As we inch closer and closer to the winter solstice and begin to lose our daily dose of sunshine, do you find it more challenging to maintain your sense of health and well-being without the warmth and heat from the sun? If you are someone or know someone who starts to feel stagnant, sluggish, depressed, or notice your food takes a long time to digest and you feel tired after eating, perhaps some of these transitional practices will help you improve your inner fire, circulation, and mood.
In the fall and winter seasons, the Ayurvedic practitioners recommend letting go of eating cold foods and instead they recommend eating warm cooked foods. If we apply the Ayurvedic wisdom, “like increases like, opposites balance” to our diet, cold raw foods eaten in the winter would increase cold within us. Instead, to maintain healthy digestion in the winter, you might consider doing the opposite to balance agni, your internal flame. Jatharagni is the actual word used to describe your digestive fire. It is the most important agni in the body and when well regulated keeps food digesting at the right speed, destroys toxins or pathogens in food, and controls your body temperature. To help keep your digestive agni strong, consider taking care of it like you would any fire by giving it healthy fuel (food) and some air and space in between meals. Eating until we are full (versus stopping when you no longer have hunger) or drinking too much liquid while eating are typical ways you weaken or dampen your jatharagni. If you overload a fire with too much wood, it will go out or smolder; the same is true with food as too much can put out the flame in your stomach.
Do you feel nourished after your food or tired and distracted? Ideally we all learn to find the diet that works best for our constitution (dosha) and aligns with our external environment. This way food becomes medicine and nourishes us as our needs change from season to season. In Ayurveda, foods are rarely described as good or bad; instead we say, “can you digest what you eat?” If someone has a strong digestive fire, they may tolerate foods that are seemingly “bad” whereas someone with weak agni might have trouble eating the foods we consider “good or healthy.” It all boils down to the health of our agni. Ideally in the winter months we all learn to find what is the appropriate diet for our constitution and begin to add more spices and warming herbs like ginger, clove, cinnamon, cayenne, garlic, turmeric, and black pepper to what we eat or drink.
“All the world seeks food. It is the life source of all beings. Clarity, longevity, intelligence, happiness, contentment, strength and knowledge are all rooted in food.” ~ Charaka
Trataka – Candle Gazing Mediation
Trakaka is a wonderful winter meditation to help develop concentration, generate heat, and single pointedness in the mind while receiving the light emitted from a flame into our eyes. This light generates energy that improves the function of our pineal gland. The pineal gland is also known as our “third eye” and feeds off light and heat for optimal functioning. Hindu texts say practice of trataka develops the faculties of greater intuition and that the past, present, and future all begin to appear with equal clarity.
To practice trataka, light a candle on your altar or wherever you sit for meditation. Sit in an upright position to ensure that the spine stays erect and that prana can flow easily through the subtle channels of the body.
It is recommended that the candle flame be kept about 12 to 24 inches from your face, and at eye level. Begin trataka by taking a few deep breaths or a few rounds of alternate nostril breathing. When your breath is stable, begin focusing your eyes on the flame and keep your gaze without blinking for as long as you can. With time and practice, your peripheral vision will fade away until you have no visual awareness of anything but the candle flame; in a sense, you become one with the flame.
Add any of these essential oils to your Epsom salt or sea salt baths for a an invigorating, energizing, anti-depressant, muscle relaxing antidote during the winter season: eucalyptus, rosemary, pinon pine, ylang ylang, ginger, juniper, grapefruit, or bergamot.
Watch this quick video on how to make your own bath salts:
For Asana inspiration, check out Art of Sequencing books or Yoga for the Seasons DVD.