As the vivid red, orange and gold of Autumn gradually say their goodbyes, we find ourselves shifting into the coldest, darkest yet cosiest season of the year; Winter.
Across the world, we experience Winter differently depending upon where we live; Sweden and Norway endure just five and a half hours of daylight in the depths of Winter, whilst over in Russia, the coldest temperatures in the world have been recorded during their Winters (-67.8C!). In Europe and the UK, Winter can range from almost balmy, to blizzards and blisteringly cold mornings.
Wherever you live in the world, when Winter arrives, it’s time to reassess how we’re living and make small, simple changes to live in alignment with what this season calls for. Seasonal living can help us maintain vibrancy and health throughout the entire year, and as you’ll discover, tuning into the seasons is one of the most intuitive and natural practices we can adopt.
One of our previous seasonal articles, Tune Into Spring revealed that humans have been living in alignment with the seasons for thousands of years, and our minds, bodies and emotions require different types of nourishment throughout the year. In Tune Into Summer, we looked at how the types of movement, social interactions, and even the way we plan our projects and work commitments benefit from aligning with the energy of the season. Tune Into Autumn, explored how specific seasonal foods can give our bodies and immune systems the information needed to function optimally, and how our tendencies towards extroversion or introversion are driven by the seasons.
This final Living Seasonally piece looks at the lifestyle, nutrition and self-care practices best suited to Winter, as well as exploring how you can balance your mood, energy levels and much more with the Ayurvedic principle of like increases like, and opposite brings balance. Read on to discover your Winter wellness guide!
The benefits of Yin energy
Whilst Summer holds the peak of energetic, dynamic ‘yang’ energy, Winter is very much the opposite. If Spring was all about manifesting new ideas and planning projects, Summer was our time to ‘do’, achieve, adventure and live life to the fullest, and Autumn was a time to start winding down and gradually bring projects to completion, Winter is the season of recovering and rejuvenating.
This is the season for less ‘doing’ and more ‘being’. Finish up projects, plan some time off, switch your emails to ‘out of office’ mode, and look at your phone a little less. For those of us who are driven to be productive and achievement-focused, it’s important to know that resting and taking a step back from constant productivity is vital for every aspect of our wellbeing, and can have a very positive impact on what we’re able to produce when Spring arrives. If we push ourselves to be in a constant state of ‘doing’, ‘producing’ and generally ticking boxes and completing to-do lists, this can be incredibly fatiguing, and eventually makes us less imaginative.
How to adopt Winter Yin energy
Giving yourself more time to just ‘be’- whether it’s going for walks in nature without your headphones, reading fiction, playing a musical instrument, painting or engaging in an activity that relaxes you and shifts you into the ‘flow’ state – helps rejuvenate the mind and enhances creativity. When we’re in a relaxed state of flow, or we allow our minds to daydream and wonder, this is often when the more creative, imaginative innovative ideas come to us, and it’s also when our minds are better able to come up with solutions to nagging problems.
Adopt this Winter ‘yin’ energy by putting a lot less on your to-do list, scheduling less throughout the week, saying ‘no’ to demands or invitations you’d rather not accept, and purposefully living life at a slower pace. One of the biggest causes of chronic stress and burnout is caused by living life in constant ‘yang’ Summer-mode, so if you can make these practices part of your life, you’ll be making a huge impact on your overall wellbeing, and are more likely to navigate the next seasonal cycle with more balance.
Winter movement practices
Speaking of ‘yin’, Winter is also the time to balance our movement and rest, with an emphasis on the rest. As opposed to Summer’s long hours of daylight which encouraged long hours of movement and activity, Winter’s shorter days and increased darkness encourages us to change how we exercise.
Think of Winter as a season of extremes. Dallas Hartwig, the author of The 4 Season Solution, explains that in Winter, humans have evolved to engage in short, intense bursts of activity, mimicking how we might have hunted, built Winter shelters, or hurried out of our homes for food and back again. After this intense burst of activity, we’d then spend much of the time resting and recuperating.
Winter is also about building strength, especially around the joints, which support injury prevention when we jump back into outdoor adventures in Spring and Summer.
Think of your Winter workout as a short strength-building yoga class, followed by slow stretches and a long Savasana. Find balance by planning a 30 minute strength-training session with weights a few times a week, but swapping your run or spin class or a restorative yoga class instead.
Much like our brains, our bodies need time to recover from the past several months of activity. Find a class that helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system (the ‘rest and digest’ part) like José de Groot’s Intense Self-Nurture class.
Intense self-nurture with José de Groot
Connect to sunlight
Just as we mentioned in the Tune Into Autumn blog, sunlight is vital for our mood and energy levels. It’s also one of the most important things we can do to prevent or lessen SAD (seasonal annual depression). Remember how we mentioned that exposing your eyes to natural sunlight outside in the morning can help release the motivational neurotransmitter dopamine? It also helps to set the body clock in a way that aids in getting to sleep a lot easier in the evening.
Even if it’s cloudy outside, try to get out there as close to sunrise as you can for a short walk, or simply stand outside sipping your morning tea. Sunlight is essentially information, telling our bodies what time of day it is and therefore how to function. After lunch, take a short walk outside so your body knows it’s still daytime, which will also help optimise your digestion. When it gets to night time, dim all your overhead lights after sunset, and try to switch off your screens an hour before going to bed, because the bright light emitted from the screen can prevent the release of melatonin – a hormone we require in order to sleep. Instead of watching TV, perhaps listen to music, read, chat or play board games.
By now you’re probably aware that seasonal foods are good for us, and not just for our own bodies, but for the planet too. The more we’re able to eat locally, the more we contribute to a more sustainable future and a healthier planet. Another reason seasonal eating is important is because – just like sunlight – food is information for our cells. The warm, long, bright days of Summer allow our bodies to digest fruits and naturally sugary foods easier, but when the days become shorter, the delicate juicy fruits are no longer what we need. In the colder months of Winter, this is a time to focus more on healthy fats, proteins and root vegetables.
Seasonal eating is one of the most simple practices we can start bringing into our lives; just look at the foods in season in your country, and fill your fridge and cupboards with them. A pineapple in December isn’t going to give the body what it really needs. But a sweet potato – full of vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin D, C, potassium and magnesium – all give us exactly what we need when we’re living our Winter lifestyle in terms of immune-boosting nutrients, energy, and muscle-maintaining vitamins.
Ayurveda sees Winter as a season governed by both the Vata and Kapha doshas, which means some of us may feel light, dry, scattered and cold, whilst others may feel heavy and low. Depending upon how you feel, adopt the principle ‘like increases like, and opposite brings balance’. If you’re feeling dry, scattered and in need of some TLC, give yourself more fats (butter, oils, nuts, seeds and fish) to help nourish your joints. If you feel heavy and low, try adding warming, stimulating spices to meals like cinnamon, ginger, clove, cayenne, mustard and star anise.
For those who life in the Northern hemisphere, choose potatoes, carrots, kale, cauliflower, fennel, winter squash, chard, parsnips, turnips, celeriac, brussels sprouts, apples, beetroot, mushrooms, cabbage, cranberries, chestnuts and pears. This would also be a season when humans would have eaten more meat, so choose organic grass-fed meats, or if you follow a plant-based diet, increase your legumes and nuts for more protein and fat.
Winter sleep and socialising
Our levels of extroversion and introversion follow the sun. At the peak of Summer, we are supported to be our most energised, extroverted selves, whilst in the depths of Winter, it’s time to turn inward. Sleep is an important Winter self-care practice. The longer nights give us a clue that it’s time to head to bed a little earlier, and sleep in until sunrise when possible. If your schedule doesn’t allow for snoozing in the morning, aim to go to bed about an hour earlier than you would in Summer, especially if you often feel stressed, anxious, tired or depleted. Think of this as your season to recover.
When it comes to socialising, even though you might be planning Christmas parties, try to spend the majority of the time nourishing your closest relationships. Whereas our Summer ancestors would have travelled, met new people, and explored new lands, our Winter selves have evolved to spend much more time closer to home with family and dear friends. Thankfully, the festive season usually sees us spending time with family and friends, but perhaps make this year special by letting those loved ones know how much they mean to you – engage in meaningful and undistracted conversation, and adopt the practice of switching off your phone in the evening so you’re able to be present away from the world of social media.
We can also spend the Winter months nourishing the closest relationship we have; the one with ourselves. Use Winter as a time to get to know yourself again. Reflect upon how the year has been, what you’d like to change, and whether the direction you’re heading in is the right one for you. Spend more time journaling, dreaming, meditating and taking good care of yourself with practices like abhyanga, the Ayurvedic term for a special kind of self-massage.
Organs to care for in Winter
Traditional Chinese Medicine sees Winter as the season linked to the kidneys and bladder, which are considered our inner batteries and stores of energy. The kidneys in particular are said to hold our vital life force and deepest reserves of Qi. Qi is the energy that gives us strength, immunity, longevity and vitality, but when we’re stressed or ill, this energy becomes depleted. With their close relationship to the adrenals, the kidneys are important to care for in order to replenish our emotional and physical energy levels. Chronic stress and anxiety can lead to energetically depleted adrenals and insufficient kidney Qi, so use this season to bring them back to life.
Choose a class like Johanna Lundqvist’s Yin For Kidney & Urinary Bladder or Helen Noakes’ Nourish Your Kidneys With Yoga.
Yoga postures for Winter
To find balance throughout Winter, bring in strong and stimulating asanas like Utkatasana (chair pose), Parivrtta Utkatasana (revolved chair pose), Navasana (boat pose), and plenty of warming Sun Salutations, whilst making more time for restorative postures like Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined bound angle pose), Savasana, and Viparita Karani (legs up the wall), which is a great way to stimulate activity of the immune system’s glymphatic system (not to be confused with ‘lymphatic system’) whilst the legs are raised.
Pranayama for Winter
Much like our yoga postures, pranayama for Winter is all about bringing in warmth and brightness, whilst also practicing techniques that bring the nervous system into a state of ‘rest and digest’. Practice a few rounds of Kappalabhati in the morning to awaken the senses and release any nasal or sinus congestion, then set a timer for 5-10 minutes of inhaling for 4, holding for 7 and exhaling for 8, which can help cultivate a sense of calm and ease.
I hope these tips have inspired you to live more seasonally this Winter! If so, start making more space in your schedule, live life a little slower, enjoy those seasonal foods, and take time to care for yourself this season. By bringing these rituals and routines into your day, you’ll be supporting yourself to spring back into life when the seasonal cycle starts all over again.