Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Winter Solstice and Health according Ayurveda
A well-known saying in Ayurveda is: we are a micro cosmos - body, mind and soul - affected and in continuous interaction with our macro cosmos: the world. This time of the year in which the North Pole tilts 23.5 degrees away from the sun has therefore its repercussions on us. In Vedic science Winter Solstice is part of the Visarga season, the season of emission, that started in autumn. What does the Winter Solstice mean for our environment according to Ayurveda? How can we anticipate to its qualities so that we can counteract them and stay healthy?
Nurtured by the moon
The southward movement of the sun gives rise to an act of hydration because the sun is moving away from us (northern hemisphere). The rain brings not only more water to the earth also to the air and to our bodies. Agni, fire is more distant from our part of the world. The weaker the sun becomes, the stronger the moon will be. This brings cold and soothing properties to our earth. The days are short and dark. This usually makes us want to retreat at home during winter.
Going inward and celebrate
On a spiritual and mental level, the strong rays of the moon that come along with winter solstice, invite us to go inward. It is time for reflection in order to process last year. In this period, we can make room for the new to come in. This moment of contemplation can be traced back to many traditions. Also, we see that this comes along with celebration: it is the beginning of the return of the sun, and darkness will turn into light. In pre-Christian Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul or Yule, lasted for 12 days celebrating the rebirth of the sun. The Talmud celebrates winter solstice as Tekufat Tevet. In China, during the Dongzhi Festival families get together.
On a physical level, during the beginning of the season of Visarga Charaka* says (ch.6) that weakness prevails in human beings. Vata has increased since autumn which brings dry (not at the moment in rainy Holland;)), light, cool, rough, subtle and mobile qualities to the body. Especially its mobile and light qualities are dominant. As the wind moves the branches of the trees, its movement deranges our bodies. However, with the moon getting stronger we are slowly transitioning from Vata into Kapha season. This means that the qualities of humidity and unctuousness, are increasing too. This results in being more susceptible to flu’s and colds.
How can we prepare for this new season? The predominant qualities of Vata and Kapha are present in our environment which are coldness and humidity. We need to seek comfort in its opposites. Eat warm cooked foods like stews, hot drinks with warming spices like ginger, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. Foods that are sweet, salt and sour are counterbalancing the qualities of Vata. So cooked foods like rice, sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, carrots, parsnips and onions are beneficial to balance out Vata qualities. For Kapha types or people with a Kapha aggravation (like a running nose) it is better to resort to mixtures of kales, cabbages and some root veggies. Indulging in too heavy and oily foods will increase Kapha. Whereas for Vata types these foods are recommended. However, your Agni needs to be strong enough to digest these ‘dense’ foods.
Next week more about how to prepare for winter and how our bodies respond to this new season.
For now I wish you all a Happy Winter Solstice!
*Charaka is the author of the first Ayurvedic scripture: Charaka Samhita