Living Seasonally – Simple steps to replenish this January
We experience winter differently depending on where we live. In Ireland and most of Europe our weather can vary from mild, almost balmy days to damp, cold days, blizzards, storms and frosty mornings. Despite nature’s call to slow down and hibernate many of us tend to keep going at our busy pace of life – to fight it in a sense and impatiently await the arrival of summer.
Tuning into the seasons and making small simple changes, to live in alignment with what the season brings is fundamental for optimal health. Balancing the nature of our local climate with lifestyle choices helps us maintain vibrancy and health throughout the entire year. It is one of the simplest ways that we can protect our wellbeing (mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually). It builds resilience and as you’ll discover, tuning into the seasons is one of the most intuitive and natural practices we can embrace.
Winter in Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine, winter is ‘yin’ in nature and is connected to the element of water. It’s a time of receptivity, stillness and reflection. It encourages us to rest and replenish by ‘doing’ less and ‘being’ more. For those driven to be in the constant ‘yang’ Summer-mode of ‘doing’ or ‘fight-flight-freeze’ mode, constantly producing, it’s imperative to learn that resting and slowing down is essential for optimal health and longevity. The seasons reflect the duality that exists in every aspect of our life and how apparently opposite forces such as yin and yang are interdependent and in constant flow. One cannot exist without the other.
The organs connected are the adrenals, kidneys and bladder. The kidneys are considered our inner batteries, the source of all energy (Qi). Chronic stress, anxiety and illness can lead to energetically depleted adrenals and insufficient Kidney Qi. It is essential to care for our Kidney energy in order to replenish our mental-emotional, physical and spiritual energy levels. Living in tune with the seasons is one way we can help build our reserves.
How to Nourish Winter Yin Energy
When we slow down our movements, our mind relaxes, cortisol levels drop and our body moves into ‘being’ mode or ‘rest and digest’ mode, a state of flow. This helps rejuvenate the mind and body. When we’re in a relaxed state of flow, or we allow our minds to daydream and wander, we rejuvenate our mind and enhance our creativity. When our body is resting it is able to repair itself and return to normal function.
Cultivate this winter ‘yin’ energy by purposefully living life at a slower pace and making time for the things that nourish us. Invite warmth into our heart, mind, body and relationships. We can do this by creating frequent opportunities for meaningful interactions with people and activities that inspire.
Journalling and Meditation
Winter is the perfect time to turn our focus inward. The practice of meditation encourages us to tune into our inner voice. Start by sitting or lying down, wrapping yourself in a cosy blanket and begin your meditation, allowing yourself to surrender to the stillness of winter. and calming energy of water. Listen to your body, connect to the quiet voice within. Take out your journal and reconnect with who you are, your core values, allow yourself to daydream and wonder. What would you like to bring to fruition this year? What might you need to release in order to support this? Set your intentions for the start of the new cycle.
Winter holds the seed of potential for the following year.
Get Outdoors Everyday
Sunlight is vital for our mood and energy levels. No matter what the weather is like, be sure to wrap up warm and venture outside. Just 10 minutes a day can boost your dopamine levels and give your body the message to make more vitamin D which is essential for enhancing our mood, boosting our energy levels and supporting our immune system. Research has found that exposure to the sun in appropriate amounts offers numerous health benefits from fighting inflammation to protecting us from cancer. Connecting to sunlight is also one of the most beneficial things we can do to prevent or lessen SAD (Seasonal Annual Depression).
Digital Detox Before Bed
Too much screentime especially before going to bed can greatly impact the quality of our sleep. The bright light emitted from the screen can prevent the release of melatonin – a hormone we require in order to sleep. Try switching your phone to night mode in the evening. Start with putting a curfew on it once a week. Instead of watching TV, read an inspiring book, listen to music, chat, journal or practice an evening yoga sequence. A calming bedtime routine can help you boost your mental state so you have an easier time falling and staying asleep.
Seasonal eating is one of the most simple practices we can start bringing into our lives. Chinese medicine places immense value on the seasonality of food and also your body’s constitutional needs. In the colder months of Winter, our bodies are naturally drawn to warm foods and drinks. Soups, stews and broths with plenty of liquid are winter staples. The focus is on root vegetables, healthy fats and proteins. Incorporate a good variety and add in plenty of dark fruits, vegetables and beans.
Movement in Winter
In Chinese medicine, there is a particular emphasis on keeping our feet and legs warm, helping blood circulation throughout the whole of our body. Exercise supports lymphatic drainage, keeps the cells of our immune system moving and supports our mental-emotional and physical health. We know that Winter is a time to balance our movement and rest. It’s important to focus on building strength and choose less intense exercises such as walking, jogging, swimming, pilates and yoga. Conserve your energy by only breaking a light sweat, if at all. In yoga, add in more restorative practices and yin yoga sequences. Balance a short, strength building flow with a nourishing yoga nidra.
Winter Breathing Practices
Much like our yoga postures, pranayama for Winter is all about bringing in warmth and brightness, whilst also practicing techniques that bring the nervous system into a state of ‘rest and digest’. Choose practices such as Adham (deep belly breathing), Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) and Bhramari (humming bee breath). For those looking to bring a little more warmth into the body, Practice a few rounds of Kappalabhati in the morning to awaken the senses and release any nasal or sinus congestion.
Schedule Your Seasonal Tune-Up
Traditional Chinese Medicine places immense value in preventative care. It recognises that there are certain times in the year, when our minds and bodies can have difficultly adapting to the changing seasons. Much like you book your car in for regular maintenance with your mechanic it’s also essential to book your body in for a seasonal tune-up. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help building energy reserves, strengthen your immune system, improve digestion and elimination, balance hormones, emotions, regulates your nervous system and treats pain leaving you ready for the season ahead.
I hope these tips have inspired you to live more seasonally this January. Remember start small by making more space in your schedule, live a little slower, enjoy eating seasonal foods, and make time for self-care this season. By bringing these rituals and routines into your day, you’ll be supporting yourself in building resilience and the energy to spring back into life with more balance when the seasonal cycle starts all over again.