Western culture can be very cut and dry - one concept or another. Health is taken in a context where we are in it all or nothing and it's only more recently that we’ve been encouraged to train and eat intuitively, listening to our bodies and finding balance. But what does that mean? Train until fatigue, train until exhaustion, and then stop? Eat healthily until the weekend, and then party? Be active and energetic all summer, and fall asleep under a pile of mince pie wrappers when post holiday season apocalypse?
Progressive thinking and positive attitudes in the West has seen a generation more receptive to Eastern healthcare philosophies, prompting closer study of the scientific rooting and validity behind Ayurveda. Ayurveda is one of the worlds oldest holistic systems and has been around for thousands of years. It’s core principal is that health and wellness depend on the balance between mind, body and spirit.
Regardless of how you look at it, from an Eastern or Western standpoint, our bodies are impacted by environmental changes in ways that depend very much on our own genetic makeup. The overall idea behind Ayurveda is to adjust our behaviour - training, nutrition, rest, work and social life alike - according to the state our body is in at that time; behaviour modified based on what our bodies actually need, above what we think we should be doing. These subtle, responsive adjustments are what keep our bodies in balance, and mood & results consistent.
Winter is the season of Kapha, described poetically as damp, cold, heavy, dull, dense and static. Its a season to turn into oneself - the season of hibernation and deep nourishment, encouraging rest, patience and reflection. The reason we feel tired, sluggish and like comfort-eating in winter is because our digestive processes are prioritised and our metabolisms are slowing down. Ayurveda teaches us that there are things we can do to counterbalance this effect for optimal wellness, energy and results.
Here are 4 tips from Ayurvedic practice to help you stay healthy, energised and balanced this winter:
Eat a Supportive Winter Diet
Winter, Christmas, and its aftermath are notorious for the urge to comfort eat. Your body is going to be sending you mixed signals, craving the most readily-available and impactful options it assumes are nourishing and sometimes are not. Allow yourself a few naughty treats but pacify cravings and junk food urges by sustaining yourself daily on deeply nourishing options. Hot pots, winter stews, slow cooker recipes, soups, broths and casseroles are easy to throw-together options you can pack with root vegetables like beets, carrots, winter squash, turnips, as well as eggplant mushrooms, okra, leeks, onions, garlic, legumes, and winter greens. As well as being physically hot, warming you from the inside out, all of these ingredients contain contain huge quantities of vitamins and minerals and high levels of protein to fortify your immune system and keep your organs richly nourished.
Zinc, B-Vitamins & Vitamin D
Seafood, particularly salmon, sardines, mackerel and shellfish, as well as mushrooms, bell peppers, okra, winter greens, eggs, and small amounts of bone broth and organ meat, will keep you nourished with healing, immune-fortifying Zinc, B-Vitamins and Vitamin-D, you’re likely to find yourself deficient of as your body adapts its internal processes to cope with the harshness of winter. Incorporate as much of these foods as possible to encourage the same energy and healing rates you’ve enjoyed all summer long.
Healing Herbs & Spices
Spices like Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg and Cloves are very traditionally associated with the Winter season, as well as pungent bitter herbs we use to cook with in roasts and stews. Not surprisingly, these items contain chemical compounds that have a thermogenic (warming) effect on the body, stimulating the metabolism and improving energy. They often come hand in hand with other potent compounds that control inflammation and have a positive effect on the body’s healing response. Look to include the above listed, as well as Chillies, Mustard Seeds, Cumin, Fennel, Turmeric, Black Pepper, Coriander Seeds and Garlic.
When I say rest, I don’t mean simply downtime, rest days, duvet days, or lower impact exercises, although these are all valuable to incorporate too. Be active with your rest and recovery by making sure you actually sleep! Stages 3 & 4 of the sleep cycle provide the deepest and most restorative sleep: blood pressure drops, muscles become relaxed, blood supply to the muscles increases, tissue growth & repair occurs, and energy / hormonal balance is restored leaving you less susceptible to stress and depression. Rather than complaining about the shorter days, take advantage of the longer nights and wind down earlier to reduce your susceptibility to illness, fatigue and depression.
This blog was written by Phoebe Wynn-Jones. In 2011, hit by a moderately-sized truck travelling at a less-than-moderate speed, Phoebe was told she would never walk again. Using holistic nutrition, yoga and boxing as a means of recovery, she went on to complete her education in Biochemistry and became a qualified nutritionist in 2012.
Phoebe has since consulted on, opened and developed multiple locations within the food and fitness industry in Los Angeles, London, New Jersey and New York. She is now working out of her fight gym MBOX and other venues across East London as a nutrition coach and industry consultant, specialising in nutrition for combat sports competitors and endurance athletes.Find her on the web at impressedhealth.co.uk or on instagram @phoebej_nutrition