This is a guest post from Jessie Steadman, aka "Healthy Coach Jess", a certified health coach, nutritionist, yoga instructor, and Tau contributor. When you attend one of our retreats Jessie will offer you personalized holistic coaching sessions. Part 1 is here.
Winter suggests a different way. Winter teaches us that created things need both work and rest. So let’s get practical. Say you buy the narrative. You sense your weariness. You even feel the hint of yearning to greet winter with welcome instead of dread. How exactly does one begin to make that shift? There is no magic formula, and every human being is unique. Learning to listen to your own inner teacher here will take you farther than my advice can. There are as many ways to slow down and embrace seasonal cycles as there are people, but what follows are some ideas to try. They may guide you to similar but more personalized practices.
Practice slowing down your mind
Winter is the perfect time to begin a meditation practice if you don’t have one. In its simplest form, meditation is the practice of sitting with the stillness, the silent and with whatever arises, whether pleasant or unpleasant without judgment or attachment. In a way, this is what winter is asking us to do writ large: to be with what is, to stay with the season of quiet rest and darkness without demanding that it be different. The research-backed health benefits of meditation are broad and indisputable. If you need some help getting started, Centering Prayer is a healing Christian tradition. If you’re not quite ready for meditation, then breathwork can offer many of the same benefits. Set a timer for 5-20 minutes and then just focus on your breathing, noticing the sensations in your body as the breath comes and goes. Each time your awareness wanders, don’t fret, just bring it back to the breath without judgment. The 4-7-8 Breath and Box Breathing are two that I guide my yoga students through often. Another effective option is to deepen your breath by lengthening the exhales. For example, count to 6 as you inhale and to 8 as you exhale. As you continue this practice, you’ll be able to increase both counts equally as you grow your lung capacity, slow your nervous system down and reset your brain. And finally, possibly the most obvious suggestion: take a break from social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and whatever new platform that I am unaware is sweeping the nation. Set clear boundaries for time spent in these spaces or, better yet, take a total hiatus from them. While there are certainly some benefits to social media, the negative effects tend to outweigh them for most people: increased depression, feelings of isolation and inadequacy, a sense of discontent or dread. The constant stream of mostly unnecessary information flowing at us from these sites contributes to fatigue. Experiment with how quieting them also quiets your mind.
Practice slowing down your body
Try adding more restorative movement to your exercise routine. Yoga is an excellent option for this. Adriene Mishler offers a free 30 day challenge every January that is fabulous for beginners. Give it a try. Even if you don’t finish in 30 days, I promise you’ll feel like a new person if you stick with it to completion. Or that local studio you’ve always been meaning to visit? Just go! You might also want to try Tai Chi or Pilates. If you’re able, walk in nature. Research has shown the seriously impressive health benefits of moving and breathing outdoors. Decide that cold weather won’t deter you. The British fellwalker and guidebook author wrote, “There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing,” so invest in some very worthwhile winter gear, layer up and get out. If you can hike in a location that offers you stillness and serenity, you won’t be sorry. But if not, don’t sweat it, have a friend meet you at a local park or a neighbor meet you at the street corner. Finally, make getting sufficient sleep a priority. Set a reasonable bedtime for yourself - for most adults 7-9 hours from when you need to be awake - and stick to it. You might be amazed at how refreshed you feel from guarding this simple boundary. Are you one of those people who feels energized after a 20-minute cat nap? Then enjoy that indulgence without guilt through the winter months.
Practice slowing down your diet
Fast- and processed-foods never serve your well-being, but their digestion definitely depletes your precious energy reserves in the wintertime. Try instead to fill your diet with warm nourishing foods: soups, stews and whole grains. I love using the crock pot or Instant Pot in the winter. Putting something on for dinner before you leave in the morning or while you step outside for that walk in nature in the evening can be a game changer. If you typically eat a lot of raw veggies, opt for roasting, steaming or sautéing them more often in the winter (especially those that are harvested late in the season or would keep well in a dry cellar in the earth). Treat yourself to hearty, dense whole grain breads with aged cheeses now and then. Avoid processed sugar, but do enjoy dark chocolate. Have fruit, but in the form of oatmeal topped cobblers sweetened with honey like this one or this one. As often as you’re able, brew yourself a cup of steaming herbal tea. The options for healing teas are endless, but you don’t need to get fancy, just choose one in the grocery store that interests you. How you eat matters as much as what you eat. Maybe your winter habit should be to simply stop what you’re doing, sit at a table, and eat your meals intentionally, while doing nothing else except maybe connecting with another real live human being, your devices in another room.
Practice slowing down your schedule
It’s the little things! What small gestures will offer a little light in your daily routine? Maybe it’s pausing to light a candle or incense. Maybe it’s keeping that extra cozy blanket on the couch. Maybe it’s splurging on the lotion you really like and using it with words of self-affirmation each day. Maybe it’s taking time to journal at the beginning of your day. Maybe it’s cuddling with your loved one or precious pet for a few minutes in the middle of the afternoon. Maybe it’s relaxing in a warm oil-scented bath in the evening. Maybe it’s reading that fiction (not self-improvement) book that’s been on your list for years. Maybe it’s getting on the floor with your little one to build a tower or playing that board game with your tween. Maybe it’s trying again to keep that indoor plant alive. What creative hobby have you neglected? What individual gift have you ignored? Who have you been craving a nice long heart-to-heart conversation with? Ask yourself what would really nurture quiet and contentment within you. Consider the things that are soothing to you, that offer you a sense of comfort, and work to add them to your day. Remember, a big tell is that these things will leave you feeling restored with a sense of peaceful energy. They won’t be the things that allow you to numb or escape what’s difficult but eventually leave you just as (or more) empty.
Practice new restful and renewing habits in this season of stillness and silence
Here are some extra suggestions, for those who find nothing above resonant or who really want to go for it.
-Splurge on spas, saunas and/or massages. Tending to the body in these ways is great for detoxification in the winter.
-Sit near a fire whenever you can - indoor fireplaces or outdoor bonfires - and let the warmth soak in.
-Schedule some soul-work by spending time with a therapist or spiritual director.
-Choose gratitude. Start a list of things you’re grateful for and add to it daily or multiple times a day. Noticing the good is a habit that tends to blossom and grow the more we practice it.
-Dance. On the days you can’t move your body outdoors, move it indoors, to music that speaks to you.
-Be curious, foster play and take risks. Remember that inner teacher? Ask what this means for you and then be willing to give it a try.
Embracing winter is all about bringing our attention and intention to our schedule and responsibilities instead of just living in the urgency of the moment. It’s a decision to trust that a season of slowing down will bring future benefits even if you don’t exactly understand what or how. This will require an honest inventory of current choices. Making space will require saying no at times. It will require letting go of what no longer serves even when that feels hard, sometimes really hard. But the promise of winter is that spring is coming. And with it, new life. New life that is ready to blossom precisely because of its long winter rest.