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Better Winter Health with Ayurveda

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For those living in hot climates, the onset of winter often means welcome respite from the blistering sun and oppressive humidity. What we don't always realize is that the transition to cooler weather can affect our body and mind. Ayurveda - the oldest existing system of medical practice aimed at spiritual, mental, and social well-being as well as physical health - provides valuable tips on how to look and feel your best during the winter months.

When temperatures drop, the air turns cold and damp, the skies gray: it is the season of the elemental energies kapha and vata (two of the three doshas in our body). Kapha represents Earth and Water out of the five elements of the universe, and is situated in and around the chest and throat area. Likewise, Vata represents Ether and Air, and is situated in the lower extremities of the body.



Maintaining a good balance between the doshas brings about good balance between the body and mind. Follow these handy Ayurvedic tips to stay healthy and happy this winter.

Rise & shine
1) Wake a little later in the morning (around 7am, or when the sun rises). Scrape your tongue to remove accumulated dead bacteria and yeast, and to improve circulation to the visceral organs.

2) Brush your teeth using an herbal or Ayurvedic toothpaste containing warming herbs like cinnamon, clove, bilva, peppermint or haritaki.

3) Drink a glass of warm water (optional: add the juice of half a lime) to promote bowel function.

4) Apply warm sesame oil or Ayurvedic medicated oil to your entire body - especially on the scalp, ears and feet - as this helps heat the body and stimulate circulation. Leave the oil for 5-10 minutes to be absorbed well through the skin, then shower with hot water and exfoliate your skin.

5) Finish your morning with yoga, pranayama and meditation. Opt for poses that open the chest cavity (fish, boat, bow, locust, lion and camel poses are good). Shoulder-stands and headstands, if you can do them, are excellent to eliminate mucus and clear congestion in the chest.

6) Don't forget to eat a healthy breakfast! Skipping this important meal tends to dry up bodily tissues and increase vata. Try porridges made from oatmeal, barley, cornmeal or rice flakes (poha). To increase your digestive fire, an hour after breakfast have a cup of hot water spiced with fresh/powdered ginger, ½ teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of powdered/ground clove.

Keep fit
Cold weather may invite you to curl up in a corner and sit still, but it's a better idea to keep the body active to remain healthy. If the weather outside permits, try a brisk walk, run or bicycle ride. If it's too cold outside, join a gym or fitness class, try a workout video at home or simply hop onto the treadmill to boost circulation and balance the doshas. Soak in some sun if you can, too - early morning or evening light is best - to improve the mood and promote healthy sleep cycles.

Eat & drink right
Appetites tend to increase in the winter months. Opt for more proteins - beans, legumes, tofu - and eggs, chicken, turkey and fish if you're not a strict vegetarian. Incorporate whole grain yeast-free breads, buttermilk, cottage cheese, steamed vegetables, hot soups with ghee (clarified butter) and spicy foods into your diet. Use warming spices like cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper to promote digestion. Avoid cold drinks - they aggravate kapha and vata - and choose hot water, hot tea and, occasionally, hot cocoa or chai. Avoid excess coffee or other caffeinated products as far as possible.

Stay warm

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Steer clear of cold drafts, choose warm clothes, and remember to cover your head with a hat or cap - more than half the body's heat is lost through the head alone. Covering your ears and neck helps keep kapha in balance, and wearing socks on your feet helps in balancing vata.

Cure that cold
According to Ayurveda, common colds are considered a kapha-vata disorder. An excess of cool/moist kapha qualities leads to congestion and a runny nose; excess vata brings about chills and poor appetite and digestion. Here's help:

1) Dried ginger is the best remedy for colds. Put it in tea, infuse bath water with powdered ginger and baking soda (1/3 cup each) or try a ginger steam treatment to relieve congestion: boil a teaspoon of powdered ginger in a pint of water, put a towel over your head and inhale the steam through the nose for about 5 minutes. You'll feel a whole lot better.

2) Vitamin C provides excellent defense against colds and improves the immune system. Include lime and other citrus fruit - all natural sources of Vitamin C - into your daily diet.

3) To reduce nasal irritation, congestion and sneezing, drip 3-4 drops of boiled, cooled mild salt water into each nostril. For an itchy, sore throat, gargle with warm salt water with a pinch of powdered ginger twice a day before meals.

4) Warm water, drunk at regular intervals throughout the day, removes toxins from the system and improves your recovery time from the common cold.

5) Reduce dairy products and avoid milk while you have a cold, as they increase mucus and congestion.

Has Ayurveda helped improve your health? Share your experience with us here...