, and keep your energy flowing
Self-soothe: Feeling the frigid air in your lungs snaps you awake and makes you feel alive. But being extremely cold is super uncomfortable. The experience of freezing your buns off quickly teaches you how to soothe yourself — finding a sense of calm that warms you from the inside out is essential. Added Bonus? Shocking your system with cold boosts your immune system (think Wim Hof) and resiliency, too!
#9: Enjoy comfort food! Eat and drink foods that are nutrient-dense, heavy, warm, and saucy
‘Tis the season for foods that are delicious, warm, and satisfying!
Our bodies are so wise — appetites grow stronger in the winter so we’ll eat more of the nutrients that combat fatigue and boost immunity. This is why we crave heavy and saucy foods at that time of year. We even call them “comfort foods” because they’re so satisfying, they make everything feel better.
Ayurveda advises we include six tastes in each meal so we’ll feel satisfied:
sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent
During winter, eat more of the sweet, sour, and salty tastes which include proteins, carbs, and fats (lasagna, anyone?). Grains, dairy, starchy vegetables, fruits, bread, pasta, nuts, seeds, oils, sweeteners, eggs, and animal products are examples of foods in the sweet, sour, and salty category.
Soups and stews
Casseroles or crockpot meals
Roasted veggies and cooked fruits
Warm beverages like tea, broth, golden milk
Scheduled meal times, with the largest meal between 10 AM – 2 PM
Cold drinks and smoothies
Anything that is dehydrating: alcohol, caffeine, sodium
Erratic mealtimes and eating in the evening
#10: Imitate What Works — It’s Okay to Be a Copycat
Danes are considered one of the happiest people in the world. Why? Maybe one reason is that they developed a lifestyle called hygge (pronounced "hoo-guh") to make their long, dark, cold winters more enjoyable.
The high season of hygge is during the winter holidays where they use lighting, mulled wine, blankets, and oversized scarves to create their cozy experiences and maintain well-being. This ancient Danish tradition of creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life, with good people, continues to generate interest today.
With conscious effort, a certain kind of intentional slowness — and the desire not only to be present but to appreciate and enjoy the present — you too can experience the feeling of hygge.
Stay warm and well!
As you can see, there are numerous ways to naturally find balance during the winter months and to thrive. I invite you to be curious and experiment to see what works best for you. Check out the video below to hear me speak on this topic.
More Awesome Info:
How to Do Abhyanga, a Self Massage with Warm Oil (video, 6:02)
The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook: A Seasonal Guide to Eating and Living Well
Please Note: Our content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health providers, with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and especially before starting any new regime or treatment.