Winter can really be a marathon. By the time February rolls around, I’m usually spending my free time searching online real estate listings in tropical locales, daydreaming about a desert vacation, and counting down the days until spring break. I know I’m not alone! But as impatient as we may be for the arrival of warmer months, our bodies still want (and need) to take things slow.
Taking inspiration from the holistic practice of ayurvedic medicine can help us give our bodies the seasonal care they need. One of the key principles in ayurvedic medicine is the concept of balance. As the seasons change, our bodies and our spirits need different things in order to remain in balanced and in optimum health. When we lack balance, we put ourselves at risk for higher anxiety, a weaker immune system, hormone imbalance, depression, and even skin irritation.
So, how can we keep things in check? Folks on the Autoimmune Protocol are already on the journey to understanding the delicate balance of gut health, and how sensitive we can be to what we put in our bodies. Maybe we even know the benefit of eating in-season. But what you may not know is that the energy balance of yin and yang in your day to day life can help your already-sensitive immune system be more resilient.
It can be hard, especially in a culture that values being on the go and staying busy, to embrace the closer, quieter yin energy present in winter months. We are conditioned to believe that we should carry on our workout routine as usual all year round, make sure to eat raw foods and leafy greens as much as possible, and keep a packed social schedule no matter the season. All these things are much more aligned with yang energy which sees a natural increase in spring and summer months. Yet we don’t do ourselves any favors by denying the natural instinct to cozy up and slow down in the winter.
I frequently make green smoothies for breakfast, and sometimes I continue this habit right through the holidays and into the new year. It’s easy, comes together quickly, and I don’t have to think about it. But this chilled, bright beverage, full of raw ingredients, is the opposite of what my body is craving this time of year. If I really tune in to what my body—not my brain— is telling me, I know that now is the time to embrace richly spiced, warm foods. It’s time to roast root vegetables and season my dishes with garlic, turmeric, black pepper, nutmeg, and cloves. It’s time for warm beverages and hearty broths.
Exercise can also look different when we are listening to our yin instincts. I find getting more sleep in winter to be particularly restorative, so I don’t tend to cram in any workouts before work like I might in the summer. My activities also tend to be less focused on burning calories and more geared toward the slow movement of yoga or even just stretching. Of course, I love to get out in the snow from time to time with a hike or cross country ski, but in general I feel better with a slightly lower volume of exercise than I pursue at other times of year.
One of the key lessons we can take from ayurvedic medicine is the importance of tuning into and then following what your body is telling you it needs, and not feeling guilty if that doesn’t match up with what you feel obligated to. This is one of the most consistent challenges I see in my health coaching clients, particularly those with autoimmune disease. As we know, eating, drinking, and exercising without being mindful of our body’s responses can quickly get us in hot water! The good news is that it’s never too late to learn how to start listening to your body. Quieting your brain, which has been conditioned by all kinds of sources (advertising, your mom’s lectures, societal norms) to make quick decisions, may be something you work on for quite some time. I know I still am!
If winter is a marathon, then we’re in the final miles now, which means it’s all that much more important to maintain form. It can feel like a grind, but soaking up the warmth and soothing qualities of yin energy during these weeks can sustain us through the yang seasons more effectively. For now, I’m going to hurry up and slow down. Who’s with me?