In January in the Northern Hemisphere, we are on the border between the high-Vāta season of winter (cold, blustery and dry), and the high-Kapha season of Spring (moist, muddy and phlegmy) right around the corner. Some locales will be entering Spring any day now, with buds already forming on tree branches. Other locations have several more weeks, or months, of winter to look forward to.
Regardless of where you find yourself physically, the quality that overlaps both of these seasons is cool temperatures. Before Spring heats up, while we are in these transitional weeks, one important way we can help our system to maintain balance is to STAY WARM. The importance of this measure for our health and our ability to fight off colds and viruses can’t be overstated.
Vāta is by nature dry, light, rough, variable, and cold. Kapha by contrast is oily, heavy, slippery, dense – and cold! So keeping warm helps off-set either possible imbalance that may arise due to the season – which means right now, keeping warm is key to maintaining good health. So listen up, and get serious about keeping warm!
1) Drink hot beverages. There is nothing like a steaming mug to warm you up from the inside out. Whether it’s herbal tea, hot cocoa, your favorite latte – keep it hot! Liquid is easily digested so it’s quickly transported to your extremities. As a bonus, warm beverages are one of the best ways to “melt” or liquify any dense phlegm or congestion that may start to creep into your system in Spring. Fresh ginger tea is one of the best choices for cold and flu prevention, too, at this time of year.
2) Dress in layers – indoors! Of course we bundle up outside – but if you’re not layering up while inside, you may be losing more heat than you know. Make sure you wear a few layers to cover your torso and prevent any updrafts around the waist. Keep your ankles warm (snuggly socks are a must, even if you don’t register feeling cold), and wear a turtleneck or a thin scarf or around your neck to help block the easy exit of heat from the top of your body.
3) Blow some hot air. Bhastrika, or bellows breath, is a prānāyāma practice that entails breathing in and out briskly through the nose, generating a sense of warmth inside (hence the bellows reference). If you are new to the practice, start small with 20 repetitions and rest afterwards. Build up to two rounds of 50 repetitions. Stop if you feel lightheaded or uncomfortable. This practice helps break up congestion in the chest or lungs, strengthens the abdominal muscles and brings energy to the body. (This breath is not recommended if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, a heart condition, high intraocular pressure, or recent abdominal pain or surgery.)
4) Avoid a wet head. This time of year, it’s imperative that you dry your hair after bathing. While you may usually air-dry it, now is not the time. Even if it only takes a few minutes for it to dry on its own, still go ahead and use a blow dryer. In Ayurveda, the health-risk of a wet head is understood to be manifold (even in summer!). So spend the few minutes it takes to dry your head, and enjoy the warmth permeating your body.
5) Consume warming spices. Pumpkin pie spices and chai spices are renowned for warming us up. Cloves, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg… be liberal with them! Add them to your morning oatmeal, obviously…. But don’t forget your kitchari, your spice bread, your cookies – even your coffee!
6) Snuggle. There is nothing like sharing body warmth. Get a kitty in your lap, spoon under a blanket while watching a movie, or cuddle with your children before tucking them in. Take advantage of proximity with other bodies for one of the most heart-warming warm-ups around.
7) Take a hot soak. This is my nightly go-to warmth generator. As a person naturally high in Vāta and getting older every day (I just celebrated my 50th birthday last month!), each year I find it harder to stay warm on winter nights – and I simply cannot fall asleep if I’m not warm! Throw in a handful of epsom salts, light a candle, and soak away.
What’s your favorite way to keep warm in the winter? Tell me below in the comments!