The most difficult season for many people, especially as they grow older, is winter. The issues are cumulative—dropping temperatures, intermittent storms, seasonal cold and flu, and extra traffic hazards. When you add the additional stress and strain that many people experience over the holidays, “I can’t wait until spring” becomes the common sentiment.
But the body-mind is designed with adaptability as its primary feature, and many difficulties in winter can be overcome if you let the natural reset in your physiology do its work. As a meditator and follower of Ayurveda, you know that the strongest influences in life are subtle—this knowledge leads you to place emphasis on the doshas and—even deeper than the doshas—on the connection with pure awareness. When you witness how young children use winter as a source of joy and play while in contrast older people complain and get sick, you can see that there is a gap between them that needs to be corrected.
Adjusting at the Dosha Level
At the level of the doshas, winter is associated with Vata, its qualities of cold and dry, and its tendency to increase with age. Vata moves quickly in and out of balance, but like any dosha, if the imbalance goes too far, the needle gets stuck. The body-mind finds it hard or impossible to return to its natural reset point. In practical terms, this means that you need to pay special attention to the following:
- Avoid feeling cold for any extended period, such as half an hour.
- A cool bedroom is good for sleep, but make sure that the temperature doesn’t drop so low that you wake up in the middle of the night. If you feel aches and pains on waking up, you probably tossed and turned too much during the night, another sign that the room got too cold.
- Pay special attention to keeping your head and hands warm. The wrists and back of the neck are sensor points that the nervous system uses to regulate metabolism and the distribution of body heat.
- Make sure your diet is warm and nourishing at every meal.
- Stay out of drafts, since moving cold air increases Vata.
- Avoid crowded places where colds and flu are most easily communicated.
Remember that the dosha level of balance and imbalance is automatically adjusted for each season by the mechanisms built into the body-mind. Ayurveda tells you how to aid the body-mind to avoid unnecessary aggravation of a dosha, and also to help correct long-standing imbalances. This is very useful and important as a natural healing approach, with the benefits being based on your prakriti or body type.
Adjusting at the Pure Awareness Level
But the doshas are not the subtlest level of the body-mind; the subtlest level is the meeting point between pure consciousness and the “waking up” of manifestation. By meditating, you take your attention to this meeting point, gradually accustoming the mind to remain there naturally. In winter, which is a dormant time in Nature, the mind naturally wants to follow that rhythm. Going inward and experiencing peace and restful alertness suits the season.
Using this as your cue, you can take advantage of winter to reflect and contemplate. Take extra quiet and alone time, or even attend a meditation retreat. Of course, the rush and stress of the holidays works against this intention, so it’s good to use January and February as recovery time. It’s also true that the deeper awareness of winter can be creative. If you are shut inside due to a winter storm or unusually cold temperatures, do something creative, positive, and life-affirming. Try these for ideas:
- Take up a new interest or project, something that makes you feel happy and focused while you are doing it.
- Be generous of spirit, helping others and offering your services wherever you can. Make sure that this activity feels fulfilling, not a drudge.
- Be in contact with friends and family, offering and receiving support. Don’t use the contact to gripe and bemoan the weather outside.
- Find ways to laugh and remain positive. Winter blues are a risk that you can consciously put off. If you feel unusually sad in winter and suspect SAD (Seasonal Affective disorder), consult your doctor, who may prescribe more exposure to sunlight, either naturally or through artificial lighting.
- Reduce or, if possible, eliminate alcohol, which has a depressive effect both physically and mentally despite the short-term buoyancy it can create.
With these points in mind, your personal agenda for winter should be followed every day. Cold, stress, the blues, and Vata aggravation can affect you quickly; two days in a row feeling down is too many. Every season has the potential to be an opportunity for inner growth. In modern society, people focus instead on externals that bypass or hinder inner growth, thanks to so many distractions, deadlines, ego demands, and focusing on ever-restless mental activity.
Winter feels difficult not because of its built-in qualities—which children rarely get bothered by—but because the “normal” way you live pushes the doshas out of balance at this time of year, requiring adjustments in lifestyle and more focus on inner growth.