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Seasonal Health

10 Ways to Melt Away Winter’s Excess

It may still be cold outside, but we can take tips from Ayurveda to begin to heat our digestive fire, rev up our metabolism, and help our bodies begin to melt the physical and energetic excess that accumulates during the holiday season. Katie Silcox shows us how.

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By Katie Silcox

Recently a friend told me that the holidays had sent her on a “downward-cookie-spiral-of shame.” Like many of us, she was having a hard time recovering. There’s a reason that January signals the prime season to begin diets and make resolutions for change: after marathon Yuletide party schedules and over-indulgences (and less exercise and yoga than normal), many people feel heavy, lethargic, and emotionally drained.

This comes at a time of year which, in Ayurvedic terms, is considered kaphic, or influenced by the elements of earth and water, with cool, heavy, and dull energy that can manifest in the body as excess mucous, lethargy, and weight gain.

As winter turns to spring, the body, like the earth, will begin to shed this heavy energy. But for now, we can take some tips from Ayurveda to begin to heat up our digestive fire, rev up our metabolism, and help the body begin to melt away the excess, physical and energetic, that may have accumulated over the past few months.

Fire starter for your belly One of the easiest and most effective ways of boosting the digestive fire is to eat fresh ginger. I recommend placing a few strips of thinly sliced ginger into a bowl with the juice of half a lemon and a pinch of rock salt. Eat a slice about 15 minutes before meals to stimulate your digestive enzymes.

Get some herbal support Trikatu and triphala are Ayurvedic herbal formulas widely known for boosting metabolism, stimulating digestion, and cleaning out the body. You can find them at places like Whole Foods or online through Bayan Botanicals.

Eat more soup One of the best and easiest ways to feel great while lightening up during the winter months is to eat more soup, particularly at night. Make lunch your largest and heaviest meal, and enjoy a steamy bowl of brothy barley vegetable soup at night. Add a teaspoon of turmeric powder to the soup while cooking. Turmeric helps purify the blood, helps stimulate digestion, and reduces kapha in the body.

Spice up Try to incorporate more black pepper, turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger and mustard seeds into your meal preparation. These powerful belly medicines help remove toxins from the body and promote digestive enzymes in the gut.

More arugula, less cake During the winter months, we want to emphasize foods that are slightly drying and bitter. These two tastes balance the heavy, cold, wetness of the season, and the foods associated with it: red meat, coffee, cheese, wheat, sugar, and wine. Instead, indulge in delicious and nutritious dandelion greens, arugula, spinach, amaranth, barley, and pomegranate, which have both dry and bitter flavors.

Get out in the elements Breathe deeply as you take a daily 30-minute brisk walk outdoors. Move your body and let the sun shine on your skin.

Lube up Speaking of skin, if indoor heating left yours looking like dry, cracked-desert earth, avoid hot showers, using lukewarm water instead, and perform abhyanga, or a warm-oil massage, traditionally used to balance the vata element, or the cold, dryness that comes with the early winter. But it is a lovely skin soother for any time you feel dry and parched. Using warmed organic sesame or sunflower oil, massage your entire body before you shower, rubbing it in well, and leaving it on for at least 20 minutes before taking a shower. You can add a few drops of a stimulating essential oil to the base oil for an extra pick-me-up. My favorites are holy basil, lemon grass, lavender and eucalyptus.

Salute the Sun and the fire  Around this time of year, start incorporating more rhythmic flows, like Sun Salutations, into your yoga practice to help heat the body. Twists in particular will help stoke belly fire, and burn away sluggishness and lethargy. End your practice by meditating on a fire in your belly. Throw in any old grievances into this inner flame.

Loosen the lymph Sipping hot water throughout the day helps loosen and detoxify the lymphatic system, which tends to get sluggish during the winter months. Make tea by boiling water and then adding the following spices, allowing them to steep for at least 15 minutes before straining the water and drinking the tea: Digestive Booster – 1/4 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, 1/2 tsp fennel seeds. Winter Spice – 3 thin slices of fresh ginger, 1/4 tsp cumin seeds, 1/4 tsp fennel seeds, 2 black peppercorns, a pinch of cardamom). I keep my tea in a thermos and drink all day. (Frequency of intake is more important than volume.)

Vaporize Make your own at-home detoxifying vapor cave to help clear congestion in your lungs, sinuses, and skin. Boil at least 2 quarts of water. Pour into a large bowl with a few drops of eucalyptus oil and cover with a towel. Place your head under the towel and inhale the hot vapors for at least 10 minutes. Follow with a good moisturizer.

Named one of “San Francisco’s Best Yoga Teachers Under 30” in 2009, Katie Silcox is a certified teacher of Rod Stryker’s Para Yoga® and a certified Ayurvedic Wellness Educator and Therapist. She mentored with Devi Mueller, president of the Ayurvedic Medical Association, and Dr. Claudia Welch. Katie teaches classes and workshops nationally and internationally, and is authoring a book on ayurveda and tantra yoga, to be published in 2012.