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The Importance of Winter

In Traditional Chinese medicine, each season has a certain energetic quality or paradigm that can influence your health in positive or negative ways. This depends on whether you align your own energy and activities with this paradigm or not. As Winter begins to blanket nature and human activity I wanted to share some historical and subtle perspective on our good friend Winter. For most of human history Winter has been a time of stillness, listening, learning and consolidating one’s inner resources. On a subtle level Winter invites us all to explore our inner world as the outer world is in a deep slumber.

Imagine living before industrial society came along – Winter would have been a time of listening to and telling stories, eating simply, getting a lot of rest and practicing old and new skills. In the modern world things are almost backwards. During Winter we go to work or school from dark to dark. We have Halloween, Thanks Giving, Christmas, Ski Season, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day – all fun, but potentially taxing on your energetic reserves. Furthermore, most of our evening entertainment keeps us up staring at artificial light until 11:00 pm. We seem to have forgotten what Winter is about energetically and the importance of aligning ourselves with that opportunity to restore or maintain abundant health.

Let’s see how the energy of Winter may influence your life and your health:

If you have a sedentary lifestyle of sitting all day, then engaging in the “stillness” energy of Winter may feel a bit heavy and oppressive. I would encourage you to get into the practice of “stillness in movement”. Consider going for a leisurely walk all bundled up and warm, while reflecting on a sense of inner calm and self awareness. This could be the year that you choose to build some inner resources, and then in Spring to make some lifestyle changes that include more movement, maybe a cleanse, or even a fast.

If you have a lifestyle that feels like a tennis match between high stress days and more Friday nights in a week than is good for your health, then the season of Winter is likely to be challenging for you. The shorter days and lack of sunlight may bring on feelings of depression and anxiety. These feelings often come from your deeper instincts telling you that it may be time to take a break from burning your candle at both ends. Stillness may seem boring and just amplify a sense of distress but trust me, you will come to appreciate saying “no” and having some real free time. All of us can benefit from consolidating our inner resources with a healthy diet, long and deep sleep and some appropriate supplements to balance the scales of living in the modern world.

If you like to exercise a lot – especially stamina based sports- or have a job that is physically demanding, then the energy of Winter may bring an essential and balancing influence into your life. The hardest conversation I have with my patients, especially those in mid-life who have prided themselves on epic marathons, hikes and bike rides, is the conversation about the importance of Winter. People who pride themselves on being physically fit, myself included, can have a hard time when our bodies need some time for deep rest and repair. As it turns out, your adrenal glands need a good Winter every few years or your hard work and best intentions towards a healthy life may leave you burned out. This includes warning signs like:

  • feeling chronically tired,
  • sleeping poorly,
  • gaining weight without eating more,
  • feeling depressed and
  • having little or no sex drive.

As you probably already know your adrenal glands help you respond to stressful experiences as well as increase your metabolism during stamina based sports and exercise. I am sure you have experienced the thrill of a good burst of adrenaline and it is undeniably enjoyable. The downside of too many days, months and years of running on adrenaline is that it shifts your metabolism for the worse. Gradually at first, but then all at once everything starts changing towards poor health and some things just stop working altogether. I’ll be writing a series of articles on adrenal health and how it all works; for now I just want you to reflect on how much stress and exercise your adrenal glands are adapting to, and if you might be ready for a Winter where you decide to explore the energy of this calm, quiet ans wise season more consciously. Trust me, three months of less Cardio and stress won’t make you fat or even unfit. Once your metabolism has had time to rest and repair itself you will be able to enjoy the energy of Spring with a renewed sense of vitality.

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