Winter blue. On why I need a kapha practice.

(Scroll to the bottom for quick info on kapha balancing poses, diet, schedule, etc). An odd winter, really.  Last week friends in Chicago told me that temperatures had reached 70 degrees, and I walked the dog in a tee shirt wondering what December meant any more.  Perhaps it means volatility, rushing change, sudden dark.  I have no doubt that freakish weather is part of our environmental legacy and 'super storms' will continue ravishing whole cities - but I don't know what to expect of ordinary every day weather.  Yesterday, suddenly, snow.

Not snow.  SNOW.  As though we'd been brought back to that allegorical childhood we all had, where it pillowed and drifted and blew round the corners of houses until houses disappeared, laced and dusted trees until tree became wonderful.  I listened to the radio Saturday - in itself, not a thing I do any longer but remember from childhood - and watched as the traffic slowed, announcements were made of closings, predictions of school cancellations rolled in.  My sister and I drove many miles across country to the extended family Christmas.  There was fog and heavy air, there was miles and miles of white, disappeared fences, undulating fields.  The car slid in the parking lot as we arrived and feet made that squeaking on new snow noise.  It was warm, though: on the sidewalk a black water puddle and I paused, as the door opened and the riot sound of family and warmth and dozens of children I don't know rolled out the opened doorway; I paused and watched the lazy snowflake hit the puddle like some kind of haiku.

When I woke, Sunday morning, the world had vanished.  It continued to vanish, all day long.  There was no traffic, although I live on what I think is one of the busiest intersections in town.  The neighbor boy, drippy nosed and snowsuit clad, knocked on the door and offered to shovel.  I let him.  It snowed on and on, and he kept shoveling.  Every few hours I'd open the door and let my dog go out to join him - two black figures cavorting in on an immense canvas.  A world blanched of all sound.  A freezing of time and reality.  He'd knock again, I'd say he really didn't have to shovel til it ended, he'd sniff and go back to his self-imposed responsibility, the shovel and snowsuit outsizing him.  The winter outsizing both of us.

I sat at the table in the very quiet house and drank tea.  Ate oranges.  Put on more socks.

I watched a mood walk closer to me like a wall of fog approaching over a body of water.

Depression comes that way, some times.

Winter used to be my metaphor for it, depression.  A wall of blank.  A kind of dying.  A place where everything is isolated, nothing makes a sound, and you might lose limbs if you aren't careful.  The heart might freeze inside you.

This is the thing, though: I don't slide down to those depths the way that I used to.  I don't much want to die any more.

But I do notice: the moods in me like weather, like season.  How real they are and how they change the timbre of my voice, the appetite on my tongue, my ability or inability to remember.  I watch, too: how the smallest, dumbest things are the things that help me.  Cinnamon.  Light.  Taking off shoes and socks and getting bare feet, bare hands, on to the mat and moving until I sweat.

Look: the ancients understood seasons - night to day, fall to winter - and they understood characters - gregarious and earth motherish, or bookworms, clowns, family centered or rogue.  They understood that happiness and enlightenment come from a full on acceptance of who and where we are and living appropriately.

The practice of yoga is learning who you are and where you are (winter, family, mid west plains) and understanding.  Understand that this affects your basic experience of life and learning to dance, move, adapt, thrive within it.

The boy kept knocking on the door.  I gave him an orange and hot chocolate.  The dog first loved the snow, then shivered.  We hunkered down, and then I wrote this:

Hands and eyes and mind grow dry and numb, the fire all draws in.

Which is my poet brain striking on the truth of ayurveda of this season.

Winter begins dominated by vata and moves toward kapha.  To survive, we need to balance kapha energies with food, with self care and body movements, with kapha balancing yoga practices.

Winter's short days affect us, whether we are fully Seasonally Affective Disordered or simply hungry for more light and longer days - a greater sense of awakeness and time to live.  Further: holiday season will bring with it a sense of being frenzied, broke, over wrought, under appreciated, lonely and misunderstood no matter how fantastic your social and familial relationships are or whether or not you observe a holiday.  Even the fact of NOT observing a holiday can stir up deep rooted emotional connections.  The end of one year and the anxieties about a coming one contribute foreboding, a sense of shortness, or overwhelm.

Know this, and accept.  Accept, and then find wild joy, anyway.

Yoga teaches us survival, and then more than survival into joy.  There are things, yoga teaches, you can do.  Do them.  Perhaps there is a reason we humans have a hodge podge of celebrations - and all celebrations of light - in the darkest days of winter.

Celebrate ridiculously, for this is how human beings get through.  Celebration, commemorate, make holy, pray, observe, and practice.  Same things.

My niece has learned Christmas songs in the last few weeks.  From her carseat in the back during that long drive, she kept refraining, every now and again.  Let it snow let it snow.  Let it.  Snow.

Let it.  Accept, and find deep joy in the deep snow, deep joy in the deep body.


Mid to late winter tends to be dominated by kapha energies; the sky is low, often cloudy, gray and days are cold, damp and heavy.  Life - even in the busiest places, moves more slowly.  When in balance, kapha energy provides lubrication and structure.  This has to do with joints, mucus, the texture of our skin and our hair.  Kapha type people are often the strongest and have the most stamina.  Kapha has to do with strength, vigor, endurance, stability of both body and mind.  It is responsible for lubrication of joints, flowing of thought and emotion and ideas, moisturizing skin and fascia, maintaining immunity and lymphatic balance.  Out of balance, it leads to sluggishness, fatigue, ache, mucus related illness, excess weight, negative emotions such as attachment, envy, greed (and the loud relational negatives of loneliness, comparison, jealousy which can tip into over dependence or far too much isolation).  Too much kapha energy is earthiness, solidness, taken too far: a sense of being stuck in the mud, buried, dark, cold.

In general, we should follow a kapha - pacifying regimen in the winter. But dry, cold, windy weather can at times provoke vata, too, and can lead to arthritis, indigestion, etc.

FOOD - Appetite tends to become 'heaftier' during winter months - which can lead to weight gain if we answer with highly processed foods and corresponding lower excericse.  However, kapha in itself is the withdrawing of energy from the extremities to the organs, and many people may lose weight in winter if they don't add proteins and grains significantly.  We should not eat the same foods we ate in the summer seasons, and need bulk and warmth and spice.

Incorporate whole grains, buttermilks or cottage cheeses if you do dairy, steamed vegetables, warm soup, and spicy food into your meals. Because your appetite is heartier in the winter, eat more protein- beans, tofu, eggs- and if you’re not a strict vegetarian, chicken, turkey, and fish. Add warming spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper to promote digestion. Drinking sweet or dry wine with your meals will stoke your agni (digestive fire), improve your appetite, and increase circulation. Avoid cold drinks and opt for hot water, hot tea, hot cocoa or chai.

SCHEDULE - much like the cold wet autumnal season, a schudule can help get through the dark time of winter.  Think of softening the schedule, but keeping it moving.  If possible, allow yourself to wake up a little later.  Avoid naps (but know they can be healing, too; just don't fall into a rut as kapha tends to over sleep and the sleep makes us more tired).  Try to be active early in the day and include excercise; give yourself pleasurable activities for the late afternoon and evening - think joy and interest.  Schedule something to look forward to (big: a vacation or long awaited purchase or accomplishment, small: a movie you really want to see or book to read, a lunch date with a good friend, a self indulgant purchase that won't break you in anyway but feels good).  Try new things to keep your interest involved and yourself challenged.


Think circulation.  Massage, get a loofah, scrub and exfoliate.  Find an oil appropriate for your skin and stimulating (bergamot, rosemary, juniper, vertiver, melissa) and indulge in it.


Hard enough to sweat (ayurveda says on brow, armpits, joints and a feeling of dryness in the mouth is the point you need to get to) and challenging enough to break you out of 'stuckness' and stagnation.  Aim to counter Kapha's natural tendency to feel cold and sluggish.  Move through flow and sun saluations with as much a sense of speed and warmth as you can without losing connection and integrity.  This will lighten and warm you.

Most standing asana are invigorating, especially if you hold them for a longer time.  Try holding for 20 breath (that is much longer than you may have ever, ever done so).  Backbends are also heating, and getting extesion of arms and legs (up, over head) promotes the heart to push and the circulation to flow.  Open your chest and the front lines of the body as much as you can.

Kapha is said to be dominant 6- 10 am, so do some sort of asana or excercise then if at all possible.  Just a few minutes.  One salutation.  One stretch. Just do something.  Incorporate firey pranyama into the practice, especially at the beginning and close.  It cleanses that heaviness, mucus, and chest gunk, as well as energizing the digestive system and balancing energy levels throughout the day.


Kapha doshas are trustworthy, stabilizing, grounded people.  But they can tend to be too sentimental and nostalgic for how things were and unable to move forward.  As winter and it's Kaphic tendencies set in, make sure to watch your own proclivities toward others.  Keep yourself challenged and excited and avoid getting stuck in the past.  Realize not all relationships need to be ideal to be rewarding. Allow yourself to be given gifts and appreciated. Practice open hearted gestures of compassion, play, service.  Don't try to be oversimplistic about your feelings (guilt, depression, fear), but see them for what they are without letting them become everything.  It is possible to know you feel guilty but also know you ARE not a fundamentally guilty person.  Go for lightness and laughter.  Watch comedies.


Transitioning into Fall, #classnotes

I walk my dog along the river, most mornings.  It is good for me.  Yesterday, though, I groaned and creaked; the sky was gunmetal gray, the river black, the wind staggering and pulling leaves and milkweed silk away into what could only be darkness.  Darkness, and cold.  The sound of those brittle leaves, skittering down the pavement when there was no other human noise, pulled at something in my belly. How is it the quickness and fullness - the stark raving beauty of the autumnal feasting and festing and chittery birdsong - so quickly became this dankness and sharp?  I slouched deeper into my coat and my hands would not stay warm.  The dog I think has better transitioning skills than I do; he wanted to stay.

I wanted to go.  We cowered and shuffled our way home through a neighborhood that seemed all railroad track and chainlink fences, beer cans like leaves rolling down the street.  Last week I didn't notice, these.  I noticed the trees on fire.  I noticed the warmth in the sun.

It is good for me, these walkings and meditations: I wondered how it is one transitions into fall.  Or, more generally, how we weather the cold and barren times of change.  What happens to us when we are blown upon?

This, in itself, has been the revelation: it is not a question of how 'one' bears transition or seasons, yoga doesn't ask that.  Yoga asks how you, yourself transition.  If you do.  And how that happens to be working for you.  And if it might change - you might change - to not only cope better but to find the joy in it, the harmony.

In the ayurvedic system, autumn is governed by the vata dosha.  In Chinese medicine, the season affects the lungs and the large intestinal meridian.

Vata: that which blows.  The lungs constrict in a blast of cold air - and stay in shallow breathing patterns if either the external or internal cold lingers on.  This fuels anxiety, hyperexcitability, irritability, a sense of being ungrounded.  The vata dosha itself rules the nervous system, our 'moods' and 'thinking' and 'cognitive ability'.  Imbalance of the vata dosha results in skittery, blowsy, richocheted movements that seem to have no center or gravity.  There is endless activity, but nothing much that matters.  There is crisis, after crisis, after crisis and a hyperfluidity of people and circumstances and things without any of it connecting together.  Imbalance can manifest as lack of enthusiasm, loneliness, fear.  Diminished creativity, unstable memory, scattered thoughts.

The leaves, I think.  The wind.

The large intestine, the colon, is essential to the apana vayu or grounding movement of energy.  It is digestive, yes, but it is also related to our ability to be grounded, nourished, not wispy and famished or bloated and lethargic.  The intestinal meridian needs, in this season of cold and withdrawing, warm and slowly cooked foods.  Earthy, comforting foods. We need not scattered activity but meaningful rituals and deep, profoundly deep, retreat and rest.  The body needs movements that are slow, purposive, contemplative. It is good to do

The preparation and culmination of all that feast, I think.  Rest.  Truly rest.  Create and establish rituals that will hold you in the lean time, the meaningless activity.  Find connection to the unchanging aspect of it - life, I mean life - that exists within and underlies everything.

The surface is blown clear, frozen, withered away.  The way through is to find the deeper core.

Fall is, or can be, a potent time to begin to withdraw and to rest.  To complete things we have started, even as the season completes her own work.

How do you transition? I wondered about myself and realized I wasn't sure I'd ever asked such questions before.  Do I transition?  Or do I react and feel victimized?  Do I, vata style, keep going and going and going in an attempt to override reality with endless activity and surgical attachment to the cellphone?  Attempt to keep busy rather than deal with mental, emotional, or physical issues?  Vata also has a tendency to cling tenaciously to false ideas and hopes even when faced with evidence to the contrary in unconscious efforts to escape dealing with a deeper reality.

The days are neurotic here in Minnesota - it was 80 degrees and colored like jewel box or a laquered chinese painting last week and now here I am scrounging for warmer socks and something to cover my head.  Vata is a dosha, which is usually understood as a personality type.  I am not Vata - I am kapha and pitta pressed so hard it's become stone - but doshas are NOT personality types but characteristics and patterns.  Characteristics are things that all people have, and seasons and earth and rhythms, too.  Vata changes without me directly influence my internal environment.

And what does this mean?  I am so glutted on yogic information it becomes hard to know what to teach or why.  And the accumulated wisdom of thousands of sages, the ruthless edicts about diets and cleanses and practices, the strange stories of yogic transformation that involve at times stopping ones heart or sleeping in the snow or somehow bilocating oneself to be in different parts of the world at once; what does any of that have to do with who we are?  How can yoga mean anything to those of us who do have jobs and families and televisions and high fructose corn syrup?  The stories are lovely as fairy tale and the promise of souls waking up speaks directly to what we most quietly long for.  But what do the stories have to teach us?  Where our our stories?

Again, revelation is backward turning and face slapping.  Biting like the wind, I suppose.

All of this yogic knowledge, the practices, are only relevant if we can apply them to our own selves.  It would be unrealistic and unhealthy to swallow any prescription wholesale, or to believe yoga will turn you into a wandering saint humming chants.  Or to take what any yoga teacher tells you, any class teaches, as the answer.  The answer is in the question.  The answer is in beginning to question.

From there, possibilities unfurl and something deep in the earth is set in motion. 

The point lies in knowing how change affects you, and diet and movement and circumstances, and in learning how powerfully we can respond and grow.  The point lies in realizing we are not powerless, but poignant. Thriving in that power, within and without.  Becoming, through the practices, better selves.

Next post will highlight key concepts, asana, dietic stuff for transitioning into fall.