School of Ayurvedic Diet & Digestion
Do you live in the Southern Hemisphere? You may need the Ayurvedic Diet for July instead.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. His online course Balance Your Ayurvedic Diet in a Week provides tools for gracefully healing with Ayurveda to thousands. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his 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.
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