Written by John Immel,
The quiet solitude of January makes it a perfect month for deep thought, rest, and contemplation. The dark, introspective winter seems to bury all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, bringing the previous year to a complete rest. As the earth becomes frozen solid, the barren landscape is motionless, save maybe the sound of cheery winter finches. From this place of frozen stillness, we let go of the past year and restart the calendar - a new book with 365 blank pages.
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Do you live in the Southern Hemisphere? You may need the Ayurvedic Diet for July instead.
New Year's Health Tips - LIVE Jan 2020
ClimateAny venture out into the winter wonderland sends shivers down your spine as goosebumps tickle your limbs. The biting cold and sharp winds are likely to keep you bundled up indoors. When all is frozen, water itself seems dry, as in the dryness of a frozen lake or crisp frost on a windowpane.
January is the coldest month of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Sharp, chilling winds are eclipsed by a dreary gray sky. The cold can seem biting, bitter, and unforgiving. January seems barren, save one solitary bird darting across an overcast sky. Dark days, frigid nights, and impending snow keep most animals under the covers. Yet, the stillness of the landscape brings about a special peace as silence and recurring blankets of snow seem to create a soft hush of Siberian grandeur.
PsychologyNow that all has stopped and time itself seems to be sluggish, make the most of this quiet opportunity to establish new habits. The impulse to bundle up and spend more time indoors draws you naturally inward anyway. How will you focus on your spiritual growth this year? What about your physical health? Start by journaling your thoughts, revelations, and intentions for the new year. Then, discuss these ideas with those closest to you. Make a final list of changes you want to make and take a step in the right direction to implement your goals.
This is the month where it takes determination to make it through the desolate winter. January is called "the dead of winter." The Monday of the last full week in January is called "Blue Monday", because statistically it is the most depressing day of the year.
In every end is a new beginning, no matter how painful the transition. The sharp, biting cold of January seems to capture the bitterness of life's transitions. Then suddenly, when all seems hopeless, spring returns. It seems January's solitude and bleakness is an essential part of the process. January is a time to contemplate how God is calling you and planting the seeds of new beginnings. If you're feeling down, cheer up! It all gets better from here.
January in the BodyAyurvedically, January is a month of transition from Vata dryness to Kapha wetness. Early winter until now has been characterized by the body scrambling to protect itself from ever dropping temperatures and dry winds. Now that temperatures have bottomed out, and soon will begin to rise, the dry period is over.
This time of year the darkness and cold can leave you feeling sluggish and very sleepy, with noticeably less energy. Instead of the extroverted busyness of December, your body is using energy for other things. In Chinese medicine, January is considered to be the most yin time of year - a restorative time to rebuild tissues, rest, and reflect inward before you spring back into action mid-March.
Your body continues to adapt to the cold air. As you step outside, breath becomes visible and your body becomes chilled to the bone. Your nose becomes stuffed as nasal passages swell up to protect delicate respiratory tissue from the cold. Skin goes numb as capillaries restrict blood flow in an effort to preserve heat. Less blood flow and lack of sun exposure also make the skin look pale and dry. You may feel as if you look ten years older in January, but don't despair! It's just the cold.
Your heart rate slows with the colder weather, leading to systemic blood stagnation. The body concentrates most of your blood at the core to keep your vital organs warm. This effect also leads to stronger digestion for everyone.
Kapha in JanuaryCold is depressing to Kapha and keeps them in hibernation mode. Dampness also makes Kapha individuals feel sluggish. Kapha's cold is a stagnant, heavy cold. It's the kind of cold that turns a lake into a solid body of ice.
Kapha individuals will need to resist the urge to oversleep. They should instead wake early and engage in some form of aerobic exercise to get their heart rate up and blood circulating before eating breakfast. Kapha types will notice a sense of heaviness come January. Their bodies have become weighed down from a fall diet of heavier foods. If they don't begin burning their stored winter fat in January, it may solidify until spring causing congestion and stagnation in the body.
Vata in JanuaryLike Kapha, Vata is cold. But cold makes Vata people frenetic, full of fear, anxiety, and hyperactivity. Vata cold is characterized in the body by shivers. The cold will still chill them to the bone quite easily, so it's important to bundle up in layers to ensure they stay warm. However, Vata types may notice a renewed sense of calm after the dispersing energy of fall subsides. Rest is almost always good medicine for Vata types and January's cold, dark days invites deep sleep and rejuvenation.
While Kapha types in particular can begin to think about lightening up their diet, Vata types will need to continue eating hearty meals to maintain an insulating layer of fat. The seasonal movement from dryness into moisture is slow and subtle until the warm spring temperatures melt the accumulated moisture and send it running. Vata types may benefit from keeping a humidifier on at night to counter the blasts of dry indoor heat.
Pitta in JanuaryPitta types continue to enjoy the cooler weather. Like Vatas, Pitta will need heavier foods to stay resilient and avoid depletion in January.
Ayurvedic Routine for JanuaryHibernate, reflect, dream. Plant and nourish the seeds that will bloom in spring. Good sleep is at the top of the list in January and should come easy for most. Get to bed by 10:00 pm. It's good to wake with the sun, but don't force yourself to wake much earlier than that - this is the time of year when you naturally sleep more. To support an early bedtime and good rest, finish eating by sun down. Keep warm, especially your core and low back; the kidneys are particularly sensitive to cold.
Continue to practice abhyanga daily with Vata, Pitta or Kapha massage oils depending on your dosha to keep skin supple and moisturized. The extra layer of oil will also keep your warmer! Kapha types can rub Vacha on their body after abhyanga to remove excess oils for an especially enlivening finish.
Add regular breathing exercises (pranayama) to your daily routine to keep your blood moving. Continue with gentle movement typified by yoga, qigong, and/or tai chi. Whatever style of movement you choose, go easy on yourself.
This is a prime time to deepen a contemplative practice as there are few distractions grabbing your attention in January. Keep a dream journal. Dive, like a deep water whale, into the recesses of your subconscious. Engage in more thoughtful creative activities like knitting, drawing, writing, or composing a new song. The stillness and calm make fertile ground for creative exploration. Be honest with yourself and change bad habits now. Plant the seeds you want to bring to fruition this spring.
Diet for JanuarySauerkraut and other sour, fermented foods take center stage in January. Enjoy them, as well as vinegars, pickles, and pickled beets. Pickled garlic is also one of our favorites this time of year. These foods were traditionally the only foods available in late winter, and they are perfect for the season! Many fermented foods are both warming and sour, which will not only create heat, but also moisten your glands and even your skin. These sour foods soften your skin, combating dryness as they release oils with the opening of the pores. A tablespoon of red wine at night will warm the blood, move stagnant blood, and even help cleanse the liver. If you're trying to lose weight, choose light, pungent ferments such as pickled garlic. Or, if you're a Vata type and need something heavier, indulge in sour cream instead.
Grapefruits ripen in Florida in January. Their heat, bitterness and sour taste are perfect for the January climate. Oranges also come into season and, although less bitter, they are still helpful.
In January, notice that fat and sweet cravings subside with the transition from Vata to Kapha season. Your body no longer needs to develop a layer of fat to insulate the skin - it already has. In honor of that impulse to eat less, Kapha types can fast from heavy grains and dairy to "decongest" the blood and get a jump start on the spring. Light grains include those with a little bit of the rough quality, such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, or buckwheat. Avoid heavy breads and wheat.
Warm, substantial foods are still important because it's cold outside. Broth soups with lighter root vegetables make an ideal January meal. Warm, bitter root vegetables such as turnips, rutabaga, or parsnips work best. These root vegetables still have the heartiness you'll need for winter, but they gently coax your body into the natural cleanse cycle that is coming in February. You may even notice mild cravings for bitter foods start to resurface in January after a long summer and autumn hiatus.
Pungent foods and spices, such as pungent broth soups made with ginger, turmeric, bay leaf, and black pepper will all help to keep you warm and mobilize fluids. Cinnamon assists in maintaining good circulation and a healthy blood sugar balance. Hing, fenugreek, and black cumin are all hot bitter spices ideal for Vata and Kapha in winter. Pungent foods should not be eaten before trekking outdoors into the cold, as they open your pores and leave your body vulnerable to catching a chill. Instead, have these spices at home during dinner. For dessert, Kapha can enjoy lighter options such as baked pears with cardamom.
Herbs for January
Cleansing & Invigorating the BloodJanuary is the most important month to cleanse & invigorate the blood, which becomes very stagnant due to the cold. Cleansing is even more important if you've been celebrating too much over the holidays. Start off with a 3 day kitchari cleanse. Then, choose these herbs to enhance the cleansing effect.
Hot bitter herbs cleanse and invigorate the blood perfectly. Foremost among these are Chitrak, Shilajit, and Guduchi. Shilajit is a rejuvenative that cleanses the urinary tract and lungs, while bolstering strength and supporting the immune system. It purifies the blood and helps remove excess Kapha and natural toxins from the tissues. Guduchi has the unique effect of balancing all three doshas and acts as a hot bitter to cleanse the blood and liver. Chitrak is a powerfully hot blood tonic. This Blood Cleanse Tincture contains Sassafras, which cleanses and moves your blood so you can feel your fingertips.
Respiratory HealthAs a hot bitter, Pushkaramool balances both Vata and Kapha. It is especially useful for damp, Kapha type respiratory issues that easily creep up this time of year. Sinus Rinse Drops contains Bayberry to flush the ears, nose, and throat, push winter cold out of the sinuses. It also contains turmeric, one of the foremost hot bitter herbs for invigorating the blood. Goldenrod warms and tonifies the kidneys which are especially susceptible to frigid temperatures. Bacopa warms the body and clears the mind, bringing back mental acuity after a brain fog.
Weight LossIt's no coincidence that the start of January brings many New Year's resolutions aimed at weight loss. In fall you crave fats and heavier foods to build up an insulating layer to protect you from the impending cold. By January, you've reached your fat limit. The rich, heavy foods that seemed so appetizing in the fall, can easily feel like lead in your belly. As the season shifts from the Vata season of fall and early winter, to the Kapha season of late winter and spring, so do your cravings. Your body moves from scavenging to build fat into beginning to shed fat. Favor a diet of lighter, Kapha pacifying foods to harness this potential. Herbs that can support this process include trikatu and/or bitter orange peel. Trikatu is the quintessential Ayurvedic herb formula for pacifying Kapha. It's warming pungency serves to melt weight away. Bitter orange boosts the thyroid. It also contains synephrine, a drug aimed at encouraging fat loss. It acts to constrict blood vessels, increase blood pressure and increase the heart rate.
Weight Away is a cleansing formula with herbs traditionally used for weight loss, managing food cravings, boosting circulation, and encouraging proper fat and sugar metabolism. It cleanses the entire system after heavy meals leave you feeling tired and drowsy.
By eating seasonally and honoring your body's cravings, cleansing and the weight loss cycle starting in January happens naturally.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.
John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 6 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.
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Any suggestions for pitta in January especially when skin issues arise?
In terms of skin issues, favor easy to digest foods - https://www.joyfulbelly.com/Ayurveda/ingredients/guna/Easy that are Pitta pacifying. Avoid nightshades, gluten, fried foods, cheap oils and alcohol in particular. Add blood cleansers like turmeric to your diet.
I have always read that spring is the best season to cleanse, and then fall. Januar is the best? I am doing a cleanse now because of holiday sweets! How often do you recommend cleanse/resets? Thank you, I love your monthly advice!
It's true that spring and fall are also ideal cleansing times.
You're right! January is definitely a Kapha/Vata focused month because it brings with it the qualities of these gunas. Pittas will generally do best with heavier, sweeter foods at this time to keep them grounded. You can see some suggestions here: https://www.joyfulbelly.com/Ayurveda/ingredients/dosha/Pitta/taste/Sweet