Over the past two years, living closer to nature in the beautiful High Country of Victoria, I have become more connected to the seasons. Spending more time outdoors and less time in air conditioned transport and offices leads to a better understanding of the cycles of nature.
Winter is a season that pulls me in different directions. On the one hand energetically it is a time to turn in, reflect, restore and wait for the spring to come. Generally we need to sleep more, eat more warming foods, exercise less and make more time for stillness and reflection. Yet, I moved to the mountains to ski and so I find myself in many ways more active and energised to get out and enjoy the snow! As with everything I’m finding that it’s all about creating your own balance.
Beat the winter blues
Winter time, with its darker days, colder weather, greater likelihood of illnesses, rain & wind and lack of colour, can sometimes lead us into feelings of sadness and stagnation. This is also a natural part of the cycle. A total lack of activity can increase those feelings so making an effort to get out when the weather clears (or put on warm and waterproof gear and get out anyway) can help to shift those winter blues. Particularly getting out when the sun is shining is so important to get your intake of Vitamin D!
If you can’t get outside do a few rounds of sun salutations with a range of spinal movement to get that stagnant energy shifting. I find my love of skiing helps me to get out of the house and getting the body moving and getting to a yoga class when you know there is a beautiful warmed studio at Bright Boot Camp certainly helps with motivation! Just don’t get the sweat up too much otherwise you’ll lose vital energy and water…
Nourish the Kidneys
In Traditional Chinese Medicine the organ relating to Winter is the Kidneys. The Kidneys are the foundation of our energetic body and are said to store our vital energy, or Jing, and so the winter months are best served nourishing that. The element for this season is Water. Like water, the energy of winter is clear and deep; restorative and quiet.
It’s a great time to practice more Yin styles of yoga as our body and mind naturally want to turn in and be still, however, if you find yourself feeling achy, stiff and stuck, a nice warming flow practice to shift that energy can be great. Yin sequences that target the kidney and urinary bladder meridian pair (poses such as Butterfly, Sphinx, Seal, Saddle and Caterpillar), restorative poses (such as supported twists, legs up the wall and Savasana), and sun salutations, gentle core work and inversions such as shoulder stand can all be great options to help bring energy into this space and shift it through the kidney channels.
Other ways that we can look after our kidneys is by dressing warmly (particularly around the physical location of the kidneys at the lower back), keeping up our circulation, getting plenty of sleep and resting during the day if needed and reducing stress.
Time for reflection
The energy that predominates this season is a slow, inward energy that encourages introspection and insightfulness. The winter season can be a wonderful time for reflection on the previous year. In Australia it ties in nicely (!) with the financial year and so for many business owners June/July is spent tying up the loose ends administratively, doing accounts and looking back on how the previous year has gone. It is not always the best time for business planning though… Our creative energy can be at a low during this period and winter is a good time for ticking along with things that take up less energy rather than on growth and new ideas. Many of us can struggle with this resistance, being used to constantly looking for progress and growth in our careers/businesses/creative outlets… There is an energy of surrender in winter. A relaxing and letting go of that need to grow – just for a short break to regroup. Perhaps directing our creative energy into smaller, nurturing things like knitting, cooking, sewing, making pottery, wood work (whatever can help to keep the mind active during this time).
Committing to a regular meditation and/or journaling practice is a wonderful thing to do in winter. The mind is naturally more still and quiet. In meditation this might need to be balanced by doing walking meditation or standing meditation as we might be more likely to fall asleep! When journaling we might find that reflections turn towards depression and so a gratitude practice can help to keep us positive. Try writing down one thing that you are grateful for each time you write an entry in your journal and see if you find this shifts your mood!
Support the immune system
The Ayurvedic approach (the science behind yoga) to the winter season is to support the fire element in warming the body and reducing the likelihood of colds and flu. Eat warming foods such as soups, stews and porridge with plenty of seasonal root vegetables and warming spices such as cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, cardamom, fennel, cumin, coriander and nutmeg.
Drink plenty of water and warming herbal teas to support immunity. Drinking water infused with Lemon or Apple Cider Vinegar (even the Fire Cider with added chilli, horseradish and turmeric) can help to aid digestion and keep nasty viruses at bay!
Use a neti pot to cleanse the sinuses of any mucus and congestion and practice pranayama such as Kapalabhati, a breath practice that builds internal heat and eliminates mucus from the respiratory tract. These are rapid, sharp exhales, passive inhales, using a contraction of your lower abdomen. You can start with cycles of 30 breaths and gradually increase the number for 3-5 rounds. Pause between each round for as long as comfortable with the breath held in.
Diffuse essential oils such as Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Lemon and Tea Tree to clear the sinuses and use protective oils such as Clove, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus and Rosemary for cleaning and topically to also support immunity. Check out doTerra’s Easy Air and On Guard blends which are perfect for the winter months.
In summary here are my ten top tips for working with the energy of Winter!
- Accept that we have less energy in winter – don’t fight this natural cycle
- Keep moving though! Sun salutations or a brisk walk / ski in the morning sets you up to beat the blues and shift any stagnant energy
- Stay warm! Layer up or get down to the warm Yoga room.
- Nourish your kidneys with a Yin sequence
- Get plenty of sleep, go to bed early and wake a little later than normal if you can
- Focus on reflection and not growth in your career, life plans and business
- Reduce stress and take time to meditate, journal and practice gratitude
- Eat warming foods, teas and spices
- Support yourself with cleansing and protective essential oils
- Commit to your daily movement and breath practices!