I’ve had a pretty rocky relationship with winter ever since my family moved to Chicago when I was eight. I tend to get cold, really really cold. In the morning, nothing can warm me up. I HATE being cold. And the lack of sunlight makes me tired and a bit depressed, which makes me super unproductive and slow.
It’s no wonder that I’ve been avoiding winter like hell as I’ve been traveling the world nomadically for the past three years. Winter in the Southern hemisphere (aka summer!) was my way of dealing with the horrible effects of winter on me.
But as I’ve been learning Ayurveda, the ancient Science of Life, I’ve been slowly learning that it’s not winter that is the problem, but how I deal with it. I let everything get to me, affect me, become me. In winter, I simply take on the qualities of winter.
This year, as I’m working on building a roof for myself, figuring out how to not let my environment affect me that much, I decided to try out a Cold Experiment. Instead of turning on the artificial heat in my apartment, I’m going to figure out how to deal with cold and winter Ayurvedically.
I’ve been doing this for about a month, and have had incredible insights and results.
Going back to what I learned in Vipassana meditation, the first thing I now do when I’m cold is feel the sensations on my body. With this, the sensations start losing power.
Whenever I was cold before, my body would react by immediately constricting, making me tense and stressed. But paying attention to the sensations makes me see that cold is simply that, sensations on my body. Yet, my mind was interpreting them in a such a strong way, it caused my whole body to change.
With paying attention, I now can choose how to react to the sensations – choosing NOT to constrict because it’s really unnecessary for me to do so.
This might seem very obvious, but movement is one of the best ways to generate heat inside your body. It is definitely hard to get started with movement when you wake up frozen and going outside the protection of your warm blanket sounds like the worst thing in the world.
But after that momentary pain of cold, which you can now just observe and realize that it’s simply sensations and nothing more unless you make it more, moving will get you warmed up.
In Ayurveda, winter is considered the best time to exercise for exactly this reason. Doing the opposite of winter, keeping your inner fire going.
It is no wonder I had such a bad relationship with winter before – exercising was the last thing I wanted to do, so I stayed cold and miserable.
On super cold mornings, I’ve started making a fire in my wood-burning fireplace. Tending to this outer fire, I’ve been learning a lot about keeping my inner fire going.
Too much “earth” or wood will suffocate it. It needs air pockets to breathe. There’s the all-consuming big fire, and the steady and warm consistent fire. Burning fast and burning out. Or burning just right for a long time.
I’ve been taking these lessons, and as Ayurveda teaches, to working on my bodily fire.
Eastern Philosophies teach that you should leave at least 1/4 of your stomach empty (for air) after eating a meal. That is so your fire has air to breathe, to digest, to keep going slow and steady throughout the day. Too much “earth” (food) will kill the fire. Too little “earth” will burn out too fast.
I used to be unable to eat any spicy foods. Russian food, which I’m used to, tends to be predominately salty. So growing up, I was not exposed to spices that are so important in the winter.
Now, if I’m super cold, I’ll add a bit of cayenne pepper to my food. According to Ayurveda, salty, sour and pungent foods are heating. Of course, you have to be careful. If you eat too many of these, your fire will get too high. I experiment with a combination of these on a daily basis as I feel I need more or less fire.
For example, there was one week where I was craving sauerkraut (sour/salty) and garlic (pungent) all the time! I listened to my body and ate these foods. A week later, when my fire was a bit too high, I was no longer craving these.
I feel a bit like a lizard regulating my internal body temperature with food… it’s fun to be the one in control!
Unlike before, I’m no longer super tired as the sun continues to rise later and set earlier. With the right amount of movement and the right foods, the true sun is inside me now.
Instead of hating winter, I’m working together with it to learn about myself (the microcosm) and the world (the macrocosm).
Keep warm out there!