Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Feel sluggish, ungrounded and moody? Feel like hibernating? If yes, you may have the winter blues. Here are some tips I’ve found helpful to navigate the shorter days and darkness of the season of hibernation.....
Winter is the most Yin aspect in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It’s a time of inactivity when the earth is still with dark and slow energy. As a reflection, we can often feel sluggish and ungrounded, a state commonly referred to as the winter blues. The good news is that it’s the opportune time to focus on replenishing our inward energy as it naturally re-establishes itself to prep for the outburst of new life in spring. Here are some tips I’ve found helpful to navigate the shorter days and darkness of the season of hibernation.
TCM advises us the best winter diet features foods that enrich yin (inward energy) and reduce yang (outward energy). It’s important to support the kidneys and bones through drinking bone broths. It’s also healthy to eat foods that naturally grow this time of year, like potatoes, root vegetables, winter greens, apples and pears. Check out Gabriel Cousen’s Garden Soup here. While you’re there, you can explore Gabriel’s outstanding content on nutrition and spirituality.
At Sarah Power’s recent Yoga training at Esalen, Sarah introduced me to nutritional analysis based on the Five Elements philosophy and Traditional Korean Medicine. Consequently, I did a session with Jaguang Sunim at MyBodyLandscape and have been integrating cooling foods, based on my Lesser Yang constituency, into my diet ever since. I highly recommend this approach as my digestion issues have subsided and I feel great. I can’t remember the last time I had so much energy, especially in winter!!
Good sleep hygiene helps combat the winter blues. Check out Arianna Huffington’s Secrets to Your Best Sleep Ever and my prior blog post on how to deal with waking up at 4am, commonly referred to as the ‘Anxiety Hour’. Not being able to replenish our foundational energy through sleep can have profound negative effects on our health.
Winter is marked by the qualities of the element of water which are stillness and quiet. Light activities such as meditation, yoga, qi gong that store energy and support introspection and stillness are ideal ways to stay healthy in mind and body. Ironically, the tendency during the winter is to do heated vinyasa or bikram which is counterintuitive as we feel we need to warm up the body. But it’s stillness and quiet we need most to stay balanced.
According to TCM, the dampness and cold in winter can lead to varying degrees of fear and depression. In western medicine, many people are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in winter. Check out what the Mayo Clinic has to say about SAD here. It’s a special form of depression/anxiety that occurs during autumn and winter because of the lack of brightness and sunshine. Symptoms include low energy and moodiness. In addition, SAD can result in irritability, poor energy, and weight gain due to overeating and fatigue. Solutions are meditation, yoga, qi gong.
Looking inward through meditation practice is extremely complementary to the yin qualities of winter. Even doing 10 mins of meditation each day can have a noticeable impact on stress levels. Meditation has become a lifeline for me; when I don't meditate, I feel emotionally dull and reactive. It's like night and day.
Yoga nidra is ideal this time of year. If you haven’t tried it, you simply have to. At Rod Stryker’s recent workshop on The Yoga of Awakening, he talked about the benefits of the sleep of wholeness to access the subtle body where true healing takes place. Check out Rod’s interview about the healing benefits here. If you’d like to give yoga nidra a try, check out Cindy Meiri’s yoga nidra class at Yoga Tree Valencia at 8.15pm on Friday nights. It’s right after my yin yoga class at 6.15pm. In fact, several students do both classes for the ultimate Friday night zen experience to kick off the weekend on a relaxing note. I also do it :)
I recommend yin yoga as a therapeutic approach to balancing and clearing the physical, emotional and energetic aspects of the body, especially as we navigate the challenges of the season of hibernation. Poses are held for extended periods to lubricate joints and tissues, to practice mindfulness through meditation, and to cultivate chi flow in the body. The practice is a great for flexility as it gives pliancy in the joints within their natural range of motion to bring more ease of comfort when we move and sit.
So, why don’t you join me for my upcoming Yin Yoga workshop ‘Nourishing the Seasonal Body for Winter’ on 11th January 2020 at Yoga Tree Stanyan SF. Reserve your spot here.