Santa Barbara Wellness Directory
Prepare for the Cold Season the Ayurvedic Way

by Claudia Ward, L.Ac, Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist

Change is in the air, the nights are already quite chilly, and the air feels cool and dry. Now is the perfect time to prepare for the colder season. In Ayurveda fall and early winter are equated with the Vata dosha, so not only the outside world but also the body reflect those changes, and the physiology and psychology can be easily thrown out of balance. This can manifest in dry skin, hair, brittle nails, constipation, stress, and fatigue.

The onset of dry and cold days needs therefore be balanced by a diet and lifestyle that is warming, calming and nourishing.

This is a good time to do an Ayurvedic cleanse, such as panchakarma. During the panchakarma cleanse all the doshas are brought back into synch and the warming foods, ghee preparations and warm oil massages during the cleanse are perfect for gently eliminating ama or toxins from the body, while simultaneously lubricating the body inside and out. As a result the skin is soft and glowing, the immune system gets strengthened and body and mind are brought into perfect condition to withstand the stress, and rich foods and treats of the festive season.

Anything you do to nurture your skin during this season is going to pay off. Because Vata is drying, skin neglected in this season tends to wrinkle and age faster.

Before going to bed massage your body with warm moisturizing and rich body oils such as almond or sesame oil for ten minutes. Follow your massage by taking a nice hot bath infused with lavender essential oil. If you don’t have time for a full massage, rub your feet with sesame oil and you will sleep like a baby.
Now is a good time to come to our Prana Center for a Bliss Therapy. This is a 2 hour treatment that includes a warm herbalized oil massage, a steam sauna and shirodara (warm oil poured over the forehead).

As the cold weather starts to move in we naturally want to increase blood flow and circulation to help us stay warm and flexible. Practicing yoga is a wonderful way to help improve overall circulation of the blood and lymphatic systems. Moderate outdoor exercise during this time of year, such as hiking, light jogging and biking or walking are also good.

In Ayurveda, fat is called sneha, which is a synonym for love. This is why in Ayurveda oils are so important, either as part of the diet or applied topically during the warm herbalized oil massages. Our diet now needs to consist of lots of warming, unctuous foods-- healthy oils, such as ghee, olive oil, walnut oil, sesame or flax seed oil, raw butter, coconut oil, and fat from pasture-fed animals or wild-caught fish. Important supplemental fat includes fish or krill oil.

Especially if you already have a Vata imbalance, then this is the season for you to avoid drying foods like crackers, popcorn and salads without a trace of fat.
Make sure you get lots of warm, freshly cooked food. Eating leftovers, raw foods, microwaved, processed and canned foods will disturb Vata. Staring at the computer screen all day, having the cell-phone glued to your ear, and being exposed to radiation from wireless devices will have the same effect. Remind yourself that the cold and dry properties of Vata are already plentiful in your system right now. So you really need to stay away from cold, raw foods. Fall foods should include hot soups, good protein such as wild caught fish or freshly made paneer cheese, or mildly spiced dahl for lunch, warm stewed apples and oatmeal in the morning and only a light dinner at night. If you eat out a lot stay away from sandwiches and salads and eat more soups and cooked vegetables. Roasted vegetables with walnut oil or olive oil and fresh herbs like basil, rosemary or sage are divine! Flavorful lentil or bean casseroles, hearty squash soups and roasted root vegetables, …for dessert Kheer (rice pudding with saffron, cardamon and milk) or baked pears or apples. You get the idea! You can bring your personal spice mix along and sprinkle it on the restaurant food. For those who eat meat of fish, wild salmon or free-range chicken (with skin!) is especially good now. And before you go to bed, have a cup of warm organic milk with a bit of ginger or nutmeg and a touch of honey or warm chai with milk and honey.

Herbal Supplement:
Another good idea would be to stock up on Chyavanprash:
Chyavanprash - is a multi-mineral, multi-vitamin herbal supplement that both rejuvenates and stimulates the body's immune system. It is primarily made from a fruit called amalaki, which is known as the most potent form of natural vitamin C in the world. Amalaki is combined with 30 Ayurvedic herbs. Traditionally this combination is used as an anti-aging, anti-stress medicine, but it is an incredibly effective daily preventive for colds, stress, and exhaustion. It stimulates the lymphatic system to drain, while providing powerful antioxidant properties that work very well in preventing a cold. Chyawanprash is considered more of a food supplement than a medicine, although its medicinal properties are phenomenal. It is traditionally stirred into warm milk or eaten straight from the jar.
Use 1 tsp. 2-3 times a day as a preventive. At the first sign of a cold you can take 3 tsp. every 3 hours with copious amounts of warm water.

Vata disturbance in fall can cause restlessness, anxiety and day-to-day mental stress to increase, which will greatly be improved by the above diet tips. In addition if one makes time to do yoga exercises and meditation, drinks warm beverages, and maybe even enjoys some of the nurturing Ayurvedic massages and therapies the body/mind will be healthy, balanced and relaxed.

I have been studying nutrition since I was 13 years old. Growing up on a rich Austrian-Bavarian diet with lots of homemade cakes and pastries, I simply had to. So I have seen many fad diets come and go. For a while low fat diets such as the Pritikin Diet were popular. In Ayurveda fat is “sneha” which is a synonym for “love”. So there were a lot of love-deprived people running around! Today we know that (healthy) fats are an essential part of the diet, and low fat diets can actually increase the risk of diabetes.

During the current low-carb/pro-protein diet craze, carbohydrates including grains and starchy vegetables have been demonized -- accused of causing weight gain, sugar cravings, diabetes, and blamed as the reason people can't lose weight.

People do lose weight on high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets, though the weight loss is due to water loss and reduced calories, not to lower insulin levels as advocates claim. First, the weight loss is difficult to maintain over the long term. Second, there is some evidence that these diets may increase the risk of coronary heart disease and kidney damage and since a high protein diet is often recommended for people with diabetes, who are already at high risk for heart or kidney problems, it might aggravate their condition in the long run. And a diet high in animal protein can increase the risk for inflammation in the body and certain cancers.

Scientists have found that when you stop eating carbohydrates, your brain stops regulating serotonin, a chemical that elevates mood and suppresses appetite. And only carbohydrate consumption naturally stimulates production of serotonin.

Serotonin is essential not only to control your appetite and stop you from overeating; it's essential to keep your moods regulated.

Antidepressants are intended to activate serotonin in the brain in order to regulate moods. Carbohydrates raise serotonin levels naturally and act like a natural tranquilizer.

Scientists discovered that the brain makes serotonin only after a person consumes carbohydrates. But these carbohydrates must be eaten in combination with very little or no protein!

So a meal like rice and vegetables or a snack like a whole grain muffin will allow the brain to make serotonin, but eating chicken and potatoes or snacking on string cheese will actually prevent serotonin from being made.

Especially women have much less serotonin in their brains than men, so a serotonin-depleting diet will make women feel irritable and prone to over-eating.

Some people need to eat a certain amount of carbohydrates to keep their moods steady. They experience a change in their mood, usually in the late afternoon or mid-evening. And with this mood change comes a yearning to eat something sweet or starchy.

This is not a question of will power, the brain is sending out signals to eat carbohydrates. If the carbohydrate craver eats protein instead, he or she will become grumpy, irritable or restless. Furthermore, filling up on fatty foods like cheese makes you tired and lethargic. Not to mention the dubious quality of fish, meat and most cheeses these days. Will eating a lot of fat and protein, while staying away from carbohydrates turn you into an emotional zombie?

I have been thinking about how this translates into Ayurveda. I like to compare different health systems. According to Ayurveda a high protein diet without grains will create a doshic imbalance and increase Pitta. A Pitta imbalance will manifest in irritablilty, grumpiness, impatience and anger. I am not saying that protein isn’t important, especially in the cold season. Dr. Mishra claims that we all need some kind of animal protein in our diet, otherwise we lose our self-confidence. An interesting thought! But we don’t need a huge steak or protein with every meal, as the high protein/low carb advocates claim. We need to include more grains into our diet.

Grains in Ayurveda, have a grounding, nourishing and calming effect, which corresponds to the serotonin theory above.

Of course I am not talking about carbohydrates in the form of sugar, white flour or fruit juices. I am talking about complex carbohydrates in the form of grains such as rye, millet, quinoa and amaranth. And of course also starchy vegetables like potatoes, beets, yams, parsnips etc.. Basmati rice is consumed a lot in Ayurvedic cooking, and the reason behind it is that it is easy on the digestion, so even though the outer hull of the grain is removed, the body is able to pull out more nutrients because it does not have to work as hard.

I have traveled the world and in most cultures whole grains and vegetables are consumed in great amounts with only a little bit of meat or fish. Just think of the Asian diet or the Mediterranean diet. And you don’t see any obese people there. America is the country with the highest cost of health care and yet the worst health compared to other countries due to the rise in the so-called civilization diseases. I believe the high protein-low carb craze is just a fad that will soon be replaced by yet another one. So go ahead you protein fanatics and have your mid-afternoon string cheese snack, or beef jerky, I for my part, will jumpstart my serotonin levels with a homemade oatmeal cookie and a nice cup of chai!!!

About the Author

and Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist in Santa Barbara Acupuncturist - Claudia Ward,Claudia Ward, L.Ac, Dipl. C.H., CAS
is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist in Santa Barbara, CA.

She specializes in nutrition based on the principles of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine and Western medical research. Her treatments focus on Ayurvedic therapies, detox cleanses, acupuncture, autoimmune diseases, women's health, and chronic pain management.

Claudia combines acupuncture, therapeutic massage, cupping, Ayurvedic therapies, reflexology, essential oils, and herbal recommendations in her work.

Claudia's Acupuncture page in The Wellness Directory

Read the article "Oh Baby! Prenatal and Postpartum the Ayurvedic Way"
- by Gina Tolleson, Santa Barbara News-Press, July 31, 2006

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