Ayurveda for the Colder Months

Drink tea, keep it spicy, and rest up—your ayurvedic guide to prepare for winter.

Joan Hyman is part of our teacher training program at Wanderlust Hollywood


Shorter days, colder weather and less sunlight… Winter is definitely here. The combination can leave your body and mind feeling rundown. Between cold, wet, and damp days, your Vata and Kapha doshas get aggravated. It’s common to get congested, develop a cough, a cold, and in some cases catch the dreaded flu.

The lack of sunlight robs us of our strength. As such, it’s a great opportunity to focus on our immune system as we prepare for the rest of the year. I recommend doing this by getting the extra rest (sometimes difficult to come by during the holiday season), and by eating richer foods that will increase your agni, or digestive fires.

People with a more pitta dosha will fare better in the winter, but it’s always helpful to understand ayurvedic tips on staying balanced during this chillier season.

Favor a warm, nourishing diet to pacify Vata and soothe Kapha.

We’re basically programmed to eat more in the winter; to add a few pounds without guilt. While indulging every once in a while is OK, let us be wise about the types of rich foods we choose by considering what is most nourishing and least congestive.

Enjoy a warm breakfast—porridge or oatmeal are excellent choices. For lunch and dinner, stick to plenty of rice, barley, and rye. Seek healthy oils such as ghee, coconut, avocado, hemp, and olive oil. Try adding seasonal root vegetables to soups and stews, and to avoid non-seasonal foods (such as salads), which will most likely aggravate vata. Try ending your day with hot milk and warming spices (ginger, cinnamon, cardamom).

Go ahead and add that extra spice to your life.

‘Tis the season to enjoy that glass of red wine. Not only will it relax you, but also do double duty to warm your body. If you’re not a wine drinker, you’ll get the same effect drinking teas with various warming spices. Add more cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, cumin, turmeric, tarragon, rosemary, oregano, and cayenne to your diet. A little bit will go a long way.

Seek the D!

Because of the scarcity of sunlight in the winter, seek out foods that are high in Vitamin D. Recommended dishes include salmon, tuna, cod, dairy products, eggs, mushrooms, yogurt, cheese, zucchini, and tomatoes.

Ground yourself.

There’s an ayurvedic self-massage called abhyanga, which is known to be very grounding. Try this with sesame oil to help heal dry skin and improve circulation. Rub oil on your head to avoid dandruff, headaches, and anxiety that the change in seasons may bring about. Also, warm baths, steams, and saunas are a great way to warm body up and ward off the cold!

Get your blood moving.

Exercise is one of the best ways to stimulate a sluggish digestion, regulate the metabolism, and remove toxins from the body. When we’re bombarded by cold weather the body tends to draw heat from where it’s most needed, the vital organs. This means cold hands and feet: That “chilled to the bone” kind of feel. Vigorous exercise is recommend with repetitious movement such as sun salutations. Sun salutations are, in fact, an ideal way start to the day, as they build up heat in the body and warm up all the major muscles. Kappalabhati breathing exercise is also excellent for generating internal heat and improving the digestive fire, or Agni.

Rest and prepare.

December is a time to rest and reflect on the past year while we prepare for a new year. It’s a good time to go inward, plant seeds, and create intentions. It is a time for grounding and finding stillness, for being more introverted. Take advantage of this by giving the mind and body extra time for meditation, and honor the silence that comes with shorter days and taking in the quiet. Sometime shorter days are associated with seasonal depression because of the lack of light. To combat this, meditate on the light, chanting OM or any other mantra that resonates with your heart!

If you do get a cold with heavy mucous: Reduce your diet for a few days. Eat light, warm, and simple foods—such as soup—while you rest and recover. Avoid dairy products, sweets, fried foods, and breads with yeast. This will make congestion worse. For coughs and colds, ginger tea is excellent, especially with a little raw honey for a dose of sweetness.

May you have plenty of warmth and light as you dive into winter in preparation to emerge rested, grounded, and healthy in the spring.

Joan’s grounded teaching style creates space for students to deepen their personal journey while aligning with teachings of true yogic traditions. Joan frequently shares her insight on the subject of health and wellness in national magazines and blogs, including Elephant Journal, Mind Body & Green, Yoga Journal, ORIGIN Magazine and Women’s Health. She currently has a thriving career as a Wanderlust Senior Teacher (E-RYT500) and leads yoga retreats, workshops, and teacher trainings all over the world, while maintaining a full yoga class schedule in Los Angeles. joanhyman.com