We often hear people describe things as a “force of nature”. Why? Because nature is powerful and ever changing. The natural environment around us changes on a cyclical basis, yet our western culture has separated so far from nature that although we feel these changes, we don’t adjust our lifestyles accordingly. Living in tune with the Earth’s seasons is at the core of many traditional health practices like Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. This is how our ancestors lived, with the world, rather than fighting against it to keep powering on all year round. The winter season is all about slowing down, embracing the yin energy and replenishing our bodies, so we can function at our most optimal state during the upcoming cycle. There are many small changes you can embrace in your daily life that will greatly assist your health during this time of the year.
1) Eat Accordingly
As temperatures drop, and winter produce comes into season, there is no need for us to be eating the same diet all year round. It is natural to crave fresh juices and salads during the warmer times of the year, and move into heartier, more nourishing, warm meals during the winter. We are a part of nature, and as the seasons change so do the needs of our bodies.
Citrus fruits come in abundance during the cooler months. They are packed with vitamins that support your body’s immune system, which is essential for warding off seasonal viruses. Vitamin C is also very effective for alleviating infection, congestion and inflammation that can help speed up recovery from sickness.
According to Ayurveda, it is best to enjoy warm, well-cooked meals during the winter, paired with a range of spices. Cinnamon stewed fruits, warm porridge, vegetable soups and broths are all great additions to your diet. This will help keep your digestive fire burning and keep your body warm. It is best to avoid chilled drinks and cold food, since it may have an adverse effect on the immune system. Eating seasonal vegetables like pumpkins, squash, roots, zucchini and cauliflower are all great.
It is also recommended to avoid highly processed foods, as they will compromise your immunity at a time when you need it most. Ayurvedically, immunity boosting foods are those which are fresh, organic, easily digestible, and wholesome.
Drinking warm tea is wonderful for digestion. It is great for your body and will also keep you very warm from the inside out. Ginger tea is very simple to make, slice it up into fine chunks, boil it for 10 minutes, then add honey and freshly squeezed lemon juice – a wonderful way to boost your immunity too!
2) Stay Warm
There are so many ways to keep your body warm during the cold. Exercise, warm baths, heat packs, infrared sauna, layering clothing, getting in the sunshine.
If you are lucky enough to get sunshine where you live during the winter, make an effort to soak up the natural vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential in maintaining a highly functioning immune system.
Staying active throughout the year is important in maintaining good health. Having said that, it is important to pay attention to your energy levels and the weather conditions when choosing the nature and intensity of your workout during. Exercise improves blood circulation, enhances your appetite and raises your body temperature. Breaking a sweat also helps your body release toxins, which can be done through exercise or regular use of the sauna. Infrared saunas also boost your immune system and keep you warm, a great routine to keep in the winter!
In Chinese Medicine, cold is viewed as a pathogen that can invade your body – if you think about homeostatic processes, and your body is constantly trying to maintain its temperature, it will eventually drain your resources. If your body is being punished by cold air and it needs to stay warm enough, your reserves will be eaten into. To prevent this keep your head and ears covered when you go outside, as well as your kidneys. Beanies, scarves, and wool socks are the best way to rug up, when you head out to enjoy the cool mornings and evenings.
Winter is the perfect time for relaxing baths. Add Epsom salt to your bath water and enjoy during evenings so that you can directly slide into bed for a night of peaceful, uninterrupted sleep. Keep the water temperature moderate, not too hot, for getting the maximum benefit out of this ritual. Take it an extra step and head down for a float therapy session with 550kgs of magnesium epsom salts.
3) Get Enough Sleep
The sun sets earlier and rises later in the winter season, and for many wild animals they take this time to truly hibernate. You will find that you will sleep in a little longer in the mornings, naturally. Taking extra rest is not something to feel guilty about, but something that all of nature does. This time of the yearly cycle is focused on replenishing the body’s reserves, so you can work hard and push on throughout the rest of the year. A few changes to your usual routine might involve eating dinner earlier, waking up slightly later and adding a few extra blankets to your bed. Many of us tend to find ourselves sleeping deeper in the cold too!
4) Slow Down
Winter is dominated by ‘Yin’ energy, whereas our Western culture prefers to live all year round in the summer energy of ‘Yang’. Honouring your body’s natural change in rhythm and prioritising rest will serve you more than you can imagine. Many of us are addicted to ‘Yang’ energy — being busy, productive and always in a state of outward expression. ‘Yin’ is an energy of turning inward, reflecting and doing the internal work that we often neglect. It can be uncomfortable, but learning how to just ‘be’ is essential. After all, we are human beings, not human doings. This may be a time where you focus on your family and personal values, or even ramp up your spiritual practice.
Become conscious of your emotional state and how this impacts your energy too. Fear depletes your immune system, and in Taoist theory, it damages your kidneys. Overthinking and worry also damage the spleen and lungs, which lowers our immunity too. If stress does arise for you, do what you can to calmly return to the present moment time and time again, in which you will find yourself safe and ok. Feelings of love, gratitude, compassion, joy, and happiness enhance your health and will repair your DNA.
5) Stay Hydrated
Keeping your body hydrated is key all year round, 2 to 3 litres a day! In the winter time, you want to make sure it is warm or room temperature, not cold, especially if your body is fighting off a virus. Any good quality water, with a pinch of sea salt for added minerals is great. Sea salt helps your cells actually get hydrated by the water you drink and it can charge your water with negative ions and electrolytes. For an extra boost to your health, you can also add herbs and spices like ginger, turmeric, cloves to your warm water – perhaps start your day with a warm ginger tea to activate your digestive system and keep you cosy!
These are our favourite ways to support our bodies during the winter time, and honour the cyclical nature of the seasons. Living alongside nature, because we are nature, will ultimately boost both your health and happiness long term. Stay warm and well rested this winter!