Our ancestors braved some of the toughest winters on the planet. Yet, instead of complaining about the cold, they came out the other side building symbolism around this season’s ability to inspire stillness, self-reflection, and hope for renewal. Across cultures, our ancestors altered their approach to wellness during winter — and there’s much we can take from their learnings.
When we look at winter wellness practices within Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and Mexican and Native American shamanism, it is evident that a rebalancing of mind, body, and spirit is essential to not only braving the stillness but providing opportunity for renewal.
Don’t get me wrong, standard winter wellness practices are still green-lighted. All things functional medicine and immune boosting are practices we should still hang onto during this time. And the typical winter supplements still hold immense value — vitamin D for immune and nervous system support, vitamin C for cardiovascular and immune health, zinc for enzymatic, immunological, and antiviral properties, and omega-3 for brain health. Also your year-round wellness routine of drinking lots of water, getting fresh air, moving your body, and having restful sleep — is just that, year-round. If any of these practices work for you, carry them with you into this season and look to add a few of the below ancestral approaches to winter health.
Amp Up Your Kapha: Ayurveda’s Winter Dosha
India’s healing system of Ayurveda is rooted in natural elements and emphasizes adaptability and balance during the changing of seasons. Within Ayurveda, winter is Kapha season. Kapha, being a mind-body constitution or dosha, is portrayed through the elements of water and earth. Envisioning the qualities of water and earth, or mud — one feels heavy, slow, cold, damp — and these are often attached to winter. When Kapha is out of balance we may feel chilly, sluggish, and hold on to physical and emotional weight. Spiritually, we may have attachment to false narratives. A Kapha balancing winter routine encourages consumption of warming spices like cinnamon, clove, ginger, turmeric, and black pepper. It includes breathwork that warms organs and fights sinus congestion. It consists of oil self-massage to promote a mind-body connection, grounding, and warming in the physical body. Maybe practicing winter Ayurveda means you wake up with a spiced-up warming tea or saffron latte instead of coffee, you might swap breathwork for mindless social media scrolling, or you could drop the nighttime Netflix binge for a quick self-massage moment.
Face the Winter Darkness with Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine, winter encourages us to retire into the depths, turn inward, and face the shadows within us. Chinese medicine tells us the organ system of the kidneys and bladder is dominant in this season. The kidneys hold Qi, or life force energy, and by the time winter rolls around, our Qi has been depleted and needs nourishing. To rebuild life force energy, we may practice self-acceptance, become a gentle witness to our emotions, and use grounded listening when talking to others. Supplements that help during this season include broth and chicory root to help the kidneys and digestive system, burdock root for its antioxidants, and astragulus for immunity. Supporting the physical and emotional body is essential in Chinese medicine, so picking up one or two of these practices with gentleness is more beneficial than forcibly incorporating all of this at once.
Lean into Celebration, Generosity and Feasts with Native American Shamanism
Native American shamanism approaches winter with feasting, group prayers and storytelling, dance ceremonies, and giving things to others. They also incorporate osha root and goldenseal for respiratory health during this typically cold time. Applying and adapting their practices to today, this may look like conscious consumption of whole foods, getting together with loved ones to share your intentions, using Zoom to share family stories with relatives, dancing alone in your room to move out stagnant energy, donating to local charities during the colder months, or incorporating a supplement while giving reverence to this culture’s knowledge of herbs.
Transitional Healing Practices Inspired by Mexican Shamanism
In Mexican shamanism, winter is a turning point, a full rebirth of spirit and sun. Mexican shamanism moves through this season with introspection and self-healing which often looks like practicing forgiveness, spiritual fasting, cooking meals with others, working through our darkness, and finding warmth. To draw practices from this wisdom, you may ritualize the lighting of incense or candles to depict the presence of spirit, start some honest journaling, finally address the concept of inner child and shadow work, or find warmth through the people, resources, and personal values that support and ground us throughout the year.
In awareness of human intersectionality, your ancestors’ culture may not have been mentioned. However, the practices described are intended to remind us of the various ways we can shift our wellness routine to align with the seasons. Equally, it reminds us that outside of the modern wellness narrative of cleansing and biohacking, there are many ancient and sacred traditions that hold healing wisdom.
This year in particular, we are all braving a new winter. Humans have been navigating this season of emotional, physical, and spiritual change for centuries but for many of us this season is unprecedented. Not only are we facing a changing season but other impactful altered landscapes: climate, working from home, spirituality, and politics. It feels scary and exhausting to move through this transformation, and daunting to try to stay grounded during what feels like constant shifting and upheaval. In these times, it can be comforting to remember — that although different — our ancestors went through their own extremes, challenges, immense darkness, and managed to move through it with reverence for its gifts of self-reflection, regeneration, and renewal. Our ancestors are asking us to see the magic, intelligence, and potential within the rituals, traditions, and practices they left behind for us. Let’s begin to ask ourselves how we can best apply their sacred wisdom to our experience of well-being during this season.
Kahryn Pedroza is an intuitive-intersectional wellness educator and writer. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies with a double minor in Sociology and Health Studies from the University of San Francisco. She combines this education with certifications in functional medicine health coaching and yoga teaching and her own rhetorical knack to communicate in person, online, and in print about the intersectionality and accessibility of wellness, sustainability, spirituality, and intentional living. You can read her creative work at ILoveYouLikeThis.com and connect with her on instagram @nyrhak.