Act Now! One More Month to Hibernate

Winter’s darkness ushers in all the things that make my inner sloth squeal with delight. Extra sleep, decadent foods, more time for solitude—yay! Lucky for me, the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda supports these seasonal habits 100 percent. 

With the days growing longer and just one official month of winter left, it’s time to lean into hibernation.

Namastay in Bed

According to the classical texts of Ayurveda, we should all get to bed two hours after sunset. In summer, this puts you in bed around 10:00 or 11:00 pm. However, in the New England winter, this philosophy gives us permission to hit the hay around 7:00 pm, or even earlier around the solstice. The idea is to live in harmony and rhythm with nature’s cycles: In summer, we have more sunlight hours, thus more energy to stay awake later. You might notice that you don’t need as much sleep in summer as you do in winter. The colder months are the time to go inward and conserve energy. If you find your eyelids growing heavy during the 7:00 news, Ayurveda advises you to listen to the body’s infinite wisdom and get some extra shuteye. 

Many traditions, including the yoga tradition, teach that we should wake an hour before sunrise to do our spiritual practices. In Sanskrit, this auspicious early morning hour is called brahma muhurta—“the hour of God.” In the ethereal dawn, when the monkey mind is bleary-eyed and slow, the veils are thinner, allowing spiritual practice to unfold with a greater sense of ease—whether that practice is prayer, meditation, journaling, reading inspiring texts, or getting out in nature. For those who love to sleep in, this can be quite a hurdle, especially in the summer when the sun rises at 5:00 am. In the winter, though, it’s way easier to feel like a spiritual warrior. Rolling out of bed at 6:30 am to hit the meditation cushion is far more attainable than 4:30.  

What to Eat in Winter 

Now that we’ve hammered out the sleep details, it’s time to explore what a winter diet looks like. In winter, the environment is dry, cold, rough, mobile, and light. Think about how much extra moisturizer you have to use on your skin in winter versus summer. To balance the qualities of winter, we intuitively reach for the opposite: rough skin is remedied with balms, dry air mediated with moisture, cold with cozy … you get the point. That’s Ayurveda in a nutshell. The golden rule of Ayurveda is “Like increases like, opposites balance.”

Following this principle, winter is the time to say adios to salads, smoothies, and raw fruit, and hello to the foods that go plop on your plate. It’s sweet, wheat, meat, and dairy season! Here’s a framework for when you’re hitting the grocery store. 

  • Balance dry with oily: Choose healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil; coconut, sesame, or avocado oil; ghee; soaked nuts; seeds; eggs; meat and bone broth; and cheese.
  • Balance rough with smooth: Put the raw kale down! This is the time to favor moisture-rich foods like soups and stews, and hot grain cereals versus Corn Flakes. 
  • Balance light with dense/heavy: Rather than light cruciferous vegetables, Ayurveda recommends eating root vegetables in winter, when they’re in season. Beets, yams, turnips, rutabagas, carrots—basically any vegetable that needs to be dug out of the earth (rather than plucked) will have more earth energy. (Ayurveda was doing the whole locavore thing before it was cool.)
  • Balance cold with warm: Raw fruits and vegetables are inherently cold and will leave your body feeling the effects. Favor warm, cooked, well-spiced foods. Rather than munching on a raw apple, try baking it with cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom.  

Be a Wintrovert

We’ve got the diet covered, but what about your social life? If you’re more of an introvert, winter is naturally your season. Kripalu School of Ayurveda faculty member Claudia Welch calls winter “the season of pratyahara.” Pratyahara is the fifth of the eight limbs of yoga; it’s a Sanskrit word composed of two root words, prati, meaning “away or against,” and ahara, which refers to withdrawing from external input. Put the two roots together and pratyahara is all about closing off extra sensory stimulation and mastering the chatter of external influences.

Translation? This is the season to dial back stimulation to our senses, go inward, and get intimate with the inner workings of your mind. Notice what information you’re taking in through the senses, and try to keep it tame. Skip the gallivanting and spend some quality time with yourself. Feel free to say no to the next party invite; just tell them, “Tis the season of pratyahara, and Ayurveda says I have to stay home.”

You officially have permission to hibernate guilt-free for all of February. Sleep more, meditate, eat warming foods, and relish the beauty inherent in the darkness—before the light returns.

Lauren Gernady is the Academic Coordinator of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, an Ayurvedic Health Counselor, and a 500-hour Kripalu Yoga teacher.

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