Grounding our Spirit during the Winter Months
Ayurveda and Yoga to lift our Spirits in the Darkness
An article on yoga, ayurveda and the seasons by Kundalini teacher & Himalaya Yoga Valley philosophy teacher Viriam Kaur.
Listening to the seasonal shifts of the year when we roll out our mat and when we cook our supper can give us nourishment as seasons change, temperatures get cooler and schedules get more hectic.
Winter is dominated by vata and kapha energies, which means that energy is moving both upward and downward. Vata is a downward flow of energy, while Kapha is an upward flow. Also in winter, there is a natural drawing inward, a pull towards hibernation so in order to be out in the world, we need a grounded and dynamic practice that connects us to our feet, legs and hips. Bringing us into our body.
Kapha is a combination or the elements of earth and water, and manifests as qualities of heaviness, coldness, dullness, gentleness and a slow energy. We would often use these words often to describe how we feel in winter. Vata is the element of air and manifests as the qualities of dryness, erraticness, nervous energy and is often typified by energy that is used up quickly,Kapha can help us feel grounded, while Vata can motivate us to move. We need both. Vata is the creative inspiration and Kapha helps us get things done.
So there is a juggling act in Winter time between the push and pull for hibernation and the expectation to be social over the festive season. Through yoga, ayurveda and awareness we can bring ourselves into balance.
How can you support your body with asana? When you practice downward dog, connect to the sensation in your hands and feet – imagine roots growing down into the earth – supporting, grounding, nourishing. Again in standing postures connect to the earth beneath you and use grounding squats to strengthen legs and ankles. Long deep breathing gives us nourishment.
School Director & Senior Yoga Teacher Lalit advises that any asanas such as padmasana, yogamudrasana, and most seated forward folds that bring blood flow, healthy pressure and thus prana to the perineum area are excellent for nourishing the muladhara chakra and further assisting in the grounding process.
To shake up your practice, quite literally, try shaking. Stand with your feet hip width apart, grounded. Knees are slightly bent. Imagine a little shake starting in your pelvis – like a leaf blowing in the wind – let the shake build up through your hips, lower back, down into your knees and ankles. Let the shake ripple through your spine, into your shoulders and neck, down through the arms and all the way to the top of the head. Keep shaking – it will get stronger and lighter, just like the wind. Keep your feet grounded throughout the whole exercise – keep going for at least five minutes, keep your feet on the earth and just shake out any negativity and build your energy.
Take your cues from Nature, it is a time of hibernation, a shedding, a letting go. So take the time to go inward. Take time to meditate or practice yoga nidra. Give your body and mind space. Kapha invites us to look at the areas in our lives where we might feel stuck. Winter depression can take hold with the lack of light and warmth, so take time to connect to the light within. Try a tratakam (gazing) meditation with a flickering candle.
“According to the Atharva Veda, Ayurveda’s timeless education of sadhana (daily consccious practice) is the most effective spiritual path to awaken consciousness and enhance our Inner Medicine potential for healing ourselves,” says Maya Tiwari. “When the seasons shift we experience a sympathetic internal shift. All life-forms open themselves up to receive cosmic redirection from nature during these transitions,” says Maya Tiwari.
Winter is a time of planning – clearing the ground, ready to sow the seeds of new ideas and creative projects in the Spring. Honour your time and boundaries this Winter. Naturally it is also the party season – so as Nature goes inwards and invites us to follow, Christmas and New Year’s invite us into the world. Find balance, through creating boundaries and honouring your time. It’s fine to go out, but make sure you carve out enough time at home to be with yourself.
The vibe of our foods should be warming and nourishing, so it is not a time to fast and it is a good idea to moderate your intake of salads, raw foods, ice creams etc. Eat consciously and use the warming spices of ayurveda like ginger, but avoid bitter spices (turmeric for example is bitter, pungent and astringent – good for balancing Kapha but can increase Vata and Pitta). You can also eat a little more in Winter time, but eat with awareness – listen to your body. Work out what nourishes you, not just looking for quick fixes and emotional pick me ups like chocolate. Vata-balancing foods are good and are in keep with the foods that are in season, so soups and stews made from root vegetables. Cold and dried foods will upset the nervous system making it difficult to digest our food, while naturally we need a lot of digestive fire to digest cold foods. There is a simple recipe for mung beans and rice (kichadi) at the end.
Himalaya Yoga Valleys Ayurvedic lecturer Dr Rohit suggests using herbs or ayurvedic supplements like ashwagandha, tulsi and guduchi. Try a fresh ginger tea with a pinch of black pepper and tulsi (holy basil).
Ayurveda is a holistic system which springs from the vision of Vedic rishis. The greatest physicians, physicists, and theologians of all times, the rishis, saw the universe’s spiritual anatomy and understood its interworkings with the human body. Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga. The body types are vata (air), pitta (fire), kapha (earth/water). Once we have established our body type, we can use it to find the best diet, types of massage or styles of yoga to suit us.
Our path to self-healing and self-realization comes from listening to ourselves. Listening to our bodies and souls. We have to learn what nourishes us and what depletes us and this is reflected in how we practice our yoga, how we speak to people, what we eat and how we spend our time. On or off the mat, it’s time to listen. Winter is a great time to go inwards.
Kichadi (Mung Beans and Rice) This is a wonderful year round food that is easy to make and has infinite variety depending on your choice of vegetables. At this time of year, it is good to include root vegetables like beetroot and sweet potatoes. It is great for people on a budget. Mung beans are amazing for your digestion.
|1 C mung beans||1 t turmeric/ haldi|
|1 C basmatti rice||6-8 peppercorns|
|9 C water||1 t garam masala|
|½ cup sesame oil||Salt, Tamari or Bragg’s to taste|
|4-6 cups chopped vegetables of choice||1 T sweet basil/or any other herb or spice that you like – experiment!|
|2 onions chopped||2 bay leaves/ or curry leaves|
|1/3 C minced fresh ginger root||Seeds from 5 cardamon pods|
|½ tsp mustard seeds
Pinch asafoetida (hing)
8-10 cloves garlic minced
|½ t crushed red chiles (HOT! More or less to taste… optional)|
Soak mung over night. Wash beans and rice. Bring water to boil, add rice and beans and let boil over medium heat. (you can also cook separately if you prefer) You can add cardamom and peppercorns to water and a pinch of asfoetida (hing).
Heat oil and add mustard seeds in a frying pan and pop! Then add whatever ground spices you like, but namely turmeric (very healing) another pinch of asafoetida (de-gasses lentils!) and then garam masala and whatever else. Then once spices are cooked together briefly, add onions and lots of garlic and ginger (holy trinity!) Add to the pot of mung and rice. You can cook vegetables within the pot or separately.