There are three good reasons for your weight to be on the increase now, during winter and spring. Fortunately Ayurveda offers three effective strategies for you to maintain your natural weight – and prevent the dreaded cellulite.
Let’s understand why we so easily gain weight in winter and spring. First, our metabolism must work harder to produce the extra heat needed to keep us warm in cold weather. This requires more calories be consumed. Second, cold causes our peripheral blood circulation in the skin to shut down, so that heat is prevented from radiating away. This is why our skin is paler now. As opposed to this our skin turns red in the heat, when the skin’s circulation opens up to allow heat to be lost by the body. Ayurveda understands that when peripheral circulation shuts down, this concentrates our heat or ‘fire’ in the core. The ‘agni’ or ‘digestive fire’ in the core now gets stimulated. Appetite increases. So the extra calories in chocolate cake or sticky toffee pudding begin to look increasingly attractive.
The third reason is more subtle. In nature the qualities of Kapha (one of the three fundamental dynamics in life) increase during winter and spring. These are the qualities of dullness, slowness, heaviness, oiliness, coldness and sluggishness. As these increase in our natures, they slow down our metabolisms – the processes transforming nourishment into energy in us. Now, instead of burning off extra calories, we tend to hold on to them. And so we put on weight. This is especially true if you have a kapha sort of nature. If kapha does increase you may also be prone to low mood, lethargy, head colds and other health problems that crop up more frequently now.
How can you prevent this weight gain and other kapha problems?
There are three strategies to consider. The first would be to recognise more precisely, and tune ourselves more finely, to the extra needs for calories. So that we do not end up eating more calories than we truly need. The second would be to stimulate our metabolisms to more efficiently burn off calories – strengthening the fires if you like. The third would be to balance kapha in this kapha season. This third approach gives us other interesting options to keep weight normal.
How do we recognise how many calories we need and so prevent intake of excess calories in our diet? The strategy here is relatively simple. It is just a matter of eating according to hunger. Unfortunately nowadays we have so complicated a life that we tend to eat because of other reasons – time constraints, to be social, to fulfill emotional needs etc. You were probably trained to over-eat, to clean your plate! These habits and training mean we no longer eat because of hunger and we no longer stop eating when hunger is satisfied. To help regain this natural wisdom we have a CD called: ‘Weight Balance and Digestion’. This has many simple strategies to get you back in touch with your body’s needs for food.
The next approach we can take is to stimulate our digestion and metabolism to burn off more calories. One suggestion here is to use more hot culinary spices in cooking. Use ginger, pepper, mustard seeds, garlic, chillies, fennel, cardamom, turmeric, cloves, basil, cumin, coriander and so on. These are digestives. They stimulate the digestion. Ayurveda recognises that this in turn stimulates metabolisms. So we end up burning off more calories. You recognise this after eating a hot curry. You will have experienced the excess heat and consequent perspiration that has resulted from speeding up your metabolisms with the curry.
What is available to buy or make?
To make life easier there are blends of spices available for particular purposes and can be bought on line. Such as the Digestive Spice Mix, Cholesterol Spice Mix, Immunity Spice Mix, Vata Churna, Pitta Churna, Kapha Churna and so on. There is also a Digest Tea and a Be Trim Tea that can be taken between meals for the same purpose. There are more complicated herbal formulas to strengthen digestion and metabolism like Herbal Digest or Meda (which means ‘fat metabolism’). These are taken one tablet after meals twice daily. Another simple strategy is to sip hot water often between meals. The previous approach, of self awareness in regards to food, and methods to stimulate digestion are covered extensively in the Day course on Digestion.
The third approach is to balance kapha. This would include many traditional activities that were associated with this time of the year. Exercise is one, even if the weather is cold and miserable. The way you get out of that mood is actually to get moving. Another strategy is to get up early. Sleep-ins just make you lethargic and dull. Whilst being up early leaves you more light and lively. Get involved in more activities (remember your New Year’s resolutions?). Another tradition in spring was fasting during Lent.
This raises the topic of spring-cleaning. This time of the year is really good for eliminating toxins that have accumulated in your tissues. There are many strategies for this in Ayurveda. One would be to eat lightly for one day in the week. This used to be done on Fridays. So try doing a ‘fruit and fluid day’. For the whole day you eat only fresh fruit (other than bananas which are hard to digest) and fluids like soups, and herbal teas. This is not so difficult. Take some fruit for breakfast, a nourishing soup for lunch with a fruit salad dessert and a soup for the evening meal, without the toast. The beauty of this simple strategy is that it is not too difficult, as it is only for a day. In fact you may be surprised at how good it makes you feel. This encourages you to do it every week. This also causes you less work in preparing meals this day.
In Ayurveda there are many other strategies to help you keep your balance. These include the use of herbal preparations such as Be Trim 1, or if you have a voracious appetite Be Trim 2. The beauty of the Ayurveda approaches is that they make you feel good. You are not struggling with your weight. You are learning how to better take care of yourself. As you take better care of yourself you feel better and as a side effect, or should I say side benefit, you lose weight.
More information is available on maharishi.co.uk
By Donn Brennan MB BCh BAO, MRCGP, MScAyu.