A Winter Guide to Maintaining Balance with Ayurveda

Updated: Mar 21

As the seasons shift, so do our bodies and minds. This guide will take you through the Ayurvedic dietary and self-care practices that will best support you to optimize your health and well-being, how to maintain balance and a peaceful mind this winter.


If we follow the flow of nature and observe what is happening around us, we will see that as the seasons shift from fall to winter, nature starts to slow down, animals hibernate, leaves fall from the trees, it gets darker earlier, and there is a natural pause. Winter offers a great opportunity for us to follow this flow of nature and slow down.


Winter brings a specific set of qualities that can either pacify or aggravate our unique way of being. For some of us, the cold of winter will agitate us and for others it will make us feel better. By understanding Ayurveda, yourself, the qualities present in winter, and adjusting diet and lifestyle choices, you can stay balanced and healthy.


My goal with this guide is to share with you an overview of Ayurvedic principles that are easy to adapt to your life, so you can feel your best this winter. This guide will cover:

If you are new to Ayurveda or want a refresher check out my "Introduction to Ayurveda" blog.


I hope you enjoy learning some of the wonderful tools Ayurveda has to offer!



Living in the Winter Season According to Ayurveda

It’s important to not just pay attention to the time of year, but what is the weather doing and how do those qualities impact your doshas (unique constitution) – think about:

Likes increase likes and opposite balance.

In California and especially the Bay Area, the weather drastically can change in one day and for sure within a week. It might be sunny and warm at lunch, but by dinner the fog came and now kapha is more present with its damp cool qualities.


The prominent doshas present in the winter are kapha (primary) and vata (secondary). At the start of winter (especially at the transition from fall to winter), it is often cold and dry, which disturbs vata. As winter progresses, the cold and damp weather begins to increase kapha (especially in late winter). In general, pitta constitutions do better in winter because of their fire element which keeps them on the warmer side.

  • Winter Months: December, January February (end of November can be included as it is a seasonal transition)

  • Winter Elements: water, earth, air

  • Winter Gunas (qualities): heavy, cold, wet, slow, dense, cloudy, static, dry, cold, windy, clear

  • Gunas to balance winter qualities: warm, dry, light, stimulating (vata & pitta)

Kapha provides us with the stability to navigate the winter season, but it needs the support from vata with its’ qualities of light and movement, plus pitta’s initiative, otherwise we will want to hibernate and curl into a ball until spring.


Ayurvedic Diet Guidelines for Winter

We can handle heavier foods this time of year because there is more kapha present and we need these qualities to stay warm and healthy during the winter season. There can be a tendency to gain weight to keep warm for the winter, but don’t stress this extra weight gain will shed off in the spring if the doshas stay balanced. It’s important to not overindulge (a kapha habit) during the holidays, so don’t use that as an excuse to gain weight.


General rule for winter: include healthy fats in your diet (ghee, sesame oil, olive oil), avoid raw and cold foods, enjoy warm nourishing foods, warm and hot drinks.

Kapha prominent constitutions can do light fasting for a day or two, especially if they are feeling heavy (drink water and some apple or pomegranate juice during fasting). A good time to do a cleanse is specifically during the transition between seasons. The heavy, cold and damp qualities of winter provokes kapha, which leads to wet cough, colds, flu, and sinus congestion. Balance these qualities with light, warm and dry foods, drinks, clothes, activities, etc. to not increase kapha in the body. So if you have a tendanacy towards these kapha challenges in the winter, cleaning the doshas that have cumulated in the body during the fall can really help remove excess kapha, which will keep you healthy in the winter.


In the body kapha is in charge of growth, building and strength, which enhances our natural immunity. So if you can keep kapha balanced through winter you are looking at a healthy season. Echinacea is a good herb to use during winter because it supports kapha and the immune system, so if you're needing an extra immune boost take some Echinacea.


Enjoy the following list of ideal winter foods that have been recommended by important Ayurvedic figures like Vasant & Usha Lad and John Douillard.


Vegetables

Try to avoid raw and cold vegetables. Enjoy warm roasted, steamed or sautéed veggies. Soup and curry are great winter foods.

Asparagus

Beets

Brussel

Sprouts

Carrots

Chilies

Corn

Eggplant

Garlic

Green Beans

Cooked greens

Mushrooms

Leeks & Onions

Okra

Potatoes

Rutabaga

Winter Squash

Sweet potatoes

Pumpkin

Turnips

Fennel

Meat & Fish

If you eat meat, winter is a good time to do it because agni (digestive fire) is strong. In the fall the body starts to store fats and proteins for the winter, so the body needs more of these things (see ‘Oil’ and ‘Legumes’ below). Eggs are considered meat in Ayurveda.

Chicken

Turkey

Freshwater fish

Eggs

Grains

Eat these moist, warm and with a healthy oil to help balance vata. If you notice a feeling of heaviness (kapha) eat less grains.

Quinoa

Oats

White & brown rice

Wheat

Amaranth

Buckwheat

Barley

Corn


Fruit

In Ayurveda, fruit is typically eaten on its own separate from other meals. Some fruits can be cooked into food and then it’s considered ok.

Apples (cooked with cinnamon)

Apricots

Bananas

Berries

Cantaloupe

Cherries

Dates

Figs


Grapefruit

Limes and Lemons

Mangoes

Oranges

Papaya

Peaches

Prunes (soaked)

Tangerines

Oils

Use these good fats to cook and add to meals to help balance vata in winter. Pay attention to the gunas present in your body and environment. If dry, rough, sharp and hard are present then add more oil.

Almond Oil

Corn Oil

Flaxseed Oil

Ghee

Mustard Oil

Olive Oil

Safflower Oil

Sesame Oil

Sunflower Oil

Dairy

In general during winter you want to avoid dairy because of the kapha qualities. However it is a good source of fat and protein. Avoid eating cold dairy, place it out on the counter 1-2 hours before eating.

Butter

Soft Cheeses

Cottage Cheese

Cow's Milk (not cold)

Goat's Milk (not cold)

Sour Cream

Nuts & Seeds

A great source of protein, especially in the winter. According to Ayurveda, you should only have about a handful of nuts a day. In the winter time this can be increased.

Almonds

Brazil Nuts

Cashews

Hazelnuts

Macadamia Nuts

Peanuts

Pecans

Pine Nuts

Pistachios

Walnuts

Pumpkin

Seeds

Sunflower

Seeds

Legumes

Good for kapha and a great source of protein. Use warming spices, cook them thoroughly and add a dollop of ghee or other oil to pacify vata.

Lentils (brown and red)

Miso

Mung Beans

Navy Beans

Tempeh

Tofu

Toor Dal

Urad Dal

Sweeteners

Always try to use natural sweeteners when possible and use in moderation.

Honey (never cooked)

Jaggery

Molasses

Maple syrup

Spices

Typically all spices are good in the winter, especially warming spices like ginger, pepper, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, and mustard seeds.


Beverages

Avoid cold and iced drinks. This is not the time of year for smoothies.

  • Warm or hot water (kapha can add lemon, vata can add ginger, pitta can add mint)

  • Black tea & coffee in moderation (good for balancing the sluggishness of kapha)

  • Red wine is actually recommended in Ayurveda during the winter because it’s heating and improves digestion and circulation (only 4 oz before or after dinner)


Winter Meal Suggestions

  • Breakfast: Spiced oatmeal, cornmeal, barley soup, kitchari / drink warming tea (dry ginger, cinnamon, clove - pinch)

  • Lunch: Kapha soothing & vata balancing – whole wheat bread, steamed or roasted vegetables, lentil or bean soup, plus add some extra healthy fat to the food (ghee, coconut oil, olive oil), if you eat meat have some turkey, chicken or eggs

  • Snacks: Seasonal winter fruit that is pacifying in kapha and vata (pay attention to how you feel and what your constitution is – kapha predominant should avoid snaking)

  • Dinner: Typically you want to eat a lighter dinner and it can be similar to lunch foods. If your constitution is kapha or you feel heavy you can eat a lighter dinner or skip it all together. Vata should never skip a meal.

Ayurvedic Lifestyle Guidelines for Winter

Kapha is slow and steady, so don’t rush in the winter. Remember to take time for yourself amongst all the holiday socializing.


The sorter days, darker nights, and cold, gray weather of winter tends to bring us down, and we loose motivation, feel lonely, dull, and attached (kapha qualities). To counter this connect to a purpose for the winter season and find the motivation to push through the sluggishness, you will feel better!


Wear bright warming colors to lift your mood and bring more color into your life during the grayer months. Dress in layers to keep warm. You lose 60% of your body heat through your head, so when it’s cold outside wear a hat, plus cover you neck and ears.


More sleep is allowed in the winter so the body can restore, but sleeping too much can increase kapha so ideally go to bed around 10 or 11 pm and wake up around 7am to feel energized. Napping increases kapha, slows the metabolism, and reduces agni (digestive fire). It gets darker earlier in the winter and evening comes sooner inviting a more restful time, so naps aren't needed.


According to Ayurveda, you can have more sex In the winter because it’s kapha time and that is the stronger constitution that can withstand the energy of sex.


Surround yourself with people who bring you joy. Nurture relationships that feel supportive, make you laugh, and have fun. Winter is a good time for connecting, but remember to also take time for yourself. Winter is a time to slow down, turn inward, and reflect. The heavy and slow qualities of winter provide a rare opportunity and even an excuse to check-in with yourself and retreat.


Winter Routine

Establish a routine that feels supportive during these winter months. Take it easy, don't rush or put too much pressure on yourself, but also keep some energy flowing to not fall into the kapha trap of laziness.

  • Wake up around 7am and start your day with an energizing routine. Go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, clean your tongue.

  • Start your day with a cup of warm water to awaken your digestive system.

  • Do exercise that will shake off any sluggishness and awaken your senses (see below). Practice some yoga and meditation.

  • Take a warm shower and get dressed in bright colors that bring you joy.

  • Have a warm breakfast.

  • Enjoy your day and don't rush, take it easy, and remember to take breaks.

  • Take time to sit down and eat lunch. Eat warm nourishing foods, avoid raw and cold foods.

  • Continue your day with ease and at a pace that feels good.

  • Have a lighter, healthy, and warm dinner. Try to be finished eating before 7pm.

  • Before bed have a cup of warm milk spiced with a pinch or 2 of turmeric, ginger, and cardamon to help get the body read for sleep. You can even add a little bit of ghee or coconut oil to it (good to balance vata).

  • Be off electronics by 8 or 9pm and try to wind down for sleep by 10 or 11pm.


Winter Exercise

Daily exercise for 15-30 minutes is one of the easiest ways to stay healthy in winter, especially exercise that gets the heart rate up is great for the circulation, digestion, and keeps kapha in check. During the winter laziness or lethargy can take over, so use the moving quality of vata and the stimulating quality of pitta to motivate you to move daily. Pay attention to what qualities are present and use the opposite to balance through exercise. If you feel run down, do vata-pacifying exercise like walking or QiGong. If you’re feeling sluggish, give kapha a kick and push yourself with a tough hike or long bike ride.

Walk

Bike

Hike

Pilates

Ski / Snowshoe

Tai Chi & QiGong

Winter Yoga Practices

Asana: During the winter you want to maintain a more active practice to stimulate the body, preserve warmth, and increase circulation to prevent the common winter diseases. This style of practice will keep both kapha and vata balanced in winter.

Sun salutations​ / Surya Namaskar

Camel / Ustrasana

Fish / Matsyasana

Warrior I & II / Virabhadrasana I & II

​Locust / Salabhasana

All Chest Openers

Boat / Navasana

Shoulderstand / Sarvangasana

Bow / Dhanurasana

Headstand. / Sirsasana

Cobra / Bhujangasana

Reverse Warrior / Viparita Virabhadrasana

Pranayama: Breath control practices that are heating and bring a sense of lightness to the mind are great for the winter. Prana is the life force within us: it is our breath, and we can use it as a tool to keep us balanced. In winter you want to do breath practices that promote circulation, improves digestion, and creates heat in the body.

Bhastrika (Bellows Breath/Breath of Fire)

Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath)

Surya Bhedana (Solar Breath)

Three Part Yogic Breathing

Meditation: Use the opposite qualities to balance what is going on in your day and mind. If vata is present your mind will be scattered and easily distracted, so use a grounding meditation to focus the mind. If kapha is present your energy will be heavy and slow, so try a walking meditation or chanting to lighten the energy.

Walking meditation

Group meditation

Chanting

Mantra meditation

Guided visualization

Breath focused

Tratak (candle gazing)

Maintaining Balanced in Winter

As you can see, Ayurveda offers profound diet and lifestyle recommendations that support ultimate health through the winter. Always use the key principle of Ayurveda: “likes increase likes and opposites balance”. This is what will guide you to maintain balance through the seasons and life.



Want support this winter?

I offer a variety of Ayurvedic services. From an introductory session, to seasonal balance support, to ongoing Wellness Coaching.




References

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