How to Survive Winter (If You Hate Winter)


If I were really cruel, I would start and end this post by telling you to just move to Florida or SoCal. And then I would continue Black Friday shopping in my jammies.

But I swear I’m more helpful than that…

There are two kinds of winter, in my opinion. One is the Disney-gloss version, where the countryside is covered in a pristine white blanket, and you feel all cashmere-ific and Christmas-y and cozy. You are seduced by the Alpine romance feeling, and so you don’t mind bundling up and going out, because after the bundling and frolicking, you can shed your layers, put on your best ivory cable knit, light a fire (or have someone do that for you… not sure how Girl Scout I am on that one), and snuggle up with a hot (possibly spiked) beverage.

Admittedly, I do love that version of winter. For about two weeks. The trouble is, it is not really Real Life Winter. Disney Gloss Winter you get by going to Tahoe for the weekend, or a ski lodge in Vermont, or possibly the Swiss Alps for a week. Real Life Winter is when it is dark when you leave AND come home from work, where it snows or ices or sleets (or some awful, intractable combination) and you have anxiety about having to get up at 4am in order to shovel or ice pick your car out yourself in order to go to work. It is when the city snow is dirty and stays rattily fixed to the ground for months. When you decide that going out for dinner or exercise (or really anything for that matter), is just too much to bear, so you opt for hibernation from all human life form. When the cashmere cables have been traded for tired, salt-laden items and a shapeless down blanket coat that probably needs dry cleaning, but you can’t dry clean it because you need it Every. Single. Day. and can’t afford to send it to the cleaners for four days. This is the winter I hate.

(Can you tell I am abandoning Boston winters after five years and gleefully jumping up and down about San Diego??)

So… I am here to offer some Ayurvedic morsels of advice to take some of the sting out of winter.

Ayurveda means “science of life” in Sanskrit — it’s the ancient Indian tradition of health and wellbeing that comes from the Vedas. And Ayurveda has a wonderfully nuanced understanding of health, physiology, and balance, including the notion that there is no “one size fits all” in wellness. [E.g. it is not always as simple as “exercise is good.” Good overall, yes, but if you are running ten miles at high noon in Texas and you are already a “Pitta” (fire) type, then… not so good.]

In Ayurveda, there are three “Doshas,” Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Roughly speaking, these are three primary elements, three types or qualities. Vata corresponds with air/space, pitta with fire/water, and kapha with earth/water. These doshas present as different body types in different individuals (or a combination thereof). Imbalances or physical ailments in the body can arise from one dosha being out of balance. Different foods and lifestyle elements can aggravate or balance each dosha. The doshas are also associated with different qualities in nature, and in the seasons. So Vata being air/wind and having a quality of movement and cold, means that winter is her season. For those of us that have a lot of Vata going on in our bodies already, or Vata imbalances, winter can be a total Vata Overload.

Do you get cold easily? Prone to worry? Dry skin? Lower digestive distress or constipation? Tend toward a slighter physique? Feel anxious, unsettled, indecisive when you are out of whack? Have trouble falling asleep? All of these may indicate a Vata type or Vata imbalances. So here I am, Vata Girl (I am actually Vata-Pitta), to give you a quick list of ways you can balance your Vata during Winter.

Put hot things in your body. Now is the time to ditch all salads, cold raw things, ice cream, and cold/iced beverages. Come summer, we can talk, but not now. Now you need warm, nourishing cooked foods and drinks. Soups, cooked veggies, cooked grains, hot tea… Increase these and decrease cold things as much as you can.

Put warm oil on your body.  This is called Abhyanga in Ayurveda. It’s an oil massage, and it may sound weird, but I promise you, it feels like a million dollars. And a baby version can be done in 5-7 minutes, so you don’t have to complain that you don’t have 30 minutes to add to your morning routine. Here is how you will feel: baby soft, calm, grounded, sparklingly fresh, with more energy, and less scatterbrained crankiness. Here is what you do: get yourself a basic baby bottle warmer and a glass bottle to go in it (you can also clean out a soy sauce or similar bottle, as they are the prefect size for this). Pick an oil you like. We want all natural, so no synthetically scented nonsense here. Straight up sesame oil works, but I prefer mixing sesame oil with a magically scented massage oil. My absolute favorite is this nectar of the gods, which smells DIVINE and is specifically made to balance Vata. Expensive, but I cut it with the straight sesame. You get your oil in your glass bottle, put a tiny bit of water in the warmer, and heat it up. Arm yourself with some paper towels and a little toweled perch in your bathroom. Now, I pin my hair up and suit up with my Glossier terry headband… putting oil on your head and in your hair is considered very beneficial, but my hair is an absolute drama to wash even sans oil, and getting oil out of your hair is something of a chore. So I skip that part. Now the goal is just to get warm oil everywhere else — neck and shoulders, lower back, belly, down the arms and legs, soles of the feet. You can remove excess by blotting with the paper towels, and then you hop in the shower. You feel extra squeaky clean and energized when you get out, plus it helps moisturize your skin in the winter and reduces the dreaded flakes everywhere.

Put oil on other things. Specifically, your food. In an extra dry and cold climate, especially for Vata body types, you need more oil. And don’t tell me you are counting calories. Good oils are not going to make you fat! I drizzle olive oil on almost everything. Ghee is also good. Even avocado oil. (The ultimate indulgence: make avocado toast, and then drizzle with avocado oil!) And I never, ever eat dry toast. Slather that jazz!

Baths, baths, baths. I just lost out on an adorable Spanish-style apartment in San Diego, which I am quite bummed about. But I am telling myself that it was not meant to be, because … there was no tub. And I have realized that I CANNOT do without my baths. For a Vata type in winter, I find them sooooo calming and soothing. Add lavender oil. Do it before bed. Every night. THE BEST.

Keep a regular routine. Vata types can get out of whack when their routine is all over the place and really benefit from regular routine. So to the best of your ability, eat regular (hot, remember?) meals on time, and keep regular bedtimes (by 10!! Ish!!!). While we’re talking (and I should really remember to take my own advice here with my laptop), we really should all be cutting our screen time in the hour or so before bed. I find watching movies (esp action-packed, stimulating ones, but really just TV time in general) to be pretty Vata aggravating before bed.

Suit up (and cover your ears). Here is where you just really need to abandon some of your fashion hopes and dreams, and just get the proper attire to face the cold and wind outside. If you live in a cold climate, hopefully you have joined the Down Blanket Coat Brigade, by which I mean one of those giant down coats that goes down almost to your ankles. Hideous, but necessary. Then, boots. Warm ones, lined with something fuzzy and faux. Last year, I bought some Stuart Weitzmans with a lug sole and faux fur lining, and I wore them non-stop (except I got them on eBay for $75, shhhh). They actually look good with jeans, pants, and even black tights, and they are ridiculously comfortable and warm.

Also, not only do you have to cover your head, but you need to cover your neck and ears too. A meditation teacher once told me that ears are the seat of Vata, so when the wind whips around, you want your ears covered. Hat, muffs, whatever. I get made fun of for wearing this faux fur situation, but hey, I feel like Doris Day.

Warm up everything else. Come winter, I live for my microwavable beanbags. If you get cold easily, these are a godsend. You can put them in bed, or even on your lap in the car if you head out to work in the freezing dark still.

It’s almost December. We are still in the romance honeymoon phase with winter. (Possibly. I might be already over it in Iowa.) We are feeling festive for decorating and holiday preparations. But I promise you, come end of January/February, we are all going to need some Vata balancing, winter remedies. I will still be oiling up everything and doing my nightly lavender bath ritual. And trying not to gloat too much with my new San Diego digs! (OK, I may gloat a little…)

Image: unknown, via Pinterest

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