I’ve never been a fan of winter.
After college I bought a one way ticket to Australia thinking I could soak up the sunshine down under all year round, but when the seasons started changing down under I returned home to Maryland just in time for my third summer in a row.
I stuck it out for a single winter in Maryland while finishing my Masters degree. I remember gritting my teeth and fervently declaring that it would be my last winter EVER as I dug my VW beetle out from beneath the snow.
My intention must have been strong, because the following spring I sat next to a guy on a plane who offered me a job as a writer for a new virtual training website called Fitness VTC. It was a job that allowed me to work from anywhere. By October I was on a plane to the sunny beaches of California for good. Just in time to escape winter.
Even though I now reside in Southern California winter time is still challenging for me. What I’ve realized is that it’s not just the gray skies or cold temperatures that get me down during winter, it’s that I naturally resist living in harmony with the season of winter.
According to Oriental medicine winter is extremely yin. (See this post from chinesemedicineliving.com for more)
Yin Qualities: dark, slow, inward, contracting
It’s a time to slow down, go inward, reflect, and prepare for the high yang seasons of spring and summer.
Slowing down is not something our western society takes to well.
We live in a society that rewards productivity, growth, escalating success, constant achievement, and improvements.
But, constant “busyness” is not the law of nature and we must remember we are not separate from nature.
Now, don’t get me wrong there are plenty of people who need extra motivation to get moving and keep moving, but my guess is that’s not you on a daily basis. I tend to work with people who are go-getters. They are busy and I mean BUSY. I admire their drive and always wonder how the heck they manage to pull it off everyday.
You may not be able to take time off from work, you can’t stop being a parent, and you can’t hibernate in a cave like the bears, but you can teach yourself to slow down and give your mind and body a breather in order to prepare for the next cycle of life.
Sometimes we get so used to being busy, or worse, stuck being stressed in fight or flight mode, that rest and relaxation, stillness and silence feels foreign and uncomfortable. But, if we don’t balance the yang energy with the yin energy we will surely burn out.
Just think of how many people get sick during the winter or fall into depression and experience anxiety during this time. We can’t blame the weather or the season, we can only prepare ourselves to be able to withstand the changes and remain balanced.
Here are a few ways to embrace the winter season:
Movement and Exercise
If you’re someone who loves the adrenaline rush of a high intensity workout most days of the week make time for more restorative practices like stretching and Pranayama (breath practice) to balance the energy. It’s wise to swap out a few of those HIIT sessions for yoga, pilates, endurance training, slower paced strength training (it’s a good time to lift heavier and put on lean muscle mass since yin is associated with “storing”). It’s also an opportune time to work on corrective exercise such as my restorative movement program, address any aches and pains, perform alignment based exercises and work out the kinks.
Think of it like taking your car into the shop for a series of tune-ups before an adventurous road trip. Take care of little issues now before they turn into big issues later.
Remember, elite athletes are not “in season” all year round. An Olympic sprinter is not aiming to break their personal records daily nor are they attached to their low level of body fat and cut midsection that is a natural result of their training during season. They take time off to recover and progressively build up to that peak. It’s with rest and recovery that we grow stronger and wiser!
As always, eat with the seasons and opt for organic and local when possible. Winter vegetables like squash, potatoes, carrots, and beets all require more time to cook. (Even the seasonal food is telling you to slow down during winter!) See this link to check out what’s in season.
Avoid fast food, cold, raw foods. It’s not the time for a juice cleanse, but a soup cleanse consisting of bone broth and hearty vegetables can serve you well.
Also, remember to drink mainly water and herbal teas. Warm water with lemon and grated or juiced ginger will aid in digestion and warm you from the inside out.
Take Care of Your Gut Health for Peace of Mind
90% of serotonin- the feel good neurotransmitter, is produced in your gut, your second brain. Processed foods, sugar, and overeating can put out your digestive fire and leave feeling low in the dumps. Opt for serotonin rich mood elevating foods such as nuts, cultured coconut yogurt, chicken, turkey, oily fish like salmon, and complex carbs like sweet potatoes, legumes, and oatmeal.
Slow down and eat mindfully. Chew your food well and be honest with yourself on whether you really need that holiday cookie, glass of wine, or second helping.
Take a high quality probiotic supplement for good measure, sip kombucha instead of champagne, and eat fermented foods as a condiment.
Get Outside When the Sun is Shining
Ever notice a difference in your mood on a sunny day versus a cloudy day? A plant will grow and gravitate towards sunlight and as humans we do to.
Sunlight stimulates serotonin production and naturally boosts your mood. Aim to get outside first thing in the morning for exercise to get energized and soak up the sun midday to stay alert and focused.
Tonics and Herbal Remedies
Herbal tonics are my latest obsession. Tonics help tonify, stimulate, and invigorate organs and systems of the body to foster radiant health. Tonics can consist of adaptogenic herbs as well as medicinal mushrooms (not to be confused with magical mushrooms) which help us deal with the negative effects of stress.
For medicinal mushrooms try reishi for relaxation, cordyceps for focus, or lions mane for mood and memory. Check out this company- Four Sigmatic for convenient packets of super shrooms.
For herbs you can also check out Ron Teeguarden’s Dragon Herbs online and storefront in downtown Santa Monica.
My Rejuvenating Reishi Cacao tonic:
1 cup of hot water
1 tsp coconut oil or Bulletproof Brain Octane
1 packet of Four Sigmatic’s Reishi hot chocolate
1 tsp raw cacao powder
1 tsp maca root
Dash of cinnamon
¼ tsp grated ginger
Add all ingredients to blender and mix. Drink warm to hot.
Meditation & Gratitude
During the winter it’s easy to lose sight of how lucky we are. With shorter days you may not be able to see all of nature’s bounty like the flowers in bloom. You may not be able to eat fresh fruit right off the tree or spend afternoons lounging on the warm sand with a good book, but you have to trust those activities will return for your enjoyment when the season’s turn.
Express gratitude for the simplest things in life– a child laughing, the illumined moon, hot tea, or fuzzy slippers.
If you do not have a meditation practice, now is a great time to start. (P.S. There’s never a bad time to start meditating!) We are at the end of the year. It’s wise to sit and let go of thoughts and everything you’ve taken in and taken on this year to create space for next year. Just as you clean your home, shower and clean your skin, you must clean up your mind, filter out negative thoughts, and create space for the power of the universe to fill you.
Keep it Social
Okay, so if you’re like me this one can be tough. I’ve seriously tried to avoid buying casual/dressy winter clothes for years so I would have an excuse to curl up in bed with a book at 8PM and avoid outings. But, I’ve realized that does not serve my happiness and in turn does not promote radiant health.
Keep it social by having frequent meetings with friends. Maybe join a weekend hiking group, start that new hobby and meet new friends, host healthy dinner parties, and stay connected to loved ones and friends even though they may be hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Well, that’s it for now. Cheers to your health and happiness all season long, and remember that embracing winter yin can be a huge win for body, mind, and spirit!