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When the temperature dips, turn to Ayurvedic wisdom to benefit from the wonderful health-giving gifts this season provides.

Many people — especially those of us in the colder parts of the world — eagerly anticipate the freedom and joy associated with the sunny days of summer. But for those who follow an Ayurvedic way of life, there's even better reasons to greet the chilly temps of winter with open arms.

In Ayurvedic tradition, wintertime is considered the healthiest season of the year. Why? A healthy, balanced digestion is the key to great overall health in Ayurveda, and winter is when your digestion is at its natural peak. It's the one season of the year when all the doshas (energetic bioforces responsible for health) are in a state of perfect balance.

"Take advantage of the opportunities each season offers you to take your health into your own hands."

In case you haven’t heard of it, Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga. It teaches you how to live in harmony with the seasons through a detailed protocol for health called Ritucharya. The meaning of this Sanskrit term is to follow (charya) the rhythms of the seasons (ritu). The earth rotates around the sun, and at different points along that rotation there are, accordingly, diverse protocols for protecting and enhancing your health throughout the year.

By following Ayurveda’s Ritucharya guidance, you can take advantage of the opportunities each season offers you to take your health into your own hands.

Here's what it means to eat, drink and be merry — the Ayurvedic way — this winter.

Eat More

It's a happy coincidence that Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali and so many other holidays happen during wintertime, as this is the season for indulging in heavier nourishing foods, including different types of meats, sweets (ideally made with organic ingredients) and hearty fare.

Enjoy delicious, seasonal foods like winter squash, pumpkins, fresh cheese (goat and mozzarella are great options), dates, all types of nuts, spiced milk, fruit you find at the farmer’s market, root vegetables, cauliflower, sweet potatoes and so on.

You can also consume hearty soups, stews and all types of other warm, cooked foods. One Ayurvedic lentil that is highly recommended for the winter season is called urad dal, which is colloquially referred to as “poor man’s meat” in India. This is because urad dal is heartier for your digestion than the average lentil.

The digestive fire is the strongest during the wintertime, which is why you are also advised to behave like a squirrel, filling yourself up with nourishing foods that will strengthen your body for the entire year ahead. This is not the time of year to fast or diet. In fact, ancient Ayurvedic texts warn about the danger of skipping meals during this time of the year. Doing so can cause vata dosha (one of the three bioforces of the body that is responsible for the maximum number of diseases) to become imbalanced.

Eat to your heart’s desire, but make sure you are able to digest what you eat. Translation: Make sure you're able to easily eliminate solid stools once or twice daily, ideally early in the morning.

Drink Wisely

The temperature of your beverages (and food) is critical in Ayurveda due to the concept of agni, which means your digestive furnace. The digestion is compared poetically to a fire in Ayurveda. When you put cold substances into a fire, they tend to extinguish it. Conversely, warm substances (foods and drinks) ignite the fire. This is why you are recommended to consume warm liquids in the winter. Doing so will help you digest and eliminate your food properly, and will prevent you from catching the colds and coughs that are common during the winter.

Winter is also the "safest" time of year for a relatively healthy person to enjoy a glass of wine without experiencing the different dosha disturbances associated with drinking alcohol. Try to drink once your beverage has reached room temperature, so go for bold reds over chilled champagne.

Be Merrier

In the summer, vata dosha is naturally high in the atmosphere, which, along with the heat of the sun, wears and tears down your physical body. So if you tend to suffer from seasonal affective disorder (and even if you don’t), make wintertime the season to plan a tropical holiday vacation.

Also, because of the enhanced digestive capacity you have in winter, you get hungrier and naturally eat more food. This gives you more physical strength to travel, exercise and enjoy sex. It is also thought to be the best time to get married and conceive. The theory: winter is recommended as the best time to reproduce because the health of both prospective parents at the time of conception is one of the main factors for creating a healthy and happy child. So rejoice — and get busy!

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