Winter can be filled with dramatic temperature fluctuations and a range of damp weather: snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain (or, all four together in what forecasters call a “wintery mix”). It can make it hard to practice self-care in winter.

So how can we best manage our bodies and spirits when the temperatures drop?

Ayurvedic medicine offers us a rationale and method to guide our self care. For instance, winter is the season of kapha (and a sprinkling of vata, having just finished autumn, which is the season of vata). Kapha is characterized by heaviness, dampness, and a desire to rest. This is why restorative yoga can be so supportive during this time.

Ayurveda: The basics

In Ayurvedic medicine, we all have a special combination of the three doshas:

  • vata
  • pitta
  • kapha

Fire, photo by Joshua Newton via UnsplashThe doshas are ruled by the five elements:

  • space
  • air
  • fire
  • water
  • earth

We can use this framework to individualize and optimize our health. (For more details about the characteristics of each dosha, see “The Key to Perfect Health” by Dr. Sheila Patel on the Chopra Center website.)

My dosha: Vata

For example, my primary dosha is vata. This means that when I am balanced, I am creative, like variety, and thrive around energetic and lively people. This explains why I lived in NYC for years.

When my vata was being “kicked up” and going into excess, I would go from energized and creative to anxious and overwhelmed. At this point, I knew that instead of running around the city I needed to go home to do some restorative yoga or take an Epsom salt bath.

I find this framework helpful because it gives me another vehicle for self-care. Creating small rituals during the day, like having warm water or tea instead of chilled water can make a difference in how grounded I feel.

Cross-country skiing, photo by Simon Matzinger on UnsplashAyurveda in practice

Let’s explore the doshas in a simplified example of going on a ski trip.

Vata gets amplified if you are outside all day in the cold, dry, windy air. You will want to counter it by feeding the other two doshas: kapha and pitta.

You can do this by enjoying a warm bowl of soup, which feeds the kapha dosha. Make the soup a veggie soup to add another way to increase kapha. Cooked, moist vegetables made with healthy oils can help ground you and decrease vata. (Raw veggies like salads and carrot sticks increase vata.)

Hot coffee, warm mittens, photo by Alex on UnsplashIf it’s spicy soup, you feed the pitta dosha. Eat by a fire and drink a hot beverage too and you’ll feed the pitta dosha even more.

Not everyone is going to need a warm drink on a cold day. Here in Boston, home of Dunkin’ Donuts, it’s quite common to see people still drinking ice coffee when it’s 10 degrees out. If your primary dosha is pitta, that might feel just fine to keep drinking iced coffee.

More ideas for self-care in winter

Anyway that you can nourish your nervous system will give you and your loved ones a big return on the time invested.

  • Turn off the overhead lights and use more candles.
  • Create a sacred space before bed without the news or social media.
  • Move your body with an active standing practice. This can include sun salutations to energize, warrior poses to ground, tree pose to increase balance, and twists to detoxify.

Capitalize on the quietness of this time of ye