How to Care For Your Body Better in a Cold, Dark Season
“When we do not listen to the signals of our bodies as they shift from season to season, we are causing a subtle, constant form of stress. Here are a few ways you can help your body rebalance during the winter season.”
Living in cities with phones, alarm clocks, and steady working hours can sometimes give us the illusion that our bodies work like machines: we get up at the same time every day, work exactly the same amount, and need the same amount of food and sleep no matter the weather. We can forget that we are animals and our physical environment impacts us deeply. I suspect that so many of us get sick in the wintertime not simply because it’s cold, but because we are forcing ourselves to wake up before the sun and get a whole bunch of things done when all our bodies want to do is curl up and rest.
Our mental, emotional, and physical systems are cyclic. Sometimes we need action and sometimes we need rest. From a yoga perspective, prana is life force energy, and it comes in the form of breath, food, and sunlight. In the summertime, there is lots of prana available in the environment in the form of sun. Naturally, this is a time for action, movement, being outside, and enjoying our lives. Life can vibrate at a faster pace. In the winter, especially around the solstice when the sun is at its lowest, we naturally do not have as much energy for the outside world.
In Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga and a traditional form of medicine, our digestive fire changes season to season. We have more of it in the summer, which means it’s easier to digest things like raw foods, so it’s a good time to eat cold salads. In the winter, our digestive fire is low, so we should be eating warm, cooked foods, especially winter vegetables like squash and potatoes. Yes—I’m telling you to stop eating salads! At least until the spring. (Try this squash and apple soup recipe.)
When we do not listen to the signals of our bodies as they shift from season to season, we are causing a subtle, constant form of stress, and that affects everything from our our hormones to our immune system. It’s not always possible to correct for all of these things in a culture that expects us to be exactly as productive today as we are any other day, but there are a few ways you can help your body rebalance during the darker, colder season.
Seasonal Support Rx
- Sleep more. You need more sleep every night when the days are darker. If at all possible, avoid waking up before the sun. If that’s not possible, go to bed earlier.
- Stay home. Social time is more taxing in the winter, though it can sometimes get a bit lonely. Ensure you are spending enough time alone and with people you feel comfortable with, but go ahead and say no to that party you don’t really want to attend.
- Eat. You may need more calories in the winter, especially if you are still required to work a lot. Focus on warm, cooked foods in the winter with mild spices like pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and chilies.
- Process. Winter is a time for thinking, learning, and reflecting. Take time to study, read, learn, and grieve.
- Move (but not too much). Exercise is always good for you, but you may benefit from slower forms of yoga and gentler gym routines. You may also like to generate some heat with indoor cardio routines and/or a little time in the steam room.
- Wait. You may come up with some ideas, intentions, and resolutions around the solstice, but don’t try to put any of them into action yet, despite all that New Year’s Resolution pressure. You’ll be more effective if you wait until the days start getting markedly longer in late February or March.
Want more? Read how to activate your inner fire during winter.