Winter is cold, dry (even with the precipitation), dark, and did I mention cold?

Winter is, however, necessary for Spring to make an appearance. Many plants go dormant (as do some animal species) and need a period of cold so they can rest before emerging with the warmer weather to reproduce. If you have crocuses in your lawn, this is one example of required dormancy before flowering. No cold, no crocus!

Humans may not go dormant but Winter season does affect us more than one might think even with our modern climate-controlled buildings and access to out-of-season foods. The cold, dry, and dark attributes can show up in our skin, make our hands and feet feel icy, or make us feel “dark” and depressed. We can modify our habits during this time to alleviate these symptoms and feel more “normal”.

In Ayurveda, the ancient wellness lifestyle system of India (of which Yoga is a part), Winter is considered “Vata”: the energies of the elements of air and ether (or space). The qualities of Vata are cold, dry, rough, light, mobile, astringent, and clear. Vata in the human body is responsible for movement: movement of our thoughts and emotions, movement of nutrients through our digestive tract, movement of blood through our circulatory system, and more. In balance, the qualities of Vata allow us to live full, happy lives. Out of balance, excess or insufficient Vata makes us ill.

A Vata person (someone who has a nature primarily of the qualities associated with the elements of air and ether/space) will tend to go out of balance quickly during winter. Others who may not be Vata (and we will go through these later) may also go out of balance because of an overly mobile lifestyle (lots of traveling), eating the “wrong” foods (too much cold, dry foods or cold drinks), or erratic sleep schedules.

To bring yourself back into balance, eat more warm, moist, nourishing foods of the season (perhaps more root veggies, stews and soups), sip hot or warm drinks through the day (plain water is best, but teas can be good too – just don’t go overboard with caffeine which is drying).

Try to establish a regular schedule – routine is good for balancing the chaos that Vata tends to become – getting up and going to bed at the same times each day, eating meals at regular intervals (with your biggest meal around noon). Find a regular time for exercise: not only can exercise boost your mood, it can help reduce Winter weight gain. If you must do a lot of traveling, keeping as regular a schedule as possible will help keep you sane (as well as rested!).

Yoga in particular has been found to help women stick to a steady weight as we age. During Winter, we may need to slow down a little (cold makes our muscles tight) but we can still work up a sweat moving slowly and mindfully through our asanas (postures). An added benefit is that Yoga can directly affect Vata through forward bending postures which massage and tone the internal organs, which just happen to be the primary seat of Vata in the body

And if your skin tends to dryness, add more natural (organic) fats and oils to your diet such as sesame and ghee (clarified butter). Sesame oil in particular is used in Ayurveda to balance Vata because of its heating qualities (while coconut oil, for instance, is cooling and balancing to Pitta/fire). You can cook with it (Chinese stir fry!) as well as use it for self-massage everyday to soften the skin without the strange chemicals that appear in commercial moisturizers.

If your mind tends to darkness (seasonal affective disorder, or SAD) avoid exposure to upsetting things as much as possible (a real challenge right now – try turning off the nightly news for a start, or get your news from the Daily Show!) and work on finding activities, people, and small things that make you feel content and peaceful. My personal favorite is to watch the birds as they visit the feeder outside my front window and the antics of the squirrels as they chase each other and “steal” the birdseed (look up ‘Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder” on YouTube). I also share my life with two cats, one a shelter rescue and the other a former feral, who love to snuggle next to me and purr their little heads off when they’re happy. So I work to make them happy, and their purring makes me happy!

So, not only can we bring ourselves back into balance (and become happier in the process) we can also save ourselves quite a lot of money while eating well, finding a routine, and making others happy. Simplifying our lives purifies the mind while preparing natural (unprocessed) food purifies the body, and observing how we react to seasonal changes teaches us how to keep ourselves and our families in balance.

A Well-Seasoned Woman can heal herself, and then we heal the world!