This is in reply to a query from a regular reader of my blog, who is from Poland. He asks – “Doctor, can you write an article about basic elements of healthy lifestyle for people living in northern parts of the globe? For example in my country, from mid October to mid March there is very limited sun light. Sun is very low, usually covered by low clouds and temperature reaches below zero degrees Celsius. In December, day lasts from 8AM to 3PM. From October to May, there is no fresh vegetables, the nature totally sleeps. We can buy vegetables imported but usually chemically preserved and old.
This is a very hard time for people (October-March). Winter affects people’s mood, feelings, health condition…. Doctor, can you give some advice how to keep energy in the body and how to take advantage of low light time? Some animals sleep during that time. Shall we limit our activity?”
This is a brilliant question. Ancient text books of Ayurveda are written keeping India and surrounding part of the world in view. But Ayurveda is deep and wide enough to derive lifestyle advice for people from any part of the world. Let us explore.
A. During onset of Summer
Ayurveda explains the transit period from one type of weather to other as ‘Rutu Sandhi’.
Special precaution needs to be taken in this period.
Due to extreme winters, Kapha and Vata will be increased and collected inside the body. This gets liquefied and starts spreading all over the body during the onset of Summer. This leads to Kapha and Vata increase and may worsen asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, other types of arthritis such as gout, body heaviness, migraines, indigestion, allergic skin and respiratory conditions, etc.
Hence use more of ginger, pepper, garlic, turmeric, vegetables and food stuff that are hot in nature.
Keep your stomach light. Avoid over-eating.
Avoid oily and heavy non veg food stuff.
If you have an Ayurveda center nearby, Panchakarma therapies such as Vamana and Basti come in handy.
B. During sunny days and summer
From the query, I assume that life is normal and easy in this period.
Just do all those things which you can not do during winter.
Allowing body to sweat is important. Keep away from air conditioners as much as you can.
Expose your skin to early morning Sun and get some vitamin D. Because you will be starving for Sun during the other half of the year.
Throughout the day, I would also recommend to expose arms and legs to external atmosphere as much as possible. The skin needs Sun and wind exposure, which is not possible for you during winter. So, make the most out of Summer. Wearing coats & ties, making yourself warmer and overusing air conditioners does not make much sense to me. (However, this may not apply to people with extremely sensitive skin.)
You can have light oily food and fried food in this period. Enjoy cold food stuff at this period, periodically.
The food can be little heavy, since your body will be more active and can burn extra calories.
Oil massage and exercise will keep the body and skin toned and good.
Effect of Dosha: Pitta and Slight Vata will be dominant.
Hence digestion power, skin health will be good.
If you are tired during the day, day sleep for just 15 – 30 minutes, before food is permitted.
Exercise in the morning is better than during evening.
If you feel too much heat, use rose water to wash face.
Enjoy cold water bath (on days when you are not applying oil to the body).
C. During early part of winter
Again care is needed. Use more of bitter, and spices to boost immunity. Consider Panchakarma treatment.
D. During winter
Once the winter sets in, Kapha and Vata will be dominant in the said order.
Digestive capacity will be more during the first half and tends to decrease in the last half of the season (during December and January).
“Some animals sleep during that time. Shall we limit our activity?”
See, there are two basic differences between us and animals. Animals follow the rule of nature, we fight against it. We optimize, adjust, manipulate nature for our survival.
Example 1. Animals breed at a particular season of the year. But we control our desires, tie it in the ropes of relationship, give
it a proper direction and convert that energy into concentration and purpose of our lives.
Example 2. Animals do not have anything like clothes or accommodation, so they do not have any other choice but to adjust with nature and be inactive during extreme winters.
But we have got goals and purposes in our lives. We have got milestones to cross, relationships to take care of, social work to do, people to show love to, work-goals to achieve, knowledge to share. We have so many things to do and so less of time. So, being inactive in this winter period is out of question. We will have to manipulate the climatic condition into an active environment.
- Eat ginger, long pepper, neem, cinnamon, cardamom, clove and turmeric. This will keep the body warm.
- If you have the habit of drinking wine, drink it only to the extent that it does not make you excessively sleepy.
- Avoid day-sleep. Remember, laziness is a byproduct of Kapha, we need to work against to it, to keep it in balance.
- Exercise is a must. To keep up good muscle tone, to keep up good blood circulation and to keep the mind active.
- Oil massage with slight hot oils like mustard oil, is good.
- If you take oily food, be sure to drink warm water.
- Coffee or tea – as stimulative is good.
- Avoid much of milk, curds and dairy products or have them in limited quantities.
- Even if you are not accustomed to massage, apply a little ghee or sesame oil, once or twice a day. This helps in avoiding skin dryness.
- Do not sleep for more than eight hours at any cost.
- Follow Brahmacharya and convert your energy into productive work.
- If fresh vegetables are not available, then take the available vegetables, keep it in hot water for two minutes, and then use it. That way, at lease some preservatives are washed out.
- Pranayama and Yoga are good for any season.
So these are some basic guidelines to build your own daily routine and to chose food and lifestyle habits. Hope it is of some use. Let me know for any clarifications.