Many of us struggle to maintain good spirits at this time of year. We feel tired, unmotivated, and anti-social, and we feel like something is wrong with us for feeling that way. Advertising and social media give the impression that everyone else is living in the glow of holiday cheer while we are hiding at home binge watching Game of Thrones and feeling guilty for not getting to the gym. While some of us may sink into a true seasonal depression that requires attention, most of us are right where we need to be. Mother nature is giving us a message.
Chinese medicine is rooted in the observation of natural cycles and phenomena. According to the Dao, if we live in harmony with these rhythms, we will achieve longevity and good health. Living with the seasons may seem like a theoretical exercise in our modern industrialized world in which we are insulated from the vagaries of our natural environment. However, when we don’t align ourselves with the predominant energy that surrounds us, it takes its toll. I like to think of it as working smarter rather than harder.
For instance, in my first year managing a farm in Napa, CA, I was trying to use as much of our limited space as possible to increase production. I decided to make a new garden bed along an existing fence line in order to plant some vining crops. In my inexperience, I did not take into account that the dry mid-summer clay soil was hard as a rock. We toiled through the day in hundred degree heat determined to overcome the challenge. We made little headway, and I went home with a splitting headache and vomited my guts up from dehydration and heat sickness. This was clearly not the right time of year to be digging new ground. This is an example of what can can happen when we ignore nature’s cues. In this case, it was more like an elephant jumping on my head that I somehow failed to notice.
I have since discovered that plants are a lot like people and that it is easier to live with nature than against her. While most of us have become disconnected from the rhythms of nature, we only need look to our gardens and forests to remind ourselves of healthy seasonal behaviors. In autumn, plants drop their fruits, leaves, and flowers in order to concentrate energy in their roots. Their energy is stored in a state of rest beneath the ground through winter until conditions in spring cause them to roar to life once again. The earth contracts so that it can expand the way a diver crouches before leaping off the board. Nothing in nature runs full speed ahead all the time. Yet that is exactly what we expect of ourselves. While animals are hibernating and plants have gone dormant, we expect ourselves to be as energetic and productive as always. If you don’t take a disco nap, you will likely be the one asleep in the corner beneath the coats while everyone else is dancing.
Winter is a time of rest, contraction, and introspection so that we can be ready come spring to bring our dreams to fruition. Let’s give ourselves permission to feel tired, unmotivated, and anti-social without judgment or guilt. You may find that when you allow yourselves rest, you no longer want to be a couch potato because you have energy to get out and take a walk. You may find that when you allow yourself quiet time alone, you suddenly want to go to that holiday party you were dreading. You may find that if you stop struggling to achieve all of your goals today, come spring it will be smooth sailing with the full force of nature behind you.
Emily is a Chinese medicine practitioner with Thompson Family Acupuncture. Emily works with people to become more comfortable in their bodies and flourish in their lives. Our greatest sense of health and well being derives from living according to our true nature. Emily is honored to partner with patients along their path of self discovery so they may live to their greatest potential. When Emily is not working she can be found exploring nature with her dog or playing guitar (and singing to her dog).