In the science of Ayurveda, the wintertime is known as the season of Kapha dosha and for good reason. This season generally brings about a feeling of heaviness, sleepiness, increased hunger (which often means increased weight gain), decreased movement and a general state of sluggishness. All of these factors plus the extreme dark and cold conditions that winter brings can easily shift one’s mental state to match the heavy, dark, cold qualities of this season.
Although Kapha types will be most effected by the increased Kapha in our environment during the wintertime, all body types can just as easily become prey to these not-so-desired qualities that winter often bestows upon us. In fact, even areas such as my own hometown in Colorado can induce a state of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), despite our fairly mild and extremely sunny winters. Of course if you live in an area that is mostly dark, damp, cold and dreary throughout the entirety of the winter months, it will be even more essential to take the proper steps to counterbalance the heaviness before it manifests. Here are some symptoms to look out for.
Common Symptoms of the Winter Blues (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
- Chronic low energy
- Exhaustion that does not go away with sleep
- Dull, foggy mind; poor concentration
- General feelings of heaviness (both physically and mentally)
- Low motivation for activities
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Difficulty falling asleep at night
- Excessive sleep (9+ hours nightly)
- Daytime sleeping
- Excessive appetite
- Increased craving for heavy foods such as sweets and refined carbs
- Weight gain
- Low confidence, poor self-worth
If you are prone to or are currently experiencing multiple symptoms listed above, then it is time to create some lightness and balance in your life. It is never too late to make the proper changes you need to find a healthy state of mind and body. Here are some highly recommended and effective ways to balance out the heaviness this winter season (or anytime it is needed!).
11 Ways to Beat Wintertime Depression with Ayurveda
1. Lighten up the diet; follow a Kapha-reducing dietary regimen.
When too much heaviness is occurring in the body and/or mind, it is imperative that we balance this out by increasing the light quality in our lives. One very effective way to promote the light quality is to increase the intake of lighter food types while avoiding heavy foods. Since winter is the season of Kapha and depression is a Kapha predominant emotion, following a Kapha-reducing diet may be helpful. Some simple ways to implement this are:
- Keep dinner light in quality, small in quantity and easy-to-digest
- Avoid all food after 6pm
- Reduce or eliminate heavy foods such as dairy, meat (especially red meat and pork), wheat, gluten, refined grains, refined sugars and processed foods
- Take in more light foods such as broth based soups, kitchari, dals, steamed veggies, quinoa and millet
- Sip on ginger tea between meals (try our extra-potent ginger tea recipe here!)
- Use stimulating spices such as ginger, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon and trikatu
Click here for more details on a Kapha-reducing diet.
Click here for a full Kapha-balancing food chart.
2. Keep a healthy sleep schedule; avoid excessive sleeping at night.
Kapha types and individuals with a Kapha disorder (such as depression) have a tendency to crave sleep when out of balance. This can lead to one sleeping 10+ hours each night or staying up late and sleeping late into the morning, neither of which are recommended when trying to treat depression.
Instead one should create a healthy sleep schedule each night by going to bed at an ideal time, awakening early and sleeping between 6-8 hours each night. Here is an essential sleep routine to adopt when treating depression or any other Kapha imbalance.
- Bedtime: 10-11pm asleep
- Awake time: 5-6am awake and out of bed
- Total sleep: 6-8 hours
This may take some training if your sleep schedule is extremely different, however this will be a crucial part of the treatment and should be administered, even if you simply shift the hours and amount of sleep by 30-60 minutes each week. Please remember it is not only sleeping the 6-8 hours each night but when we are sleeping that will help us regain balance and remove the depression.
3. Avoid daytime sleeping.
With the cold, dark and dull days that are prevalent during the winter season, it is very common to feel the need to nap throughout the day. Unfortunately, daytime napping is extremely Kapha provoking and will only promote more heaviness, dullness and sluggishness in the body and mind, causing the depression to increase further.
If you are accustomed to taking a nap throughout the day, try to replace this unwanted habit with a stimulating activity. Here are some examples to try.
- Take in 10 deep, belly breaths in the fresh air
- Splash cold water on the face with the eyes open
- Take a brisk walk
- Sip on a stimulating (but herbal) tea blend
- Stay hydrated by sipping on warm-hot water between meals
- Perform 5 sun salutations
- Perform legs up the wall for 3 minutes
These activities involve increasing the blood flow in the body and oxygen to the brain, and will be much more beneficial for treating the depression rather than increasing it further.
4. Begin each morning with 10 sun salutations.
With a new wake-up time of 5-6am, one is likely to feel a bit sluggish upon awakening until the new schedule becomes a bit more natural. By performing 10 sun salutations each morning one will get the blood pumping throughout the body and get the energy flowing! The sun salutation is a great full body movement activity for Kapha dosha and will promote a sense of lightness, warmth and motion. It will help remove dullness in the mind and remove any stagnation that has accumulated throughout the night. All of these factors will help you begin the day with a solid foundation and counterbalance the heavy, dull and sedentary nature that depression brings.
5. Perform Nasya (medicated nasal oil) each morning.
Nasya is the application of a medicated nasal oil and is a very effective ways to treat mental and emotional imbalances. When treating depression or any other Kapha imbalance in the mind, one should use a more stimulating nasal oil that contains the herbs Vacha and Brahmi. These herbs are specific for treating mental imbalances and are beneficial for removing the heavy, dull qualities that penetrate the mind when dealing with depression.
Directions: Each morning at least 30 minutes before food intake, apply 3-5 drops of the recommended nasal oil in each nostril while the head is comfortably tilted back. Take a deep inhale in through each nostril after the application and lay back with the head tilted for at least one minute to allow the oil to absorb throughout the sinus cavity. For the best results make sure to be consistent.
6. Keep a positive attitude as much as possible (positive energy attracts positive energy!).
This may be easier said than done, but it is extremely important to keep a positive outlook despite the contradicting feelings of depression. Negative energy breeds negative energy and will only take you deeper into a depressed state. Instead use awareness to really take a look at the mind and your thoughts in order to become more conscious of these negative patterns that we create. Once you become aware of these patterns you can then begin to break these habits. It may be contrived at first, but just as with any new activity, it will become easier and more natural with consistent practice.
For example, if you find yourself dwelling on the notion that you are not good enough and do not deserve to be happy, switch this thought process around and tell yourself that you are amazing and deserve the best in life. With total awareness of our mind, we will begin to see and recognize these negative thought patterns as they are and this is the first step to creating real change!
7. Get 30 minutes of intentional movement (aka exercise) in each and every day.
The dark, cold days of the winter season and the depression that comes along with it often lead to a sedentary lifestyle. Lack of movement throughout these days will inevitably lead to increased systemic Kapha, weight gain, fatigue, stagnation, dullness, sluggishness, low self-esteem and a deeper state of depression. Alternatively making sure to get at least 30 minutes of intentional movement each day (this does not include walking around at work, sorry!) will counterbalance these Kapha predominant qualities, giving you a new sense of both physical and mental lightness.
This can be performed in one go or in several rounds if needed. For example, some days you may do 10 minutes of the sun salutations each morning, take a 10 minute brisk walk on you lunch break and another 10 minute walk after dinner. Some days it may be more appropriate to go the gym and perform a 30 minute session on the elliptical. No matter what you choose on any given day, the most important factor will be consistency. Of course if you find yourself falling off the wagon for several days, it is not too late to jump back on! Here are some exercise options that will be more geared for Kapha and the depression that it brings.
- Brisk walking (ideally in fresh air)
- Stair machine
- Light weights done with quick repetitions
- Mild to more intense Yoga
- Zumba or a fast pace dance class
- Aerobic classes
- Home exercises using quick repetitions
8. Get some fresh air each and every day.
It is easy to become habituated to staying inside and hibernating throughout the winter. Unfortunately, this will only provoke the depression further as the winter months go by. Instead suck it up and bundle up as needed to allow yourself to get some crisp, cool fresh air each day. Some days may be warm enough for you to take a walk, especially if you make some time mid-day when it tends to be at its warmest point. Other days might be a bit too cold for a real walk which means you will have to simply bundle up and step outside for a few deep breaths in the fresh air.
This simple practice will not only increase oxygen throughout the body, but allow you to soak in some sunlight which will be equally beneficial for your psyche. You have already committed to 30 minutes of movement each day, so you might as well do it outdoors when possible!
9. Welcome some Self-care into your daily routine.
Self-care is an essential factor in any healthy daily routine. Since the state of depression is often plagued with feelings of a low self-worth, these nourishing tools will be a powerful way to show yourself the love and care you deserve. Here are some of my favorite self-care techniques that are more specific for the winter season and the depression that it brings.
- Ginger Baking Soda Bath (click here for our home recipe)
- Self-oil massage (abhyanga) using a warming, stimulating oil
- Spending some time in nature
No matter what you choose, it will be essential to perform at least 3-7 self-care practices each week throughout the winter season to prevent or treat the seasonal depression.
10. Perform Kapalabhati, three times daily.
Kapalabhati is a well-known breathing technique used in Yoga therapy. It is a stimulating and heating breath and is a powerful way to combat Kapha imbalances in the body and mind. Whether you are looking to prevent seasonal depression or treat the depression that has already manifested, performing this breathing technique throughout the day will help to remove stagnation, dullness and heaviness while stimulating the circulation, digestion and metabolism.
Directions: Perform 4 rounds of 27 breaths three times daily; once in the morning (after the sun salutations), once before lunch to rev up your digestion, and again before dinner.
Click here for detailed instructions on how to perform Kapalabhati pranayama.
11. Take a Kapha-reducing, stimulating herbal formula.
When dealing with an imbalance of any kind one must first and foremost apply the proper diet and lifestyle changes needed to create balance. However, an appropriate herbal regimen will undoubtably help to expedite the healing process while slowly making the other necessary changes (yes, they take time!).
When dealing with seasonal depression, it will be useful to focus on stimulating herbal remedies that are more geared toward reducing heaviness, increasing blood flow, removing stagnation, stimulating the mind, boosting the mood and treating the overall Kapha that is often prevalent during the winter season. Some of the top Ayurvedic herbs and herbal formulations that fall into this category are:
No matter the herbs that you choose it will be essential to be consistent with them by taking them in regular intervals each and every day. If you are dealing with a severe case of depression, it will be best to seek out the guidance of a knowledgeable Ayurvedic practitioner to get personalized treatment and individualized formulations.
Seasonal affective disorder is often caused by the increased Kapha that is predominant throughout the winter season and is related to the cold, heavy, dark, damp, dull qualities this time of year brings. Whether looking to prevent or treat seasonal depression, one needs to create balance in their life by focusing on a lightening, stimulating diet, lifestyle and herbal regimen. By making these beneficial changes slowly but steadily, one will begin to feel a greater sense of lightness, energy and positivity throughout their being. By using awareness and taking control of our thought patterns, we can begin to create longterm emotional balance and wellbeing throughout the winter season and beyond!