Winter in Bangladesh is a short yet special time. Although not bitterly cold, the air is very dry. It’s a season for rest, rejuvenation, reflection and celebration of the year gone past.
Those of us who live in Dhaka are most social in winter with a plethora of weddings, events of all kinds, parties, fair and carnivals taking place the whole time. Winter is a time for dressing up in our fancy silk saris and staying out late, eating late and drinking coffee late into the night in order to convene with our friends and dear ones. Such is the culture in Dhaka in 2019.
In the world of yoga and Ayurveda we would not prescribe this kind of lifestyle as it would not promote health and wellness. People love to be social and they also want to look young and fit however these two cannot go hand in hand unless there is a compromise. Ayurveda is a 5000-year-old holistic healing system, which originates from India. It is a system which simply put, helps an individual live their life, and by extension design their diet, lifestyle, rest, habits, etc according to their environment and the seasons. It is the sister science of yoga.
So here are some ideas to incorporate into your daily routines in order to max out on your health this winter season.
In winter the nights are longer and we need to get extra sleep. A good time to wake up is 7 am given you have gone to bed by 11 pm. Upon waking up you start the day by drinking a cup of warm water (lime juice optional) to help flush toxins from the system. Next you can do some oil pulling for five to ten minutes using any organic oil, I personally prefer locally sourced organic coconut oil for this. You take a teaspoon of oil in your mouth and swirl and swish it around inside your mouth and through the gaps of your teeth. After 10 minutes spit out into the toilet (the sink will get clogged). This ancient technique helps to pull out toxins or ama is it’s called in Sanskrit from the mouth and oral cavities. Following this, you can brush your teeth with a herbal toothpaste. I love the brand Meswak as it does not contain chemicals.
Recently Dhaka air has been very polluted and a lot of us are suffering from seasonal allergies and persistent coughs. In Ayurveda neti pots are used with lukewarm saline water to cleanse the nasal and sinus cavities. This is done by pouring the water in through one nostril and letting it out through the other.
You can now do some basic exercises to warm up the body and get your blood and energy flowing. I recommend doing the yoga sequence known as sun salutations several times to stretch and strengthen the body or if you prefer a ten minute HIIT workout is also favorable first thing in the morning to get your heart up and beating. If you are an early riser you can even step out for a walk and a healthy dose of sunshine! Vitamin D is super important for good health!
I believe that it is important for all individuals to devote time for their health and wellbeing and it should be considered a priority. That said I also acknowledge that modern life is hectic and busy. So the days when you have time, after morning exercise, definitely do an abhangyam. It’s a simple oil massage starting from the soles of the feet all the way to the face and if there is time scalp. Let the oil soak in for five or ten minutes and then shower it off. Make sure the oil you use is the same quality that you can eat. Do not do this, especially on the hair if you have a cold or a tendency to catch cold.
You are now ready for your day. Bring on the clothes, hair and makeup! In winter especially on days that are very cold it’s best to cover your neck and ears. Wear natural fabrics like wool or flannel or heavy cottons and avoid synthetic fabrics. It’s a good idea to keep the feet covered in socks as this will keep the whole body warm and comfortable. Dark clothing is better in winter as it soaks up sunlight during the day and also makes one look trendy and slender!
Let’s venture onto the topic of food and nutrition now. In winter it is best to avoid all things cold in nature. Food should be warm, soupy or stew like. Nihari or paya (bone broth) is perfect as a breakfast on special occasions whilst avoiding any kind of bread with this is a good ideas as they are merely empty calories devoid of nutrition. On a more regular day hot porridge with fruit and eggs make a great protein and carbohydrate packed combo to get you through the first half of a demanding day with good energy and brain power. I like to eat a late breakfast on most days, around 11 am, having fasted most of the morning and done yoga with just a black coffee to wake up. I also love eating super foods such a chia or flaxseeds. They are rich in fiber and omega three fatty acids supplying nutrition to the brain while also being kind to the digestive tract.
Lunch time should be around 1 pm. A typical lunch can consist of the usual rice, dal, stewed vegetables and egg or fish or meat. Meat should be eating sparingly, only twice a week if you are exercising a lot. Rice should also be consumed in moderation. Winter offers an array of exciting vegetables - focus on those instead. You can also make a wide variety of health, nourishing soups, not to mention the best and most healing kitchari (boiled organic rice with pulses and turmeric and other spices and vegetables) to balanace the body, mind and soul. Try to have vegetables and food that contain vitamin C. In winter we are more susceptible to colds and flu so try to substitute with a vitamin C supplement to help your immune system do its job well. Try to eat a dollop of ghee with each meal. Ghee has healing properties in Ayurveda and also use a variety of spices to cook with especially ginger and turmeric as both have heating properties.
It’s always good to eat freshly cooked meals which have not been refrigerated. Also avoid processed, canned or packaged foods. It is a good idea to soak vegetables in vinegar and water to remove chemicals and toxins before cutting and consumption.
I am not a fan of snacking or grazing throughout the day so if you really need a second coffee or tea have it by 2 pm, any later and it will interfere with and ruin your sleep and thereby the natural circadian rhythm of your body! In winter we don’t feel as thirsty as we do in summer and so our bodies can often get dehydrated without us realizing it. Stay hydrated and drink extra water and make sure you have sufficient electrolytes in winter – this will also help you prevent muscle pulls or spasms. Isotronics is a great local brand for electrolyte drinks which are great for you if you play any kind of demanding sports etc. Chapped lips are common in winter and also a sign of dehydration. You can use a sugar scrub to work off the dry skin and moisturize with an ethically sourced, locally made lip balm. Dhaka dough has very good lip balm as do many small local businesses! Support them this winter instead of buying foreign brands (I realize this has nothing to with Ayurveda).
After work, you can do some exercise to release tight muscles and knots and release stress from having been behind a desk or doing whatever it is you do all day.
I recommend going to the gym or doing yoga or going for a walk; if possible try and do one of each every alternate day. An exercise buddy or your partner or child would be perfect to include in this kind of quality time spending. If you are working out make sure you don’t drink cold water or beverages afterwards. If you must watch TV this is the time. Not right before bed as the blue light from any kind of screen, phones included will ruin your natural sleep cycle and in the secretion of melatonin in the body.
If you are showering at night make sure you use hot water and moisture the skin with edible quality oil afterwards. Don’t expose yourself to cold night air without the right kind of protective clothing as this can easily compromise your health and make you sick. Be smart and look after your body.
Dinner should be eaten early. Not at 10 pm, an hour before bed. Hot freshly baked chapatis with vegetable and your favourite curry are in order here. Don’t over do the portions but eat slowly and chew mindfully. After dinner you can have some fennels seeds to help digestion. I also love to make warm, healthy and nourishing soup in winter. I get my favourite sourdough bread, which is so good for the gut, and pair these two simple but delightfully pleasing foods as a comforting dinner.
After dinner practice some kind of grounding activity rather than scattering your energy uselessly. Choose a mindful activity such a reading a book, journalling, sewing or sketching something. Maintain a gratitude journal or spend some time in prayer or meditate. Meditation and prayer are powerful forms of mindfulness and they can not only help a person destress from a busy day but also make them calmer and stronger in the mind.
I love having golden milk before bed. It is an ancient ayurvedic recipe but these days it’s probably a good idea to use a vegan source for the milk such as nut milk or coconut milk. Coconut milk is easy to make at home and nut milk can be sourced from Dhaka Dough or also easily made at home. It’s a combination of turmeric, milk, various heating spices such as ginger, black pepper and nutmeg (a natural sleep aid) boiled together. Ginger is powerful in aiding digestion as well as keeping the body warm and fiercely protective in warding off infections and viruses.
I like to remove all my makeup before bed using organic coconut oil and then use castor oil on my lashes and eyebrows. I love using a sugar lip scrub by Azuria Organics to exfoliate my lips. I also love to use fullers earth available at Jatra to wash my face instead of using harsh chemical based soap or facewashes. Go to bed with a quiet and calm mind that is determined to live the best possible life with each waking day.
Children should be given ghee and care should be taken so that they don’t catch frequent colds. Bathing should be restricted to daytime only and early bedtimes are suggested for growing children due to short nights and early school alarms.
Elderly people should shower every alternative day and get sufficient sunlight exposure to prevent aches and pains and get their daily dose of vitamin D.
Dhaka city is nowadays extremely polluted with the air quality being equivalent to smoking seven cigarettes a day (according to the popular app “S**t I Smoke”). With that in mind restrict your activities especially exercising to indoor gyms or studios and when on the street wear a mask.
In Ayurveda the seasons or nature and our bodily constitutions are known as prakrtiti (nature) and doshas and broken into the following Vata (air, dry, cold), Pitta (fire, hot, temperamental, powerful) and Kapha (cold, slow, earthy). Winter is ruled by the element of vata. Dry, cold, brittle. Complement the season by everything warm, comforting, soft.
Winter is a time of rest and restoration. Much of the animal kingdom goes into hibernation during this season. So my advice would be to make like a bear and focus on sleep and relaxation and take life easy during winter. Make the most out of social occasions but know also when to draw the line and head home to give your body the rest it deserves. Self-care is a form of self respect and when it come to respect start with yourself!
Dosha meaning: Each of three energies believed to circulate in the body and govern physiological activity, their differing proportions determining individual temperament and physical constitution and (when unbalanced) causing a disposition to particular physical and mental disorders.
Anika Rabbani is a professional yoga teacher and health coach in Dhaka. She runs yoga classes under the brand called YOGANIKA. To learn more please visit www.yoganikabd.com/yoga or www.facebook.com/yoganika