Ayurveda supports our body's capacity to adapt to the changing seasons by intentionally balancing the excesses of the environment through diet, lifestyle and herbal medicine.
In the northern hemisphere, we're half way through Winter. Mid-Winter is cold, heavy, a little dark and wet. The days are beginning to lengthen, and we see signs of spring, but cold and damp still predominate.
In excess, the cold and wet creates mucous and stagnation. If we don't address this accumulation now, it will likely lead to sluggish digestion and spring colds and allergies. One of the best ways to melt the excess kapha is through heat. Cooking with with pungent spices and daily exercise are good strategies to stay warm and dry.
Pungent spices are those which make your nose run (and all your subtle channels dilate). They increase warmth and circulation and cut through mucous. Now is the time to cook with garlic, onions, ginger, chilis, black pepper and turmeric. Fill your thermos with hot ginger tea, Tulsi-ginger-turmeric or hot water to stay warm, hydrated and to support immunity. Avoid or reduce cold foods and drinks, dairy products, too much sweet taste, especially in the form or refined carbohydrates.
Daily exercise, just to the point of breaking a sweat, is an effective way to warm and detox the body, and to bring more lightness to body, mind and spirit. The stimulation will move physical, and emotional stagnation and help you feel brighter. Saunas and hot baths are also excellent for the same reason.
If you don't love to exercise, focus on getting to it 3 x a week, preferably in the morning. Ayurveda recommends exercising to 1/2 your capacity rather than to exhaustion.This is easy to do if you pay attention to deep, rhythmic breathing through your nose (here's a 12 minute practice I like). Enjoy a brisk walk, lift weights, or practice sun salutations, but only do so to the extent that you can maintain nose breathing. If you are faithful to that, you will be supporting circulation through your physical and energetic bodies. You'll feel the benefits without muscle soreness.
For congestion in the mornings, use your neti pot. Warm purified water and add a 1/4 tsp. non iodized salt, and snort it, or pour it through one side and then refill to do the other. Give a good gentle blow out afterwards to release any leftover water in your sinuses. This will clear your sinuses and relieve any muzzy-headedness.
If you tend towards more nasal dryness (indoor heat can cause this in the winter), use anu thailam nasya instead or in addition to your neti pot. The standard dose for anu thailam is two drops in each nostril. If you do it in addition to neti, do it at another time of day so as not to mix the oil with water. Here's how to give yourself nasya,
Yoga and Pranayama for Mid-Winter-- A few rounds of warming bhastrika pranayama, which is controlled hyper-ventillating (active in, active out) 36 x with relaxed breathing between rounds keeps lungs warm and dry. A longer round of kapalabhati (active exhale, passive inhale) will clear your head. Prone backbends like shalabhasana and dhanurasana stimulate digestion and keep the body warm. Passive chest openers are good opening the front body, which will also support digestion as well opening the chest and nourishing the lungs. Sun salutations are good for building heat. Remember that all asana should be practiced with rhythmic nostril breathing throughout to gain the benefits without over working or causing constriction within.
Try Cinnamon tea to warm you and relieve excess mucous from your head. 1/4 t. cinnamon and ginger powders with a pinch of clove. If you like honey, add a little once your tea has cooled. If you're dealing with acidity, skip the cinnamon tea and enjoy a cup of mint tea instead.
Here's to a happy, healthy mid-winter.