When I went to college in England, I spent three years in bed with the covers up to my nose, eating as much chocolate as I could get my hands on, nursing a cold almost every other week. When I left, I swore I would never live in a place with such brutal weather again—and then as it happens every time I say I’ll never do something, I did. I moved to New York, which I dare say is even colder than the UK.
Luckily, the way I deal with the winter is different now than it was back then, thanks to the healthy ninja tricks I learned in Ayurveda class; these days, I hardly catch the bugs that are going around, and I no longer feel like a zombie when it’s raining and windy outside. If you struggle keeping your body warm and cozy despite wearing layer over layer of winter clothes, I can help you change that in the next few lines.
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of natural medicine that separates everything into three kinds of energy (doshas): vata, pitta, and kapha. Every person has a unique combination of these three energies, and depending on which one is dominant in your body, you tend to have certain characteristics, weaknesses, and strengths. At different points in your life, and throughout the years, this balance of doshas change in your body (e.g. kapha rules in childhood, pitta in adulthood, and vata in old age). By understanding the need for equilibrium, and by learning to recognize when yours is off, you can tweak your diet or lifestyle to restore balance at any stage of life.
Here are my top five tried and tested Ayurvedic methods to keep warm and healthy from the inside out, even during the coldest months:
1. Use ginger freely. The warming effect of ginger works wonders in the body, easing digestion and sore throats, and turning your inner heater on. Cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg are good choices too, but consume them in moderation if you have a sensitive stomach.
2. Decrease your raw foods intake. If you have too many raw foods during the winter, you will feel as cool as a cucumber, and as icy as a head of iceberg lettuce. If, on the other hand, you make a soup and roasted veggies for dinner, what effect do you think they will have in your body? Exactly.
3. Rub your body with sesame oil. This may sound strange if you don’t usually use your kitchen ingredients as beauty products, but trust me, as soon as you start working this oil from the feet up you won’t even remember what season it is. Use sesame oil before taking a shower, and if you want an extra boost of inner heat, rub your feet with it and then put your favorite pair of socks on before going to sleep.
4. Avoid dairy, unless you eat it the right way. I won’t pretend everyone will become a vegan during the winter, but if you’re going to consume dairy, avoid yogurt and drink your milk hot (preferably boiled three times and with added spices). The reason for this is that dairy has cold and humid properties (kapha energy), and by boiling and adding spices to the milk you will increase the pitta energy, which is hot, hence the antidote for this. All this means hot chocolate has the seal of approval, so no need to worry!
5. Wake up early and exercise. This may seem counterintuitive, since all you probably want to do when it’s cold and dark outside is stay in bed for as long as possible, but lingering under the covers increases your kapha energy. This is the sluggish, damp, and cold energy that tends to get out of balance during the winter, making you more prone to feeling tired and cold.