It took a while, but winter is finally, and indisputably here. Here at Five Pillars we hold the Intention to move through life in synch with the seasons. Listening to the messages and even advice each has to share with us and going with the flow or counterbalancing where beneficial – letting the pillars of Right Movement, Nutrition, Breathing, and Relaxation support and inform our choices.
Here in New York winter is first and foremost cold. It can be quite drying. Or it can be wet and slushy. It is a season marked by sickness — colds, flus, sore throats and so on. It is a season where nothing grows… the harvest fields of summer and fall now lie fallow. There is scarcity in nature’s offering. Except, perhaps, in the case of snow!
According to Ayurveda, Winter is the Kapha season. A time marked by slowing down, turning in, and some stillness, even with the risk of stagnation. Picture a big, soft, slow-lumbering bear… nourishing himself generously and then retiring to his cave to hibernate the winter away. This bear is in synch with the season!
Cold. Dry. Wet. Slow. Still. Possibly Stagnant.
These are the qualities we’re working with.
Luckily, there are several easy and intuitive ways to live in harmony with these qualities.
Drawing from the wisdom of the bear, we can nourish ourselves, slow down, and find some balanced self-reflection and stillness:
Given the longer, darker nights, what more natural activity than curling up at home with a good book or your journal, reflecting on the year past and the year to come? This is also an ideal time for Yin or Restorative yoga, which encourages stillness and relaxed awareness. Right Relaxation practices help recalibrate the nervous systems and prepare us to meet the energy of growth and change that comes with Spring.
However, while our bear totem might be content to sleep the season away, we can and should maintain active Right Movement. The bone-chilling temperatures certainly might make a run outdoors less appealing, but with a host of indoor exercise options available, we can get the blood pumping, warm ourselves up and stave off stagnation and lethargy. Obviously a flowing yoga practice is ideal, whether gentle or powerful. Utilizing a gym membership gives you access to treadmills, bikes, rowing machines and maybe even a lap pool! And when in a pinch – choose 4 of your favorite upbeat songs and have a private cardio-dance party in your living room. This last option not only works the body but works on dismantling unhealthy ego as well!
As we consider Right Nutrition through the lens of the season, it might seem common sense that the winter is not an ideal time for juice cleansing, for example! It’s not that we can’t eat clean, but juices and smoothies just add cold to an already cold environment. Instead, it is a time for warming up and fortifying with hearty soups and stews. It’s also important to keep our digestive fires burning bright, helping to stave off stagnation, which can come from many things including too much stillness or too much heavy food. So by including warming and carminative herbs and spices in our diet (ginger, cumin, cardamom, coriander, orange peel, and many of the culinary herbs like rosemary and basil) we support healthy, active digestion. Add these to any one-pot recipe, savor a cup of flavorful hot chai, or start your day off with some warm ginger water.
Because this season is fraught with germs we must also fortify our immune systems. The lungs are the gatekeepers for pathogens, they are literally a first line of defense. It is through our respiratory system that many germs can creep into our systems, while healthy lungs keep germs out. You probably won’t be surprised to hear the lungs are an organ associated with Kapha, and they hate the cold! So, given the risk for coldness, dryness or even too much wetness/stagnancy, we must balance out these qualities with heat, movement and respiratory support. Luckily, many of the carminative herbs and spices also fortify our immune systems, and many heart-opening Yin and Restorative yoga postures support lung health.
Deepening our Right Breathing practices at this time are especially beneficial — bringing some intentional and powerful pranayama into our daily routines to deepen the breath, strengthen the lungs, expand their capacity and resilience. Diffusing essential oils throughout the home is another way to support respiratory health, as they are anti-microbial and cleansing to the home or office environment. We especially love using Anjali Aromatics’ Breathe Essential Blend which is a distillation of some of the worlds great coniferous trees. We might aptly consider these trees the “lungs of the planet” and so it’s fitting that their essential oils are some our lungs’ greatest allies.
As always, the yogic lifestyle is about balance — a dynamic dance unique to each of us. Winter is a time to balance out the cold with warming practices. A time to embrace stillness but avoid stagnation. A time to support our immunity with breathing practices, diet and herbal support. A time to see the soft darkness of evening as an invitation to turn in, relax and restore. For while the outer landscape might be more barren during this season, the inner landscape (and the indoors with the home fires burning bright!) is full and abundant with opportunity for self-inquiry, wellness, and nourishing self-care. Spring will be coming soon enough, why not thoroughly enjoy the moment and the season that we’re in?