It always seems to happen as soon as the holidays end — the winter blues. As soon as we cross the rubicon of December 21st, and the enchantment of the holidays have bid themselves adieu, we are left with a sudden, visceral slowdown, paler complexion, and a desire to go, do and achieve less.
If you feel that subtle weight pulling you back and slowing you down, you’re not crazy. In fact, in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), slowing down is energetically natural for our circadian rhythm. Your inner zealot may put up a fight, but she may find that by slowing down during the winter, she has more bandwidth when things pick up speed. With fewer hours of sun, this is an innate time for hibernation for all animals — humans included.
Still, while abiding by the rules of 16th-century Norwegian principle of hygge by bundling up and slowing down is a cozy starter, surviving the winter with zeal demands more than cashmere socks and an ashwagandha matcha latte.
Instead of just hunkering down until Spring, you’ll do best to rediscover balance during these slower months. This is most efficiently accomplished by a handful of practices that encourage that forward movement, but without the muscling and “shoulds”. While there’s nothing wrong with some butt-in-recliner time, you may recognize that an entire 4 months of it, well, it may not exactly serve you.
So before you nestle into winter by way of your couch and a handful of cookies – perhaps the key to thriving this winter is something the Swedes call Lagom, which simply translates to “just right,” or “in balance.”
Here are a few ways that you can enjoy the luxuriousness of the natural slow-down of this time of year, without the hedonism, guilt – or dismissal of productivity.
1. Integrate More Silent Practices.
While leaning into your natural slow-down is great, what’s even better is shaping that desire into something that will truly benefit your well being and truly allow you to recharge far more than a Netflix bender or cozy, buttery croissants can ever do!
These silent practices can not only recharge your nervous systems and allow you to deeply rest, but you can also use them to set an intention, or Sankalpa, for the new season to come. What do you desire to transform into in this new season? As you reflect in silence, contemplate what you can give birth to and what you can let go of through this transition.
2. Get in SOME Movement Every Day
As much as I KNOW it’s tempting to cozy into those silky pjs, moving your body can be one of the most important ways to find wintertime balance. Set yourself up for success by getting dressed in workout clothes or clothes you can move your body in throughout the day. It is a game-changer!
Most Americans spend 90% of their lives indoors, chained to a screen. By moving your body regularly, and daily, you not only check the anti-heart-disease box, but you’ll release a whole slew of good chemicals and hormones into your body. These include feel-good serotonin and oxytocin, and things like BDNF and norepinephrine, which help to optimize your focus and neuroplasticity.
3. Wear Those Cashmere Socks
Have you ever noticed that when you are at your chilliest, your entire body suddenly feels a bit more at ease when you slip on a warm, cozy pair of socks?
Our feet have over 7,000nerve endings and blood vessels that are vital to our thermoregulation! While being a bit chilly is okay, being chronically cold (particularly expressed within the TCM practice) can have significant ramifications on your health and Qi. So wearing those cozy socks, or taking a warm bath is not a luxury – it will also help you sleep better, and keep you cozy on Sunday morning while doing your New York Times crossword!
4. Eat Things That Optimize & Balance Immune Function
Cooler weather and less exposure to sunlight and dirt it brings can leave you vulnerable to all sorts of maladies. And while the idea of “boosting your immunity” is a piece of #fakenews — you can’t actually boost your immune system — you can improve the function of your immune cells through lifestyle interventions.
For example, integrating more mushrooms into your diet increases your intake of immune-stimulating beta-glucans and strengthens NK cell function. Likewise, increasing your cruciferous veggie intake, particularly sulforaphane-loaded broccoli sprouts, increases NK cell activity and keeps your immune army ready to fight.
You can also incorporate more red berries into your diet to increase your intake of free-radical blasting anthocyanins, which reduces oxidative stress your body may be experiencing while recovering from illness or infection.
5. Bundle Up, Get OUTSIDE!
We get that going out when the temperatures are floating around the teens and twenties can be, well, quite unappetizing (and believe us, from our NYC apartment, we do!). But the effort is worth it. In addition to diversifying your body’s microbes and reducing your cortisol (leaving you less stressed), getting outside also decreases lymphocyte production, reduces the number of NK cells, and generally down-regulates your immune function.
Most importantly, you’ll have the chance to reawaken your inner child, get playful in the snow, or perhaps just kick around a ball outside with a friend or child!
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While we know winter can drag on, we hope these simple activations will help you make it through the winter with a bit more ease and pleasure.