Early Winter, Hemanta, is the season past the volatility of Fall, around November 15th through January 15th. As the angle and duration of sunlight change, temperatures fall and there’s a general drying trend, even with snow fall due to the deepening cold. Cold and dry are the two signal qualities of vata, the ones that generate all the others. However, these trends are not so pronounced in early winter, so we have the benefit of less taxing conditions to physiology, longer dark periods generating more melatonin, cooler temps leading to stronger digestive function, creating a perfect opportunity to build immunity, muscle and resilience for the winter to come.
Our bodies respond to this change and so does our yoga practice. During Early Winter, the principles of motion (vata, air), transformation (pitta, fire), and structure (kappha, earth) are least provoked by the light and climate. You produce more stomach acid and can - and should - eat a little more. This supports the body in its eliminative and balancing functions, so the kidney and urinary bladder channels (meridians, nadis and also functions) are more used and so benefit from the support our yoga practice can offer.
This is the best time to exert yourself fully, so it’s a great time to learn or incorporate Sun Salutations into your yoga asana practice. Backbends, which free the cavity of the lungs and heart as well as stretch and tone the respiratory diaphragm, stomach, liver and kidneys are the perfect addition or focus this time of year, making it a great time to focus on the deeper versions you can access. Consider supta virasana (laying down after sitting on your heels or one heel), striking cobra, fish pose, cow faced arms/pose and camel, as well as a regular Sun Salutation practice. Fish, cobra, cow faced arms and supta virasana all have yin and restorative variations.
Breathing practices that warm and activate are also welcomed now, for instance bhastrika (bellows breath), kapalabhati (skull shining breath) as well as uddiyana band (lifting the space in front of your spine strongly) and the stomach churning it enables, agni sara.
In your mediation practice, you might include more images or actual flames, for instance candle gazing or focusing on an imagined flame in your belly.
Eating seasonally is always supportive for your health; you receive the microbes appropriate to the time of year from seasonal plants as well as eating what your body evolved experiencing under these light and heat conditions. For more on Ayurveda and seasonal dietary changes, check out this full text article available via the National Institute of Health's US National Library of Medicine. Oranges, limes, carrots and other roots along with apples, pomegranates and dates are recommended. Nuts, seeds and grains are harvested and so healthy this time of year, as well as unctuous meats and more fat than usual. Do note, if you eat more than 2 Tablespoons of healthy added fat per day (unrefined coconut oil or EVOO) get your carbs from greens and low sugar fruits to keep insulin low. If you're adding the usual 2 Tablespoons or less of healing oils, grains will add micronutrients, healing and prebiotic fiber: be sure to get a wide variety and make them 1/3 of your plate. Not sure which direction is right for you? High fat diets help heal the gut, reduce insulin resistance, reset hormones of hunger, heal joints and associated tissues and are a medicine. Seasonal eating with adequate fat is the way to go if you're maintaining good health. [Need support for the choice or implementation? Book an initial YogaGuide Consult for a conversation with the code INITIALCONSULT or for ongoing support see the packages. Unlimited Members book a single session at the package rate with the code MEMBERPRIVATE.]
There are 6 tastes that can be used to balance the qualities of the doshas: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent (spicy) and astringent. Favor sweet, salty and sour, all else being equal. Cook your food, especially vegetables and eat warm, hearty, unctuous (oily or fat infused) foods.
Consider warming spices with all meals: cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass, black pepper, cardamom and tulsi can all be put on your food as well as added to warm water for a lymphatic cleansing all day sipping drink.
In general, avoid cold food and beverages except as treats: focus on warmed and cooked foods and drinks. This isn’t the best time to start a new juicing habit.
Small amounts of honey also feed your gut microbiome while supporting your stomach and intestinal linings and health.
2 tsp of ghee or coconut oil in the morning - with or without food or drink - can boost all the structures in your body that rely on fats for their building blocks: hormones, joint tissues, skin, hair and nails.
Fasting isn’t ideal, if you are basically healthy, this time of year: your body is creating more of the heat and stomach acid that digest food, so it’s a good idea to have the food in there to be digested, so it’s not your stomach or intestinal lining. Fasting is an incredible tool in your healthy life, but unless indicated for imbalance, save fasts longer that 13-15 hours (the normal time between dinner and breakfast) for next year.
Abhyanga, or self-massage with oil, is supportive at this time of year. The drying hasn’t taken deep hold yet, but it helps to prepare, as well as feeding your skin’s microbiome, which is just like your gut microbiome. Sesame oil is generally appropriate - unrefined, organic, not toasted - and you might warm it in some warm water or a tiny crock you can keep in your bathroom. Apply before a warm shower and let sit while you brush your teeth - taking care not to slip with rugs, bath mats and maintaining 3 points of contact, don’t do the bottoms of your feet if you’re at risk for or with falling (take blood thinners, have neurologic problems with balance or are unsteady on your feet, for example). Then let the shower take it off - no need for soap, except for the smelly bits. Towel briskly. This is a wonderful daily self-care routine and need add no more than 3-5 minutes to your getting ready time.
This is also the time of year, when the sun is gradually coming later, for you to get up a little later, too, if that accords with your schedule. Try waking just before or around sunrise, year round, and getting some sunlight on your eyeballs (not even through a window, if you can tolerate the cold during a few sips of your hot morning beverage). So sleeping til 7 or so, after going to bed around 10pm is another potential self care step.
Adjust your practice to the time of day you are able to make it to the mat: practicing soon after waking? Do some engaged Hatha or HiYo, include Sun Salutations, Backbends and counter them with a lot of twists (which will focus more prominently in our Late Winter and Spring practices.
Practicing after work, in the evening or in general after 6:30pm? Choose Yin and Restorative practices, focusing on toe poses and backward bending as well.
All of these recommendations are tempered for the recommendation for your particular constitution. Each person is a mix of mobile, transformative and structural elements (vata, pitta, kappha) that is unique, so demands a unique practice.
Kappha constitutions are encouraged to exert the most during this time. Kapphas are generally large boned, easily carry weight, have luxurious hair and tend to have oilier skin and may be prone to redness. They are especially prone to sinus and respiratory illnesses during this time of year and an exertion practice with a diet of hot soups and drinks liberally spiced with cinnamon, ginger and even garlic are helpful in keeping the kappha fluid (mucous) moving and not harboring harmful germs. It is most important that Kapphas rise with the sun.
Pitta constitutioned people, who tend to be athletic, gung ho and driven are encouraged to exert to about 75% of what they think they can do - because they always imagine they can do the most. This is your season! The pitta, transformational, elements of your body, mind and heart are most supported and so you are at home. Healthy changes and their benefits you make at this time are likely to remain with you. Be careful not to overeat and overeat less nutritious foods: your appetite will be even stronger than usual, so this is a good point of mindfulness. Twists are your poses, so get on with your twisty, backbendy, vinyasa practice - just remember to yoga with and not ahead of your breath.
Vata constitutioned folks, who tend to be thinner with smaller bones, grey early and have quick minds prone to abstraction, may be prone to body aches and cold sensitivity, so stay warm. Your signature pose, squats and forward folds, are still good for you, so sprinkle them in between cobras during your slow Sun Salutations. Your practice is always to return to your sensation and to practice asana slowly enough that you can pay attention. Your digestion is supported at this time of year, so be sure to eat enough, as you may have a tendency to ignore hunger. Consider adding the spice hing (asfoetida) to your cooked foods to help with any tendency toward gas.
An ideal daily schedule may look something like this:
7am Rise and shine!
abhyanga with sesame,
swish a little in your mouth for 3 minutes or so then spit into trash with paper towel
brush teeth, scrape tongue
drink a glass of warm water, perhaps with lime juice -
step outside for some sunlight on your eyeballs while you sip
15 minute yogasana practice featuring Sun Salutations, HiYo or other energetic practice of backbends - savasana is a must! 10% of your practice time, so about 2 minutes
5 minutes of pranayama featuring bellows or shining skull breath
5-15 minutes of meditation, returning your attention to an imaginary flame in your belly or just the sensation of your abdomen rising and falling with each breath
8pm screens off, lights dimmer
9pm 15 minutes of yin or restorative yoga (just 1-5 poses) featuring backbends
5 minutes of bumble bee breath
5-15 minutes of meditation, just on rising and falling of belly or metta
oil your feet with organic unrefined sesame oil and put on some socks
In between, mostly cook your food and spice it up with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and pepper, Enjoy your meals of unctuous, fatty meats, eggs, seeds, nuts, black lentils and legumes with seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Obviously, not everyone benefits from the same schedule. Depending on your constitution, job, family and other responsibilities you will adjust some or all of this.
As long as you are intentional and caring for yourself with your daily habits, you’re on the path of healing yoga!