Updated: Jan 31
Yes, you can!
At the writing of this blog, we are almost, by the calendar, 1 month into the 3-month winter season. A precious few of you may be saying, "thank goodness - still 2/3rds to go!" Many, however, the writer included, have found some adversity with the season, whether it be the darkness, the cold, the lengthy time before the next holiday, the shoveling, the isolation, or the need for more color in the environment.
There are, however, some EXTREMELY helpful tips that can aide in managing, embracing, and even thriving in the "season of dark."
In December, Aimee and I led a 3 session Zoom course that we dubbed "At Ease in the Season of Light." In addition to relaxations, we discussed ways to embrace and even appreciate winters cold and dark. By calling it "season of light" we reframed the season from one of dark to one of bringing in more light- calming, hopeful light. We discussed concrete ways to reframe our thoughts and actions during winter, to possibly great advantage. With enough intention, you may even find yourself looking forward to the time of more dark and candlelight, "going inward", "hibernation," "peace" and "introspection."
Following find five concepts that we will use to derive ten basic tips for reframing winter in a positive light.
Following December holidays and the winter solstice, our time of light is expanding so this brings hope! Additionally, by bringing in more light of your own making, you can circumvent a lack thereof. Candles and soft holiday lights can be left up to add warm and soothing ambience through the dark and cold months. Reading by steady candlelight or soft lamp light can be very soothing and is a wonderful way to avoid the blue light of devices that can mess with our sleep cycles. (I always recommend candles that come in glass containers for safety.)
By the same token, a recognition of the season of less light can really take the pressure off. Winter, for our recent ancestors and for much of the natural world, represents a time for coming in, post-harvest, and even hibernation. We can find a rhythm of personal growth, rest, and rejuvenation by aligning with “the season of dark.” If we align with the natural world. of which we are a part, what we observe is an intense period of growth in spring and summer, followed by a slowing and move to dormancy as storing up of energy before the next growing season. We can use this as our opportunity to slow down, be less frantic, use time to just be, retire to bed earlier and have some focus on the internal work of realizing what is important. Reflect. Take some pressure off to do do do and accomplish accomplish accomplish.
Take a moment to think - do I really need to go out and get that additional item? Read more. Have some quiet time with a craft you enjoy. Spend time playing some games or with your pet. Animals know what to do in winter – hibernate, respond to changes in light and temp, stay underground, go dormant, and eat more energy aligned foods, build shelters. We don't hibernate in the full sense –we are removed from nature and our animal instincts, post industrialization, we need to be directed. We have lost our diurnal rhythms, circadian rhythms, balance of indoors and outdoors, and nature sense. Technology enables us to keep going in winter and encourages us to keep going at the same pace when in fact possibly we should not.
Perhaps do not make the BIG decisions during this time. Many feel more tired during the winter. Continue with questions, contemplation of the previous year and what you want to keep or discard. When it’s time to release the replenishing energy with the light and warmth of Spring, you will feel the rejuvenation and revitalization that comes with the time of year and can aid in big decisions and changes. In fact, many believe Spring to be the better time for New Year's resolutions!
Hygge. Many people believe winter is vital medicine – time to rest, recover, turn inward, be still more often. We can perhaps find some direction from the Nordic idea of "Hygge." The elongated periods of long winters and long nights in Scandinavian countries– dark at 4:00- has brought forth a concept in this area of the world in order to promote survival, mentally and physically. Hygge describes a state, a goal of being warm, blanketed, cozy, low light, candlelight, connection, warm comfort foods on cold days – a serotonin boosting state. But to "Hygge" in winter, we must give ourselves an opportunity to also feel the cold. The recommended outside time minimum is 2 hours a week. You cannot have Hygge in isolation – the balance – the yin and yang – intense feelings of Hygge require the opposite to exist - the winter outdoors. This is winter balance, yin and yang. Getting out in winter, (great if into a natural setting) whether for an hour or 10 minutes can:
1. Boost serotonin - nature connection is proven to increase this soothing feel-good neurotransmitter.
2. Fresh air and sun when it’s out- studies show that breathing air outside of our homes is very good for us unless air pollution is a real problem.
3. Increased energy - need a boost during the day? Get outside for a quick walk around the home or workplace.
4. Balance energy - outdoor exercise is a great way to release anxious energy to better allow relaxation moving into night.
5. Connect with community - even a masked wave/hello from across the street or trail is a boost and a connection
6. Getting outside and experiencing the natural light can help us along with our body’s circadian rhythm, which affects both sleep and wakefulness.
Going outside, well dressed and comfortable, breathing in the cold air and feeling it on your face, creates a yin/yang balance with Hygge. Even opening a window to get fresh cool air can have health benefits.
IN SUMMARY: Ten Practical "Winter with Ease" Suggestions
1. Sleep more. Allow yourself to fall asleep at night when you feel tired. Rest senses at night. Take a blue light/screen tech break well before bed in order to better enable this.
2. Be creative in this downward slowing time, as you pull more inward and tap into instincts and inner abilities to create.
3. Make a nest.
4. Learn or keep up with meditation (candle suggestion for candle meditation - beeswax candle.)
5. To appreciate warm, also go outside. Be safe, be covered. Feel the cold on your face and in your nose. Shoot for 10-15 minutes a day or more, even if you must pick yourself up by the seat of your fleece pants and toss yourself out the door. The outside can calm and refocus us. Pay attention to your senses! Leave cotton for another season. When outdoors, wool and then waterproof/insulated. They need not be long outdoor experiences. Just take a mindful walk. “No bad weather, just bad gear philosophy.”
6. Hygge yourself in balance with foods too– warm healthy food, not as much raw food, warm drinks, wet foods to counter cold and dry outside. Stews, soups, roasted root vegetable and tubers, oatmeal.
8. "Hibernate" a bit, turn inward, contemplate, discern.
9. Reconnect with childhood winter memories, traditions, fun in the snow, hot chocolate, sled riding, etc.
10. Start a nightly teatime. Non caffeinated. Chamomile perhaps.
Many of these winter tips can be combined in a winter routine.
Stanford scholar Kari Leibowitz studied wintertime mindsets in Norway, where the sun sets on November 21st and does not rise again for two months. I would like to share some of her findings, insights, and views of managing winter AND managing winter during a pandemic:
“In Tromso, people see winter as full of opportunities, whereas in the US we tend to only focus on the limits. What are the things we can enjoy about the winter season, that bring us comfort? Another big part of the mindset is getting outside – Norwegians love to be active in winter. It’s about focusing on what we can control…so if you hate how early it gets dark out, you can try to focus instead on how it’s a chance to light candles and get cozy earlier, how it might help you to get to bed earlier, or even how it can be nice to watch the sunset from a work window. I encourage people to start small and find things they like about this winter. And focus on those. And personally, I will be thinking about this winter as a kind of hibernation, a time dedicated to quiet and rest and reflection, and that kind of mindful pause can help us come out the other side…”
Learning to embrace what winter IS instead of what winter IS NOT, is a solid first step in reframing thoughts and actions about and during the season. Listening to what your body needs during different seasons can often be a clue. So, if you listen and hear, “breathe fresh air, you need to move a bit outside, get cozy, watch a good movie, light a candle, read a book, eat warm soup and bread,” perhaps just do it😉.
Join us in February for two programs that will help call in more healing nature to your life or start your AM in one of the best ways possible!
1. Whether you are a seasoned outdoors person or wanting to learn ways to harness the benefits of coming back to the place where we spent 99.9% of our evolutionary time, indoors or out, "Amazing Benefits of Nature Connection" will expand your thoughts on nature and excite you about the "more than human world" even more. Registration now open for this four session February class, Sundays 7-8 PM ET. Zoom.
2. If you seek to align with the diurnal aspects and circadian rhythms as well as call in the daily benefits of starting off early with movement and meditation, join our 28 day February "Mindful Movement and Meditation Challenge." No better way to seat your practice and start the day with some mindful gentle stretches and strengthening. Our October challenge was a great success, for this writer included! Every morning in February, 7-7:30 AM ET. Zoom. Registration open.