By Liz Koch
Now is the time to prepare for winter wellness. Every season, so says the ancient texts, is the mother of the next season. For winter wellness one must start preparing right now. The easiest way to know just what to do is to take cues from Mother Nature. We, like all creatures, have a biological if not a social need to prepare for winter.
Although California winters are not as extreme as those in the North and East, this year looks like it may be colder and wetter than usual. With colds and pandemic flu lurking around the corner why wait? Begin now by noticing how the days are shortening. This is the first important cue to observe. As the days shorten it is time to shorten your busy schedule.
Winter’s natural rhythm of hibernation is perceived in traditional Chinese philosophy as the best way to build blood and life energy. Winter is the kidney/bladder season: it is the time to replenish and store our adrenal health. Like the squirrels that are busy collecting nuts, replenishing and nourishing our adrenal health is a great fall activity that helps us survive the winter. By restoring our reserves we feel calm and capable of not overreacting to holiday stress.
Eat for the season – To restore your adrenals, eliminate coffee, processed foods, sugars and chemicals, which all stimulate the sympathetic flee/fight survival response. Eat basic whole nutritionally dense foods during the winter season. such as root vegetables, dark leafy greens prepared in rich broth soups and stews to help build healthy blood. Winter is not the time for cold raw foods, which are great for spring cleansing and eliminating. This is the time to deepen the well of nourishment with warm seasonal pumpkins, squash, apples, pears, and mushrooms. Add a touch of cayenne to spice up, warm, and increase circulation.
Exercise for the season – Rather than continue the same program throughout the year, fine tune or shift to quieter movement. Qi Gong, tai chi, restorative yoga, and continuum movement, all provide an internal exploration fit for winter. Winter is also a good time for regular acupuncture, massage, acupressure or other healing modalities that restore and rejuvenate. Bathing is restorative during winter. Taking the time to light candles and immerse yourself in a steaming bath fosters relaxation and contemplation. In the book Well-Being: Rejuvenating Recipes for Body and Soul author Barbara Close offers a great selection of herbal and food recipes for every season of the year. A calming Chamomile bath is toted as having sedative properties used for centuries to treat insomnia and anxiety and lull you off to dreamland.
Eastern and Western herbs can assist in helping you rebuild adrenal and immune health. Many winter tonifying herbs can be included in your soup broths or enjoyed as tea. Rosemary’s Gladstar’s Family Herbal: a Guide to Living with Energy, Health and Vitality, and Herbs for the Soul: Emotional Healing with Chinese and Western Herbs and Bach Flower Remedies by Tamara Kircher are two books that inspire new and refreshing ways to value phyto plant healing powers.
Stay warm during the winter – Nature goes dormant, takes shelter, and finds protection during the winter months including our kidney energy. From the traditional Chinese perspective adrenal health and our immune system needs protecting. The aged and weak particularly feel the cold. Throughout winter we need to choose how to spend our energy and calories to ward off the cold. Keep your feet, head, neck, and low back covered and warm throughout this season. If you are particularly vulnerable to cold and wet winter winds, wear socks and even a stocking cap when enjoying a long winter’s nap.
Rest is essential for winter wellness – Take extra naps, go to bed early with a cup of herbal tea or warm milk, and be asleep by 10 p.m. When possible get up with the natural light of day. Long Winter nights provide fertile ground for our creativity. Both our dreams and Mother Nature quieting tone point the way to health.
Winter is the season for reflection – Prepare for quiet winter gatherings by slowing down rather than reeving up for the holiday season. Let this holiday time reflect the values and traditions dear to your heart. Enjoy a contemplative walk deep within the local forests or along our ocean edge. It is Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, who reminds us of our deep biological connection to the earth; those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter