I don’t know about you, but I love winter. Wrapping up in big comfy jumpers and curling up in front of a fire is my dream place to be, not forgetting invigorating walks out in the cold which make coming back into the warm even more inviting. Winter can be a time, though when we get ill more often. However, you have the power to support your health with the help a smart Yoga practice combined with seasonal living tools.
For those of you who are not familiar with seasonal living, it is a system which embraces tools from various Eastern holistic therapies (think Traditional Chineses Medicine, Ayurveda and Yoga) to help you to take charge of your own health, by tapping into the laws of nature (and specifically the seasons of the year.)
Each season has a specific energetic quality – including an association with an element (i.e. water, fire, wood, earth and metal) – which can influence our health on a physical, mental and emotional level.
Winter And Seasonal Living
If we look outside during the winter months everything is quiet and still; the trees are bare, and the wildlife is sleeping. The nights are long and cosy, and the days are short. The associated element here is water, which reflects the most yin time of the year. Yin energy is dark, cold, slow, and inward; just think of the deep waters of the sea. It’s opposite, yang energy, can be seen in the spring and summer, where it is lighter, hotter, faster and more outward.
The very nature of the season invites us to draw inwards; to reflect, replenish and recharge the batteries.
If we follow the energy of winter and the qualities of the water element, this is the time of year when we should try and be more conservative with our own energy; slow down a little bit, and rest when we feel tired.
The problem is that many of us ignore that invitation. Modern life with all its technology, allows us to stay on the go 24/7. It is therefore, difficult to stop or slow down. In addition, we are so busy. Many of us juggling many roles on a day-to-day basis and because of it, putting our own needs at the bottom of the list.
It may not seem like a big deal, but the truth of the matter is different when it comes to our health. You see, just because our minds don’t follow nature our bodies internal systems do, and this is something that we cannot really ignore if we want to protect our health.
How This is Important for our Health?
As noted above, each season and element has an association with aspects of our physical, mental, and emotional selves. Water is linked to the kidney and bladder, which makes sense as both organs help us to regulate fluid levels in the body. The kidneys also ‘house’ the adrenals glands. The adrenals, supply us with energy and regulate cortisol and adrenalin levels – i.e.our stress response hormones. Both hormones help the body stay primed for action. They help to us to keep going.
The trouble is, if we are in this mode for too long, it can lead to burn out – we just run out of go-go juice. During winter, our adrenals are not really designed to take a big hit; remember we are at the time of year where the yin energy is at its peak. So, if you are:
- suffering from fatigue,
- feel tired but wired,
- have difficulty sleeping,
- feeling anxious or depressed,
- finding it hard to switch off.
- having tummy issues *
- relying on copious amounts of coffee to get your through the day.
You may already be putting too much pressure on your adrenals. It is time to slow down and take stock.
It is also useful to note here that when we in our stress response, processes like digestion take second place. * This is not so good for keeping our immunity levels high. We need an efficient digestive system to help us absorb essential nutrients for the body; we cannot build an effective immunity without it. At a time of year illness tend to be at their highest, this is not something that we can really ignore.
So, how can we support our health during the Winter months with seasonal living and yoga?
All you need to do is make simple changes to your yoga practice and lifestyle habits (namely diet and everyday habits). Let’s take a look at how now.
Start a Winter Friendly Yoga practice
Because winter is a time for rest, rejuvenation and renewal and reflection yoga is the perfect exercise tool to help support this. If, on any day your body is wanting a quieter, slower practice then simply adapt your yoga practice to honour that. Below are a few ideas on how yoga can support your health during winter.
- Practice yin yoga. This is a slower style of yoga where you hold poses for 3-5 minutes. This practice allows you to go much deeper into the body and is amazing at slowing the body and the mind down. If you are new to yin yoga, why not try out my winter yin yoga class.
- Try restorative yoga. Restorative poses like legs up the wall are perfect for this time of the year. Catch a tutorial for this pose here.
- Yoga is great for supporting your digestive health. Why not try my chair yoga sequence for better digestion. You can access it here. It is also a great sequence if you are suffering from any tummy issues.
- Include some Vinyasa flow sequences. Just as the quality of water can be still, it can also be flowing. Vinyasa style sequences (movement and breath) are great for tapping into your inner resources and getting the energy moving smoothly.
- This is the perfect time of year to explore breathing and meditation practices. Nadhi Shodhana is a great breathing tool to calm the nervous system for example. You can read more about it here.
Support Your Winter Health with Simple Changes To Your Diet
Each season is associated with a flavour and Winter’s flavour is ‘salty.’ It can be useful, therefore to add a little more salt into your diet. This doesn’t mean start adding table salt to your foods though! Think of more natural forms of salt like rock salt. Alternatively include naturally salty foods like seafood and seaweed (e.g., nori and other sea vegetables). Kombu is also a good option. Here are some other tips.
- Eat seasonally and try and buy locally if you can (I know it is a tall ask but just do your best).
- Eat cooked food as opposed to raw. Think warming casseroles, broth-based dishes like soup and stews.
- Include plenty of root vegetables and wholegrains. Also, include warming spices like garlic, ginger, and turmeric.
- Avoid drinking ice cold drinks. Instead try warm or even hot water. Hot water incidentally is great for detoxifying your organs especially if drunk first thing in the morning before food.
- Try to avoid too much caffeine especially if you are sensitive to it. Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands which we want to avoid as much as possible. If you like your coffee, try having just one cup a day.
- Eat earlier in the evening, so that your food is well digested before you go to bed.
- Try not to eat on ‘the hoof’ or skip meals. Eat 3 balanced meals a day instead.
Lifestyle Tips for Winter Health
- Keep a gratitude journal. This will help lower stress and anxiety levels – basically cheer you up! Every night just write down 3 things which you are grateful for. Doesn’t have to be complicated. I for one, saw a rainbow in the sky after a morning run one day so wrote that about that. Being grateful, rewires your brain, encouraging you to think more positively about things. Simple but effective.
- Keep a dream diary. This is the perfect time to let your creative juices dream about where you want your life to take you in the future. Are there any fears holding you back? What action could you take to help you get over them?
- Make sure you go to bed early. Please, try and put down the phone and turn off the computer at least 3 hours before you go to bed. Don’t let them keep you active and busy when your body is inviting you to rest. This is what will lead to excess fatigue, tiredness and burn out.
- Listen to music. Sound is very soothing and supporting for your water element.
- If you enjoy baths why not try an Epsom Salt bath. Good for helping to soothe and relax the body before bed.
- Stay Warm. The kidneys hate getting cold which is one of the reasons some of us suffer with more back ache at this time of year. Wear warm clothing and as mentioned above avoid cold food and drinks.
So there you go, a few simple Yoga practice tips and lifestyle tools to help you support your health during the winter months. I think the most valuable point to not about this time of year is that it pays to do nothing. Rest is the best! Save the running around for later in the year.