It’s a new year, a collective sigh of relief, but we’re still very close to the winter solstice, the deepest, darkest winter day. In 2020, we all experienced a massive slowdown that halted social gatherings and various hobbies or activities. For many, like me, this was mentally difficult and challenged our beliefs about what forward momentum and success look like. We live in a society that congratulates us for doing more and putting more pressure on. it’s the measure of who we are, isn’t it?
In Eastern traditions, winter is the time of year that is most Yin. We call it yin within yin. Yin is compared to darkness, calm, night, calm, regeneration and stillness. It is the time to restore when our body is doing its deepest healing and regeneration. We are at the most favorable time of the year to save energy and slow down. Overdoing it at this time of year can be counterproductive and actually cause the release of the stress hormone cortisol. By honoring the winter season annually, we prepare ourselves mentally and physically for a more prosperous year. This is the time of year that creates the conditions for the following seasons: the spring when we want to move, plant a garden and have extra energy for new projects, the summer when we have long days, tend the garden and sleep often less, as well as the decline with the continuing momentum of the year, the harvest and completion of various projects.
This is the time of year when best practices include:
– sleep more. Deep sleep is restful and feels amazing, but it can be illusory at times. Sleep can also mean taking a nap or a break in the middle of the day.
– Watch your movement. Just because it’s winter and we may feel less motivated, we don’t train. This is a time when slower, more fluid movements are important to lubricate joints, stretch connective tissue, and allow proper blood flow to the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems.
– Habits that are restored and replenished are important because we are so deeply embedded in electronic entertainment. Finding things that really lead to cell restoration offers an impressive response that is felt within. Some suggestions are: Epsom salt bath, reading a book, meditation, going out in nature, journaling, breathing work, practicing gratitude, drinking a cup of tea, taking a nap.
– Hydration: Almost everyone can drink more water. Especially if you notice that your skin is dry, your hands or feet, or your lips are chapped, it means you are dehydrated. We should be getting roughly half our body weight in ounces every day. If you have caffeine, alcohol, or sweat more than a little, you will need more water every day. It is best to drink water earlier in the day, which for many of us is not a habit. However, it ensures that the daily intake is higher and that we don’t get up too often at night. Start your day with a large warm glass of lemon water. You can add cinnamon or ginger for an even more warming drink, eliminating toxins, ensuring daily bowel flow and igniting our metabolic fires.
– Food Therapy: Choose foods that grow naturally in winter. Items like pumpkin, potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, root vegetables like beets, vegetables, carrots, mushrooms, apples, pears, and cabbage are great. During the winter months, cold foods like salads and raw vegetables should be avoided as they can weaken the immune system as they are difficult to digest due to their thick cellulose wall. There are foods that specifically target and nourish the organ system in Eastern medicine that works hardest for us at this time of year – the kidneys. These foods include kidney and black beans, beef, goose, duck, lamb, chicken, dark leafy vegetables, garlic, ginger, walnuts, quinoa, asparagus, celery, onion, fennel, green onions, cloves, watercress, and beets.
– Staying Warm: Keeping our skin – especially feet, hands, head, and lower back – covered and warm at this time of year increases our body’s ability to fight off viral infections and helps maintain a balance between flexibility and contraction in the muscles. This allows for light physical exercise in the spring and summer months.
Establishing healthy habits this time of year will help you through the seasons. By honoring the current season and your body, you enable innate healing.
Dalite Sancic, DAOM, L.Ac, MS, is an East Asian Medical Doctor with Rutland Integrative Health.