When bears hibernate, their metabolisms slow to about 25 percent of their normal, active rates for some, reports one study, which may explain why they wake up so rested and ready for spring. We, humans, can’t quiet our metabolisms the same way, nor do we want to, but we can nourish every aspect of ourselves (mentally, emotionally, and physically) so that we, too, can feel incredibly relaxed, present, and rejuvenated without hitting snooze all winter-long.
Cold weather can be exhilarating, but the lack of strong, consistent natural light and warmth can easily get you down, making you feel as grey as the clouds, uninspired, and vulnerable to illness. Wintertime invites a pace that is slower than the other seasons, reminding us that it is the best time to rest, recover, reflect, and plan for spring and beyond.
In the science of life, known as Ayurveda, we think of mid- to late- winter as a kapha (earth and water) season characterized by cold, damp and heavy qualities. When balanced, kapha qualities offer stability, lubrication, vigor, immunity, and strength. When out of whack, however, these same qualities can turn negative, contributing to sluggishness both physically and emotionally. A build-up of mucus can result in bronchial issues, colds, weight gain, and, overall, negativity and depression.
Ayurvedic principles say it is important to take advantage of the natural instinct to hunker down while keeping positive and bright and the immune system fired up. Here are three ways to make the most of winter and set a healthy, vibrant tone for a lush and fruitful spring, and rest of the year.
1. Exercise and self-massage daily to maintain all systems go.
Start with a short, yet invigorating, morning practice to lubricate cold joints and keep all systems—from circulatory to lymphatic to nervous—clear and flowing. Focus on grounding and centering even as you get your blood pumping. If you’re into yoga, begin with sun salutations and warrior poses to open the chest, throat, and sinuses. If you’re not a yogi, then go for any simple series of movements that get the blood flowing, such as jumping jacks, pushups, leg lifts, and sit-ups (check out this Essential Bodyweight Workout video!).
Related: Yoga Tutorial: Sūryanamaskāra A
Follow-up your practice or workout with a warm oil self-massage. Use sesame oil, which you can heat up by running hot water over the bottle. Sesame oil has natural warming properties, too. Shower, then trap the warmth by wrapping yourself up in cozy clothes and a blanket. Don’t forget to keep your head warm, too, especially when you go outside!
2. Stock up on these three nourishing nutrients.
When you don’t have enough daylight hours to absorb the sun’s benefits, which include relaxing the muscles, soothing Seasonal Affective Disorder, and helping the body maintain healthy sleep rhythms, you must turn to vitamin D supplements for extra help. Take these vitamins either alone or in combination with calcium and magnesium.
A staple in my winter arsenal, this herbal tea tastes delicious, acts as an anti-inflammatory, aids with digestion, and eases cold symptoms.
This immune-boosting spice can be taken in capsules or as added seasoning in food. A teacher showed me this recipe to keep my kids healthy years ago, and I’ve relied on it ever since.
Recipe for Turmeric Paste
Turmeric powder (organic)
Honey, raw or Manuka
Combine equal parts of turmeric with honey and a pinch of black pepper (not cayenne). Store the paste in a glass jar. At the first sign of a cold, lick a teaspoonful every couple of hours.
3. Meditate as a tool for introspection.
Tap into an underlying sense of peace that is always present within, but gets drowned out by the busy life and the overactive mind with this easy, deep meditation called Yoga Nidra, or Yogic Sleep. Plant seeds for the future in a calm, rested, less stressed mind. Start by developing an intention for your life and for the practice. Learn to focus your awareness on your breath, bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts. This is an ideal way to learn to welcome whatever is present without getting caught up in it.
This is the art of conscious relaxation and it is a completely guided restorative practice that you do lying down. It will guide you toward a state of mind that naturally allows you to liberate the tensions, stresses, and anxieties we all hold deep within. In this peaceful, guided relaxation process, the brain waves drop into the theta state, where deep levels of healing take place on the emotional, mental, and physical planes.
Listen to the Just Sit meditation (check out the video above) and feel the benefits that will give you a healthy grounded base from which to greet the demands of spring when it comes around.
By Lisa Hedley