We seem to do things backwards during December.
Just as Mother Nature is urging us to go to ground, we put on our party dresses. As the temperatures drop, daylight disintegrates and wild creatures settle in for a long snooze, there we are, hopping in the cold car to crisscross the city to buy Christmas gifts, attend multiple shindigs, drink all the booze, eat all the sugar and socialize as we’ve never socialized before.
Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine believes that harmonizing with the season at hand can help us stay healthy and prevent disease. Winter means staying warm and low-key, much like the rest of nature. And for the love of Ullr, wear a hat and scarf to protect your bare head and neck. In Chinese medicine, acupuncture points are at the back of your head, neck, and shoulders where our defensive qi, or life force, is weak and needs protection against the elements. Drink hot beverages, eat warm stews made from root vegetables (the foods most in season right now) and go to bed early (what a perfect time of year to work on your sleep game).
Winter is the yin to summer’s yang. The force of yin is slow, dark, cool and inward-seeking, while yang is hot, light, fast and outward-seeking. This is the time of year to slow down, reflect on the past and what our lives have wrought, and mull our hopes.
While Friday’s winter solstice at 3:23 p.m. makes it the shortest day of the year, daylight will begin to collect immediately, one minute at a time right before sunset, until Jan. 7. Then we gain two extra minutes of light per day, one minute at sunset and one minute at sunrise.
That should please the many folks who grouse about their seasonal affective disorder at this time of year. I don’t usually tell them I enjoy this dark patch. It’s the summer, with its never-ending, light-filled days, that drives me to the brink of madness. Remind me to never endure an Alaskan summer, when the sun never sets. My body wakes up at the first hint of light, which comes disturbingly early in June and July. This is my period of SAD, but a revelation like that usually earns me a look of disbelief and suspicion.
Instead of making these winter months one long grumble fest, turn toward the darkness. Give it a long embrace. The cold and dark are here to stay until the spring solstice at 3:58 p.m. March 20, so you might as well work with it instead of against it. One friend I had complained incessantly about the weather — a true exercise in futility. As if any of us has can control it. Channel that energy instead into learning to flow with the unchangeable.
1. Keep Moving
Although the season asks us to slow down, it’s still important to move your body. Turning into a human slug who gains 10 pounds every winter isn’t setting yourself up for success.
Bundle up and go outside for a daily walk, even if it’s cloudy, then head back to work or home and brew yourself a cup of caffeine-free ginger tea — energizing and good for digestion, an important quality during the holidays.
2. Practice Yoga
Take a heated yoga class. This is the only time of year my body can tolerate overly heated and humidified vinyasa classes. It’s cold out, so the yang practice doesn’t make me cranky, claustrophobic or exhausted, as it does during summer. A yang practice at the height of a yang season is a recipe for disaster.
I’m not opposed to a yin yoga practice during a yin time of year, however. Super slow yin and restorative classes can help you achieve that going-to-ground idea. The deep, long holds can turn you toward introspection and help slow stress hormones or cease them from firing.
3. Warm Up
Warm your core and induce a sweat by sitting for a spell in a sauna, steam room or warm bath. This is another indulgence I can’t abide during warm months, but it suddenly sounds good when the temperature drops. Don’t forget to slather on lotion or oil afterward, trapping the moisture in your skin.
4. Light a Candle
Spend your evenings in candlelight. I intend to try this in the next couple of months — turning off all the lights and spending the two or three hours before bed living as our ancestors did. It’s said to do wonders for calming your nervous system and improving the quality of your sleep.
5. Focus On Self-Care
Take the time to create a practice of what nourishes you this winter and early spring. Have a winter self-care stockpile to rely on when the cold wind takes your breath away and you don’t think you can stand another day that goes dark at 4:30 p.m. And above all, sit tight. We’ll be talking watermelon salsa recipes and the best sunburn salves before you know it.