Summer is a favorite season for many of us--it is warm, expansive, and fun. We spend more time outside, there is light for longer periods of the day, and we generally feel more energized. There is much to look forward to; from social outings to vacations and barbecues, people often say that they wish that summer would last all year. These are also oftentimes the people who start to feel anxious and even a bit depressed when we inevitably make our way into the fall and winter months. Is this you? If so, make sure that you read this until the end.
One of the things that I love most now about living in Maryland is the seasons. My appreciation for this variety deepened after becoming an acupuncturist and learning about living in harmony with the seasons for a more balanced, healthy life. This "peace with the cold" transition was certainly not easy, however, as I too was one who hated the winter and felt a bit of a slump when the fun in the sun days were coming to an end. But let me tell you what I have learned, my friends--this seasonal depression we feel is simply a resistance to the natural energetic vibrations in our bodies that mirror what is happening outside. Although we live in a culture that is incredibly separate from nature and incredibly yang, we are still reflections of the seasonal patterns of nature, and when we fight against the autumn and winter we are actually fighting our own inner nature. We are not meant to be at the height of yang all year round--it must come to an end at some point, and that natural decrease into yin (aka, winter) can sometimes feel like a slippery slope into the dark recesses of our minds that we're afraid to expose. I am here to tell you that it is natural experience to have and that leaning into the transition that you feel in your body is the best possible thing you can do.
So now that you know that your body vibrates in sync with the seasons of Earth, what do you do about it? There are several practices that I will list below, but more than anything I want to encourage you to find your favorite parts of fall and winter and keep those in the forefront of your mind. Each season has many gifts to offer us. Autumn gives us that delicious cool breeze that breaks the heat wave, the gorgeous colors, the pumpkin and apple picking adventures, the time to reflect on the year so far and find the gem in all the lessons learned. Winter gives us snow and holidays to spend quality time with loved ones, deep peace and quiet, and an opportunity to really focus on self-care and nourishing ourselves as we spend more time indoors. We are meant to have that period of yin and "hibernation," and it is when we take care of our bodies and our minds intentionally during this time that we are fully rested and ready to burst forth into spring when it arrives.
My point in saying all of this is to tell you that one, it is completely normal in the culture we have been conditioned in to feel unsteady in these yin months, and two, that it is completely possible to shift our perspective and see this time of year as something we can use to our advantage instead of something to be dreaded. Our thoughts about our circumstances are what create our feelings, and I can say from personal experience that choosing to consciously look for the gifts and opportunities in winter has completely changed the way I live my life. Winter does not have to become your new best friend by any means, but it can become a friendly neighbor rather than an arch enemy if you choose it so.
As promised, here are some practices that I have found helpful in the fall and winter months to support my own experience:
1. Make it a priority to add a practice like yin yoga into your weekly routine. Your tissues need deep stretching to stay nourished, and this restorative practice prevents stagnation while also not overtaxing the body (like a hot yoga class would, for example).
2. Listen to your body! This is one of the key points. We are naturally not supposed to have the same amount of energy as we do in the height of summer, and if you're feeling tired, take a short nap! So often we get sick in the winter because we ignore our body and its needs, and simply tuning in to see what's really going on can elicit huge changes in health and well-being.
3. Eat warm, nourishing foods. I always tell my patients to think of their stomachs as a pot of water on the stove that they're trying to heat up to cook food. If you put warm water (aka, food) in the pot (aka, your stomach), it is fairly easy for the pot to heat up the water, and it will be begin boiling quickly without much effort. On the other hand, if you dump a block of ice in the pot, it will take the pot longer, with more heat and energy used, to first thaw out the block of ice, and then to heat it up. The block of ice in this scenario is cold and raw foods being eaten in the colder months. Your body is already naturally cold, and adding cold and raw foods to it will increase the cold and cause your body to use more precious energy to process the food. Long story short, I am not telling you that you cannot eat salad if it is not blazing hot outside, but keep them to a minimum and stick to soups, bone broth, cooked meats and veggies, etc. 4. Get more sleep. You may be already finding that you are feeling the urge to go to bed a little earlier and sleep in a little later at this point in the year, and there is nothing wrong with you! Your body needs a little more rest in the yin time of year, and, as I said in #2, listen to your body when it tells you that it needs this. When you fight your body's wisdom you will lose, but only 100% of the time.
5. Get regular acupuncture! This is one of the BEST ways to tend yourself in the fall and winter. Acupuncture keeps your qi flowing freely and your immunity boosted, and regular wellness/preventative visits are often a key factor in staying healthy and vital throughout the year (or so my patients say :) ).