Embracing Winter


When I think about my relationship to the season of winter, it is one of contention. Winter challenges me to stay grounded. I feel more spacey and easily agitated by the cold. As the days get shorter I find myself feeling bluer. I know that I am not alone in these reactions to winter. So I wanted to focus this class on regulating the systems of the body most affected by the cold, windy, wet, days of winter. In this post, I also want to highlight some Ayurvedic ways of regulating our nervous system throughout winter. These will help lower stress, improve immune function, and improve sleep. 

First off, I wanted to explain briefly what Ayurveda is. It is India’s traditional Health System. In Sanskrit Ayurveda loosely translates to “science of life”. It offers us techniques for living in harmony with our environment. It empowers us with tools to counteract the effects of stressors in our environment. What is a stressor for me, however, may not be a stressor for you. That is because we all have a different combinations of constitutions - i.e. what stresses out our body and what doesn’t. In Ayurveda there are three constitutions referred to as Doshas. They describe the distinctive physical, emotional, or energetic qualities that a person, food, time of day, cycle of life, or season can have. Anything that requires us to adapt has the potential to create stress in the body - change of temperature, food habit, work, exercise, ect. The way we adapt to certain changes offers us some insights into our particular Dosha. 

The three Doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Pitta dominates summer and has the characteristics of heat. I won’t get into that one too much since it’s not relevant to this class. Fall and early Winter are dominated by Vata which has the characteristics of cold, dry, and windy. Vata is all about movement and activity. When it is imbalanced, however, it can lead to anxiety. Kapha is associated with late Winter and early Spring. It is characterized by dark, inert, and an increase in wetness. It is related to stillness and groundedness, but when imbalanced it can lead to inertia and stagnation. By observing the seasons and their impact on us, we can use our intuition and various tools to help regulate our response and thrive in any season. The following are a few suggestions for regulating the nervous system, and by association, our immune system, throughout winter. 


Think about all of the delights of winter and those will lend you a path forward for self-regulation in this season: cooking and eating a warm meal, snuggling up under a warm blanket, taking a hot bath, engaging in a craft or with community. When I think of these, I see how closely related they are to the tools Ayurveda offer. 


Cooking and eating only warm foods is best in winter. I love smoothies so much too, but let’s face it, they are just too darn cold to enjoy in winter. Anything warm or warming, though, that’s your ticket to Cozy Town. Some spices you can add to your meals or teas for warmth:

ginger, tumeric, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper, nutmeg, paprika, chili pepper.  Some foods that will increase your warmth and vital energy: sesame oil, all the good oils, ghee, cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, dates, figs, avocados, cooked vegetables, and honey.


One of my favorite tools I have learned from Ayurveda is Abhyanga, or self-massage with warm oil. This practice helps to melt tension and improve lymph drainage in the body. Keeping lymph moving and the skin clean and nourished is one of the best ways to support optimal immune function (movement also improves lymph drainage, but i'll get to that soon). Sneha is the Sanskrit work for oil and for love! I always think of this practice as one of enveloping yourself in love and attention. This practice promotes stability, warmth, improves sleep, and decreases stress. I practice it in the mornings, especially in the winter because I feel that is when it most benefits me, but you could also practice it before bed, especially if you have trouble falling asleep. I use an oil for Vata dosha types made by Banyan Botanical. You can read about their different types of oils here. Sesame oil is generally great for all Doshas in the winter because it is very warming. The way that I practice this ritual is by massaging the oil all over, moving from the extremities towards the heart, and pausing with circular motions over the joints. Then soak in a warm bath and continue to massage the oil in to your skin. You could add a warming scent to the bath if you like such as sweet-orange or rose if you’re feeling extra. CAUTION: Be very careful getting in and out of the tub as added oil creates and increased risk of slipping!


This is just a personal one that helps me a lot. The modern heating systems in most of our homes creates a lot of dryness in our bodies. I run a humidifier at night in my bedroom. You might also like to use a diffusor with a warming scent like cinnamon, sweet orange, or rose. 

Also, surround yourself with warming colors!! It could be materials draped in your home or on your body, but try to introduce some warm colors to retain a warm and positive mood: Golds, oranges, reds, mustard. These are very mood boosting. You can find some naturally dyed warm colors to wear on my website


The increase in darkness is an indication that we need more sleep this time of year. Get to bed earlier whenever you can!


Nourish your nervous system with activities that help you regulate your mood. Connecting with your community will help to balance the isolation felt during the season of winter. Engaging in a mindful and slow craft will help to calm anxiety and quickness of mind. 

Remember, Vata is all about quickness and movement, so much so that it can create anxiety. Balance Vata by practicing slow, grounding movements such as Yin Yoga or Qigong. When Kapha feels dominant, we might feel heavy and stagnant in with case taking a walk on a sunny day, or practicing some more fluid Yoga movements can help to bring balance. More vigorous and muscle toning movements also assists with the movement of lymph through the body - the lymphatic system, among other things, produces white blood cells which help to fight off foreign invaders that might make us sick.

Not to confuse us too much by mixing different medicine systems, but in Chinese medicine Fall is associated with the lungs and Winter is associated with the kidneys (which like our lymphatic system, also assist with removing waste from the body). Our class will focus on movements to bring balance to Vata and Kapha as well as to open and detox the lungs and kidneys as a way of improving our defenses against the season.


Meditation can bring balance for both Vata and Kapha. It helps us to up-regulate and down-regulate for the season of winter. Some examples of pranayama meditations are Alternate Nostril Breathing or the 4-7-8 breath. 

Here’s the general instruction for the 4-7-8 breath:

  1. First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.

  2. Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.

  3. Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.

  4. Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.