“In winter we lead a more inward life. Our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
“In the depth of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.” ~ Albert Camus
When I was studying Five Element Acupuncture, one of our assignments was to walk about in nature regularly, and simply take in what was going on during the various seasons – what the trees were doing, how the birds were sounding, in which way was the air was moving. Later, when studying Ayurveda, I received a similar assignment, and it didn’t surprise me that there was this similarity between the two health systems (among many other similarities). You see, these healing systems, which are thousands of years old, know a simple truth, the ignorance of which keeps us from living and thriving with ease: we are reflections and microcosms of nature, and need to follow its rules. Or else.
Or else what? Or else you will feel like shit, that’s what.
I know that’s kind of blunt, but it’s true. When we think we can live in a little bubble and never feel cold or heat or humidity or sunlight on our skin, or darkness on our mood, we are kidding ourselves! We are totally and completely affected by what’s going on outside, whether we have time to be IN it or not. So when we try to be and look and feel the same all year-round, we end up getting all whacked out! Imagine if any other thing in nature tried to do the same. They’d likely not just be uber-stressed, but they’d probably die.
Take a look at the trees around you – unless you’re in the tropics, they are likely showing evidence of the drawing inward that winter is famous for. Leaves are dropped, the energy is drawn in and stored in the core of their trunks and roots, and things are more still. Many animals hibernate, even big majestic ones, like bears. The sun rests more, and there is more darkness and stillness in each day. This is all for a reason, peeps! This is all so that we too can draw inward, do what needs to be done, and restore our reserves.
In Alaska, this change is particularly pronounced, and particularly necessary. In the summer, hardly any Alaskan sleeps much. The sun is out until midnight, the mountains are full of wildflowers and adventures, the rivers are pumping and people are out to play. Hard. We NEED winter to survive summer. We need to sleep long hours and be a little more still. Yet so many people don’t do this – they keep trying to go go go. Ski after work every day and go out to the clubs and hit up live music every week…
Some people feel this is what gives them energy in the winter. “It’s what keeps me going!” they say. But I often question this when the same people (myself as one of those in the not-so-distant past) are falling ill with colds and flus and coughs that last for weeks, or when they feel a wired buzz kind of energy instead of a steady, calm energy that s much easier to sustain.
If you’ve found you haven’t changed a thing about your routine since winter arrived other than your ski or snowboard wax, I’d like to invite you to try out these tips for aligning yourself with the season of Winter, and see what a difference it can make in your life – and in the way you feel on a day to day basis. You may find yourself feeling a little less overwhelmed and a little more grateful for the natural pause that winter creates. (PS: Please share with me your experience with these ideas below – that’s where the juiciness happens!)
12 Tips for Slowing Down and Chilling Out This Winter
1. Create a routine in the morning – Routines help us slow down and give our mind, body and spirit something to rely on – which allows us to relax on a deep level. I like to wake up, do a minimum of 10-20 minutes of yoga (10 when in a hurry), do some breathing exercises for three minutes, then meditate for a minimum of 5 minutes and an invigorating self massage for 3 minutes. If I have more time, I add more time and luxury to each of those (like more yoga or meditation, or using warm sesame or coconut oil for my massage before hopping into the shower). If in a hurry, the whole things takes only 20-25 minutes and I feel awesome afterwards! At first it annoyed me to wake up early enough (which meant going to bed early enough) to do these things, but now I crave them.
2. Make time for reflection, contemplation – Even just 5 minutes! This can even be a part of your morning ritual. Journal, meditate, or just sit and observe. As my friend Erin Rabke says, “Ground, Sound, Breath.” Focus on feeling your body and grounding down to the earth below you. Tune into the sounds around you, simply observing. And take some deep, full breaths. Simple, and kickass.
3. Avoid multitasking – especially while eating! (Ironic, I know, as I write this while having lunch) I am afraid this is my weakness and I can’t offer much advice here. But I’m working on it;) What I DO know is that when you focus on one thing, you get it done faster and better than while multitasking, though!
4. Create an evening ritual to do before going to bed – maybe you take three deep slow breaths, or read in bed with your favorite book for 5 minutes. Or do gentle movement, like 2-4 gentle stretches, before bed.
5. Eat warmer, heavier foods with warm spices (ginger, black peper, cumin, coriander, “pumpkin pie” spices) and drink warm, spicy teas
6. Keep warm – Heat naturally slows us down and mellows us out. Think: lazy siesta on the beach. Sleep with a hot water bottle (yummm! you can even put it in bed before you get in to toast it up;)
7. Spend quality time with friends, where you actually get to connect and talk and listen, and not just shout above the sounds at the restaurant or make small talk at a party.
8. Try to sleep early, by 10 or 11pm at the latest. The sun will have been long gone in most places during the winter. You’ll wake up more refreshed as you drop into the natural rhythm of the season.
9. Take an aromatherapy bath whenever possible. Baths take longer than showers. At first that might annoy you, but it does force you to slow down and chill out. I like lavender, frankincense, or rose oils for winding down (not together though!). But pick whatever suits you.
10. Drink herbal tea after work instead of having your usual cocktail or snack. Alcohol and sugar feel good at first, but usually have the opposite effect of over-stimulating you later.
11. Have regular periods of being unplugged EVERY DAY. Maybe you don’t check email at all during lunch and you just go for a walk and then read…
12. Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bed – create a “natural sunset” period to wind down (you can even literally turn down the lights!)
Ready to chill out? Go for it! And if you have more advice to add, please share it below. I’d LOVE to hear your favorite ways to slow down and chill out in the winter. The more tools in the toolkit, the better!