Ah, yes. The freezing fog, the squirrels running frantically around (no one does frantic like a squirrel), the bare trees, and the little patches of ice tell us that winter has arrived. Winter is a quiet time, where all around us in nature things are slowing down, decaying, and hibernating. So, too, should the human mimic these themes if they want to blossom with rejuvenated bodies and minds come spring.
This is a great time to establish some nourishing, rejuvenating rituals that will carry you through the winter. By spring, you will hopefully feel like a germinating seed, bursting with energy and renewed zest!
The following are some of my favorite rituals of the winter (and a couple I’ve borrowed from friends that I hope to try this winter):
It may be clichè, but that’s okay with me. A steaming bath lined with candles and infused epsom salts, baking soda, and the essential oil combo of the day is divine. In your bath sanctuary you have your thoughts to yourself. Sometimes I’ll put on a guided meditation for 10-15 minutes, other times I’ll just revel in the silence and decompression.
For a women-only getaway, head to Lynnwood or Tacoma, Washington for the healing waters of Olympus Spa. You can revel in numerous soaking pools, infused saunas, or enjoy the tea room for internal healing waters.
Fancy Times Warming Elixirs (don’t worry, they’re easy to make)
During the cold times, having cooked foods and warming beverages helps your immunity stay strong and your digestion healthy. Here’s a few of my favorite to brew up:
- Matcha Latte. Not everyone loves the bold taste of matcha, but those who do will reap the benefits of antioxidants, and a clear mind. Again, lots of room for variety here, but the basics go something like this: In a small saucepan, heat about 1 cup of your favorite unsweetened plant-based milk on medium-low until hot. Whisk in 1 tsp of matcha powder until throughly combined. Add in a pinch of cinnamon and 1tsp of honey or maple syrup, or no sweetener for a truly bold, bitter experience.
- Golden Milk. There’s a lot of variety with this one, you can Google this and find numerous recipes. A basic one includes using steamed (gently bring to steam on the stovetop or use steamer) almond, cashew, or coconut milk, and then stir in turmeric, ginger, cardamom, and black pepper to taste. Let cool slightly, then add raw honey or maple syrup to your liking.
- Chai (it’s easy to make, and contains less sugar than buying it out). In the linked recipe, you can leave out the dandelion for less roasty-rooty chai.
I like to try to take it easy on the caffeine in the wintertime, only because I think it brings me into a slower, more mindful flow that is in sync with nature. With more caffeine, I find myself propelled forward in my day at a high speed, with a more chaotic mind.
Simmer Down the Workouts
Chinese medicine advises one to conserve energy in the winter, much like a hibernating animal, or the plants around you. Notice they are not blossoming nor frolicking this time of year.
I like to take the opportunity to not “push the river” in my workouts. I check in with my body before I begin and adjust accordingly. If I’m feeling sluggish and stiff, I’ll probably start with gentle mobility exercises, getting my body stretched out and blood flowing. Maybe a gentle walk after that will complete my movement break. Maybe 30-60 minutes of yoga will be the order of the day.
In general, I rachet back intensity, regardless. With weight training, I’ll rest more or do gentle mobility work between sets. I won’t go too heavy or bust out a high number of reps. This is not the time to set your best 1 rep max, or to sweat profusely by doing intense supersets/ladder training/etc. Consider taking the opportunity to work on stabilizing muscles, mobility work, and slow movements through the range of motion that is weakest for you. With better mobility, and improved stability strength, you will improve your overall strength gains and reduce injury potential. More importantly, your strength will be functional.
Devour a New Book Series, or Dive Back Into An Old Favorite
It is trending, but true: blue light is detrimental to hormone regulation. In other words, blue lights (from phones, tablets, computers, etc) suppress melatonin, making it harder to relax and wind down. Give your body a break from digital stimulation by diving into an enthralling book, or series. I like to scan the new section at the library and pick out a few books to try. Ask your reader friends what book they couldn’t put down last. The series of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Outlander are all solid recommendations for different tastes.
Everyone has the ability to create. It doesn’t have to be strictly in the realm of “art” (whatever that means). For me, being creative means making holiday cards with silly drawings and caricatures to send to friends and family. Another option could be putting together festive spaces by just rearranging and using items already around the house (OK, I’m taking a little credit away from my wife on this one, but…still, I’ve been known to add on item or two that looks cool).
This is one of my favorite times of the year to let my creativity flow in the kitchen. I’ll make tweaks to old recipes, or find inspiration in cookbooks or the internet to try something new. I not-so-secretly love to reinvent “treats” with superfoods and upgraded ingredients to feel like I’m indulging but not bloated or regretful afterwards.
An Invitation to You
There’s endless ways to reconnect to yourself, and others. Winter presents a great opportunity to slow down, and restore your resources. What are your favorites ways to rejuvenate when you’re feeling depleted? What truly nourishes you?
Happy Winter to all, and to all a good ritual!
Amanda Johnson (AJ) practices at Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. She loves to show patients how Chinese medicine is fantastic at relieving body pain, aiding recovery and enhancing vitality. When not in the clinic, she will be out hiking, cycling, or playing in the water.