During November we have the onset of Margashirsha, the 9th month in the Vedic lunar calendar, which marks the beginning of the four month long winter. As per the Vedic calendar, winter is divided into two seasons, each made up of two lunar months. The first season is Hemant Ritu, which begins with the month of Margashirsha, and then leads into Shishira Ritu, the late winter season.
Align with the Spirit of the Season
Just as seasonal variations affect nature, they have an impact on our bodies too. This is why in Ayurveda – the ancient science of life – Ritucharya, or seasonal disciplines with regards to lifestyle, food and exercise, are considered so important in maintaining our physical and mental wellbeing and keeping our immunity high.
With the busy preparation and celebrations of many annual Vedic festivals behind us for the year, this upcoming month of Margashirsha offers a peaceful time where we can slow down, relax and regain our energies. The heavier and quieter spirit of the season invites us to cleanse our body and minds – to pull back from the whirlwind of outer activity experienced during the warmer months, and settle into our own selves.
Naturally at this time of year, we may feel like spending more time at home, reading books, reflecting, cooking warm foods and following practices and rituals that cleanse and nourish our body and strengthen our mind.
A Time to Honor the Nurturing Feminine Forces
Margashirsha is one of the months of Dakshinayana, which is the second half of the solar year. ‘Dakshin’ means South and ‘Ayan’ means movement. ‘Dakshinayan’ is the six month period between Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice. During this period, the Sun moves from North to South, from Cancer to Capricorn. According to the Puranas, Dakshinayana is the phase when the Gods and Goddesses are in their celestial sleep. During this half of the solar year the nurturing and creative feminine forces are honored in the form of the Goddess, whose energies are thought to be prevalent at this time.
On a chilly winter’s evening why not wrap yourself in a warm blanket and play some ambient Goddess chants. Listen meditatively with your eyes closed and absorb the positive vibrations. Ashtalakshmi Stotram and Sri Suktam are devotional chants dedicated to Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, which you can find on the Sattva Meditation and Mantras app.
The Margashira Full Moon
The Full Moon day during the month of Margashira will happen on 6-7 December this year, and is celebrated as Dattatreya Jayanti. It signifies the birth anniversary of Lord Dattatreya, who is considered to be the incarnation of the Trimurtis; Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer and Shiva the Rejuvenator. It is also considered to be the day when Lord Dattatreya got enlightened. On the Full Moon day you can remember and honor Lord Dattatreya by chanting the mantra ‘Aum Guru Datta Namo Namaha,’ ideally during Jupiter hora (hour), which is the ideal phase in the day for spiritual and auspicious activities.
You can also read works by Lord Dattatreya, in particular the Avadhuta Gita or Jivamkuka Gita, which are both discourses given by him.
Warm Oil Massage - Abhyanga
As we move into winter, the cold air tends to dry out our bodies. In Ayurveda, dryness can be countered by oiliness, so the use of oil, both in our diet and through massage, is extremely beneficial.
Abhyanga is a warm oil massage, and can either be done by a practitioner or on your own. You can heat the oil by sitting a ceramic or steel bowl of cold-pressed olive or sesame oil in a larger bowl of warm water. You may want to start by simply oiling your feet before bedtime. Take a small amount of warm oil in your hand and massage it into your feet gently, in a way that feels good. Alternatively you can do a full body massage, by starting from the face or head and working downwards. Use a circular massage motion on your joints and a downward sweeping motion on your limbs. Let the oil soak in for a few minutes before taking a shower.
Abhyanga helps to keep your skin moisturized, enhances circulation and is said to slow down the aging process of the skin. It also promotes a sense of well-being and happiness.
Eating the Right Foods during Hemant Ritu
If we tune in to our own body we will see that we naturally feel drawn to certain foods at different times of the year. It’s rare that you’d walk down a street in the middle of winter eating an ice-cream, or sit out on the hottest day of summer tucking into a spiced hot soup. There’s a reason that your body intuitively knows what to eat and what not to eat during different seasons. Different times of year can bring about certain imbalances in our system, and eating the right foods helps us to re-balance and be in harmony with nature.
Winter diets are traditionally rich in healthy fats such as ghee. Avoiding cold, dry or fried foods and eating more warm or fermented foods is ideal during this time of year. Vegetables such as spinach, beetroot, pumpkin, rice, carrots, pulses and potatoes are great ingredients to cook into warming daals and soups. Other heavier and protein-rich foods like nuts and dried fruits are recommended.
As the external environment gets colder, our bodies tend to conserve more heat, increasing our inner fire. As a result our digestive fire can be stronger in winter, so if you feel more hungry, honor it and eat at regular intervals. It is good practice to sip warm water through the day to stay hydrated and keep the digestive fire strong. Fizzy or very cold drinks are best avoided, especially during mealtimes.
Synchronizing your eating habits with nature will help you keep your immune system strong, and your skin and hair healthy. You can also save yourself from unwanted weight gain or loss, or more serious health problems. It is for this reason that Ayurveda is considered to be a preventative system, as well as a curative one.
Brew up a Power Tea
Cinnamon, Turmeric, Cloves, Black Pepper, Ginger, Cumin and Nutmeg are spices that are great for everyone and, when used in moderation, can be supportive to each one of us at this time of year. You can make yourself a warm drink by crushing these spices into a mug of boiling water. Leave it for a couple of minutes for the spices to infuse, and then strain and drink it slowly.
Tea made from cumin, coriander and fennel seeds (CFF tea for short) is also a power drink that offers a host of digestive health benefits. You can make a quick version by adding a teaspoon of each of the 3 types of seed into a large cup of boiling water, let it sit, and then strain and enjoy. Cumin stimulates the metabolism and controls gas. Coriander reduces inflammation and increases the absorption of nutrients. Fennel also promotes digestion, as well as enhancing mental alertness and the burning of fat.
You can drink your CFF tea in between meals. If drank with a meal it’s best to take just small sips so that the digestive juices are not diluted.
So Winter really doesn’t need to be all gloomy and gray. When you adapt to the qualities and the energy of the season, this time of year can become about cleansing our bodies and minds, renewing and replenishing our spirit.
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