Winter: Part 2
In the northern midwest of Minnesota, we have begun the transition of seasons. From the dry, deeply cold, and isolating fall and winter, we are beginning the shift toward the slightly wetter, heavier, slushy and damp cold of late winter.
Even though winter itself in the north lasts about 50-75% of the year, we can still break down the feeling of winter by some specific attributes. The earlier part of winter, when the air is very dry, the snow is light and powdery, and the days are very short is more related to Vata dosha’s attributes.
The later part of winter when the snow becomes heavy and wet, the air holds more humidity, and the days get longer as the sun starts to melt the ice shows more qualities of Kapha Dosha. Depending on where you live, this transition may happen as soon as January/February, or as late as April/May.
What’s a Dosha?
In case you’re unfamiliar, or need a refresher, a dosha is a dynamic force of energy that brings about physical change. You can think of it as the unseen force that leaves it’s mark in a visible way.
There are 3 doshas called vata, pitta, and kapha. For today, we are simply focusing on Kapha Dosha. Kapha has a strong relationship to the water and earth elements. When I think of water and earth together, I get a strong image of mud.
Kapha is characterized as heavy, oily, cool, dense, static or stable, gross (as in the opposite of subtle), dull and slow, smooth, cloudy and sticky, and soft. The image of mud brings all of these attributes forward.
How Does It Affect Me?
As you continue learning about Ayurveda and growing your sensitivity to your environment, you will likely start to notice the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) ways different seasons affect you. It could be as simple as noticing how for some, cloudy damp days bring on melancholy, while for others they feel cozy and soothing.
A basic principle of Ayurveda states that the qualities or attributes I’ve been listing can either accumulate and build or reduce and diminish. “Like increases like, and opposites pacify.”
Basically, this means that if I’m feeling cold and I stand outside in winter, I will only get colder. However, if I’m cold and I decide to take a warm bath, the cold quality is diminished.
Healthy Happy Kapha
So, how do we navigate Kapha season for our best health and happiness? The good news for some of us is that the static and heavy qualities of Kapha season may bring about a feeling of groundedness, strength, and stability. However, some of us might start to feel a bit stagnant, sluggish, or even depressed.
My first suggestion would be to observe the qualities of Kapha that already seem strong in your constitution, or the qualities that seem foreign or not present in your constitution. Once you have a sense of where you are right now, then you’ll have a better idea of how to move forward with the season. Consult the following practices when you feel you need some additional support.
Zach’s Top 5 Classic Kapha Reducing Practices
- Wake Up Early!
Get in the habit of rising with or before the sun (or before 6am, whichever works for you). As we’ve learned how Kapha dominates this time of year, it also has dominance during the hours between 6 and 10 am and pm. Sleep is a kaphic activity (meaning it’s static, dull, heavy, etc) and therefore will build those same qualities in you. If you are feeling groggy, sluggish, or unmotivated when you start your day, consider what time you’re waking and make a change!
- Cleanse Your Senses!
A traditional and popular practice in ayurveda is Neti Pot, or nasal rinsing. This is a great practice this time of year to help counter the accumulation of mucus and congestion. It’s also a wonderful prophylactic in anticipation of the spring release of pollen, for those who manage seasonal allergies. While the effect of Neti Pot may seem focused just on the nose and sinuses, it has a powerful purifying effect for the eyes, ears, and tongue as well, which improves the clarify of all of the senses.
If Neti Pot doesn’t appeal to or work for your body, then try steaming your face in the morning over a couple cups of hot water and tenting your head with a towel to trap the moist heat. Breath deeply for 5-10 minutes, blink into the steam, turn your ears over the steam, and allow your skin to sweat just a bit. I find this a gentler alternative and is less irritating to my nostrils. You can also add some aromatic herbs to your steaming water, like the Steam Clarifying Herbs from Element Ayurvedic Apothecary.
- Move Your Body!
If you feel your body becoming achy, stiff, lethargic, or stagnant, then bring some movement into your routine. A great practice is simply taking a short morning walk outside, especially if it’s sunny! If that doesn’t work for you, then you can do something indoors. My favorite short go-to practices are joint circles, simple variations of sun salutations, or even just putting on my favorite song and dancing for 5 minutes. Often, after moving just a little bit, my body and mind feel lighter, energized, and more open to what the day brings.
- Mind Your Food!
In Kapha season, I start to minimize dairy in my diet. Again, think about the qualities and what they will increase — a lot of dairy is heavy, oily, stagnant, dense, sticky, etc., so this will only aggravate any build-up of kapha in my constitution. I also start cooking food that has more clear broths, more vegetables and less meat, and lighter grains like barley and quinoa. As always, it’s important to eat cooked food to support digestion, but you might start to enjoy small portions of salad made of fresh baby greens as they begin to sprout in spring.
This is also a time you might enjoy spicing your food a bit differently with something that gives a zap to your tastebuds. You don’t have to go crazy with super hot spice, but explore adding more ginger, garlic, black pepper, chili peppers, fenugreek, turmeric, and fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro to your cooking.
- Lighten Your Load!
This is also a great time of year to sort through and part ways with excess personal items in your home. Take stock of the things in your life, notice what items add to the feeling of “clutter,” and which items no longer serve you. Then, let them go to find a new home. Be mindful of what items can be donated, gifted to friends, recycled, or even composted before just ditching everything in the dumpster. And, if you need a little inspiration, I’ve been loving “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix! I find her principles to be very loving, kind, and practical.
Silver White Winters that Melt Into Spring
Kapha season carries us through spring, which becomes even wetter and muddier. It’s such a magical season because it’s a time of rebirth for nature. The trees begin to bud, the flowers pop up, and the vegetables begin to sprout again.
This is all because of Kapha’s supportive, nurturing nature. The stickiness, stability, and softness of Kapha make it possible for things to conceive and birth into the world.
If you’re a gardener, you already have an intuitive sense of the importance of Kapha. Think about trying to sprout a seed in dry, hot, desert soil — nearly impossible. Compare that with soft, cool, rich, damp earth. What a difference!
Toward the end of spring, when the temperatures rise into the 60’s and 70’s, we know that Kapha is on her way out, making way for Pitta dosha and her season of summer. Pay attention to nature then, as this is a really beautiful time of year — most everything is in bloom, the leaves are full and lush, and the plants are hearty and strong. Let this image serve as the effect of a healthy and supportive Kapha dosha.
Zach Zube (AHC, RYT-500, E-RYT-200, AYS) is the owner and artisan behind Element Ayurvedic Apothecary and has a rich background of study in yoga, ayurveda, and tantra. A Chicago native, he now lives in Minneapolis with his husband and two dogs. Zach extends gratitude to his list of teachers and mentors including Yogarupa Rod Stryker, Dr. Rosy Mann, Kathryn Templeton, as well as the faculty of Yoga North International SomaYoga Institute in Duluth. When he’s not handcrafting plant medicine, he enjoys cooking, hiking, rock climbing, relearning the piano, and singing. To learn more and shop his products, please visit www.elementselfcare.com.