A Winter Guide to Maintaining Balance with Ayurveda
As the seasons shift, so do our bodies and minds. This guide to maintaining balance in the winter 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.
Follow the Flow of Nature and Slow Down
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 your nutrition 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 comes 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 support from vata with its qualities of lightness and movement, plus pitta’s initiative, otherwise we will want to hibernate and curl into a ball until spring.
Ayurvedic Nutrtion 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.
People who have kapha as their prominent constitution 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 tendency towards these kapha challenges in the winter, cleaning the doshas that have accumulated 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.
Try to avoid raw and cold vegetables. Enjoy warm roasted, steamed or sautéed veggies. Soup and curry are great winter foods.
Leeks & Onions
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.
Eat these moist, warm and with a healthy oil to help balance vata. If you notice a feeling of heaviness (kapha) eat less grains.
White & brown rice
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)
Limes and Lemons
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. If you are feeling heavy/sluggish (kapha) physically, mentally or emotionally, use less oil and lighter oil like coconut or sunflower oil.