Although I love the expansive nature of the warmer months, my introvert side always thanks me when winter rolls around. Rather than having to ensure I make time for quiet and stillness, I actually crave it.
Introspection, meditation, log fires, cosy nights, long walks amongst the trees, cooking, reading and writing make up my winter schedule. I feel like talking less and grounding more. I seek nourishment, over excitement and entertainment, from all that I do.
I was born in winter, so in many ways, I guess it is my season. Interestingly, I chose to do my birth in typical winter style. Firstly, I was one month overdue, apparently happier snuggled up inside the warmth of my mother’s womb, than facing the cold of June in Melbourne.
Secondly, I arrived on the solstice, the shortest day of the year. I used to be really annoyed that I had what I thought was the shortest birth-day of the year, until I realised I also had the longest birth-night of the year. This in itself epitomises winter for me – the warm, peaceful silence of the darkness.
Winter is about going within. We just need to look at nature around us to know what to do.
If we observe a plant, we will notice that all the energy is on the inside; seeds are being cultivated and the essence is being nurtured. Likewise, it is the time to find our inner voice and cultivate our inner world. It really is a golden season for us if we allow our body and mind to attune to its rhythms.
In line with this, winter is also a wonderful time for healing. Initially, this may seem like a contradiction in form, especially for those of us who have experienced chronic illnesses, and tend to get symptom flare-ups in the colder weather. This is usually due to the fact that we feel weaker, stagnant and perhaps even more fragile and vulnerable – ah, the very best time to heal
Even now, winters are when I really get to see what I’ve yet to deal with. It’s the time when the cracks show up and I notice what has been masked by the natural energy of the warmer months.
So despite the fact that in the depths of my illness, winters challenged my absolute core, they also provided me with an opportunity to shift.
The best explanation I ever got for this was through exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine, where winter is all about the health of the kidneys. The things that weaken our kidney essence the most are many of those that come alongside modern living’, such as: over-exertion or under-exertion, unbalanced diets, refined foods, artificial stimulants and contracted emotions; especially fear.
Therefore, even without a chronic illness, most of us on the treadmill of life, will start to feel a little more sensitive as the weather cools down. I have a couple of friends who cut back their alcohol consumption during winter; their bodies intuitively telling them that they have less reserves to deal with the aftermath.
Winter has taught me how to manage my energy levels; when you don’t have the heat’ of the sun lighting your path, you find out exactly what you do have in your own tank.
It was only during my illness years that I really learnt what it meant to warm myself from the inside out – from my belly and my heart.
Although it’s ideal to have your whole body at a nice temperature, if you have a choice, let me tell you, opt for a warm centre and cold extremities.
Sometimes, when I was really ill, my extremities would be freezing cold. I’d close my eyes and imagine a sun in my centre and its rays pouring out to my hands and feet. It was not only a beautiful feeling but it helped hone the concept of self healing. I felt less reliant on an external thing’ to heat me up and keep me warm.
As soon as we start to feel cold in our centre and lower back, it means our digestive system and kidneys are challenged, and that is when our bodies start to shut down.
Another sign that our kidneys are out of whack is usually fear. If you get a little more anxious or overwhelmed in the colder months, or find it harder to gain clarity, there is a good chance your kidneys are being challenged.
Warmth is crucial – so no midriff tops, flimsy dresses, or imported watermelons – as otherwise our bodies have to use up energy to keep us physically warm; energy better utilised to create fuel and light our digestive fire.
I got to experience this first hand recently when I visited Melbourne; excited to wear a new dress I’d just purchased that day, I tossed aside my inner wisdom and went out in it that night anyway. My digestive system suffered for it the next two days.
Overheating is not a clever idea either as it can consume and irritate the grounding nature we need in the colder weather. This includes standing too close to fires, electric blankets, food that is too hot (yes, blow on that spoonful of soup first, as your grandmother once instructed!), excess spices, and really hot, long showers and baths.
We all need to find and work with our own inner balance; know when enough is enough for you. A good yardstick to use is when you start to feel cold or get cold/hot sweats after being around warmth. This is the power of extremes: hot eventually turns to cold, and everything you’ve just tried to warm up has been trumped.
On the contrary, a long-lasting fuelling warmth will feel just right, like the sensation you get after a nourishing bowl of soup, or being hugged by a loved one.
The way I opt to stay warm without overheating is to generate a neutral form of heat through:
- keeping my home at a good temperature and wearing appropriate seasonal clothes;
- getting some midday winter sun on my face and limbs;
- eating slow-cooked bowls of food such as porridges, bone broths, stews and soups;
- including kidney supporting, mineral-rich, high bone density foods, such as those from the sea, and good quality unrefined salt, in my diet;
- focusing on foods that help anchor me at my centre, such as root vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, concentrated whole food sweeteners and small amounts of dairy and animal products;
- using more warming cooking methods, such as roasting, sautÃÂ©ing, stewing and baking;
- and, most importantly, avoiding the extremes. Hot and spicy foods can disperse energy, while cold and raw foods can deplete it. Ditto for the environment around you.
Winter is also the time I allow myself to indulge in more home-baked treats; there is nothing better than the aromas of baking circulating throughout the house to fire up the middle burner.
Other tips I have learnt include wearing darker clothes, especially around your lower back area, and deep belly breathing; focusing on that point between your navel and pubic bone.
Although, we all need to stimulate our kidneys a little in the cold season, the key is to know how much stimulation you personally need; in my case, when I was sick, I was so sensitive, it was like I was constantly adjusting the hot and cold taps on a shower in my own body.
The great part is, that if we discover how to manage our energy levels during winter, and take the time to move inwards, we can cultivate an inner strength and composure, that will keep us centred and on track throughout the rest of the year.