I know, I know. According to the western calendar we are still squarely in autumn. At least here in Maryland we are still experiencing some fleeting warm days. But despite the warmth, something has shifted. The light has changed from golden to blue and the darkness is descending rapidly. I don't know about you but I am moving slower and feeling the urge to hibernate.
The Chinese calendar places the winter solstice smack in the MIDDLE of the season. If we understand winter to be the season of darkness, then it only makes sense that the darkest day of the year be the depth (not the start) of winter. That would mean that the 6 weeks before and after the solstice mark the 12 weeks of winter.
While this darkness may feel gloomy, it also offers so many gifts! Winter is a time when nature rests. Spend some time outdoors and you will notice how much quieter and still it suddenly is. It is a time of deep root growth. Winter is the time when we can go inward, practice stillness, recoup and recover, rebuild and grow strong. In can be a time to explore the depths of ourselves. To connect with our yin/quieter sides.
Of course, in our modern society this rhythm between yin (inward quieter energy) and yang (outward, bright and active energy) can get lost. We live in a upper yang society focused on constant activity and ever forward motion. We use electric lights to keep us in perpetual summer. But all this hustle, bustle and activity does not come without a cost. Without the chance to give our bodies a break in the winter time, its no wonder so many of us get sick at this time!
The Chinese classics tell us that to stay well and healthy we should live in harmony with the seasons. Our culture really doesn't "do winter" well--so it may feel a little counter cultural but allowing yourself to sink into winter can help you get through the dark cold season and have the energy you need to flourish come spring.
5 PRACTICES TO LIVE WELL IN WINTER
1. Slow down. Literally move slower. Create space once a day (or at least once a week) where you can move more slowly and gently. This could take the form of replacing one cardio workout for some stretching or yin yoga. Or it could mean taking a little longer with your morning routine. It might mean allowing yourself 5 more minutes to linger over breakfast or simply adopting a slower pace while you make dinner.
2. Create space for rest. Nap on the weekends. Go to bed earlier. Sleep a little longer. Give yourself permission to curl up on your couch with a good book, a wonderful movie or a great conversation. If you must keep going in work mode-experiment with ways to work more restfully. One year when I had to be up at 5am to do homework before heading into work--even in the winter--I made a fire and sat on the couch with my feet up while I worked and drank a magnificent cup of tea to start my day.
3. Embrace the dark. The constant light and hum of modern society can confuse our bodies. Make a point of limiting artificial light. Consider eating by candlelight, dimming bright overhead lights or turning off lights you don't need on. Turn off computers and TVs earlier. See how your body responds. Are you able to sleep easier? Do you feel more rested?
4. Create time for "root growth". Root growth is the quiet kind of growth that happens beneath the surface. In our culture we are so focused on the visible growth (of our careers, our wealth, our successes) we don't often take time to cultivate the growth of the stuff that anchors us. Consider what roots you. Maybe it is your faith, your love of literature and art, time with your kids and/or partner, connections with your community. Whatever it is, make time to cultivate quiet nourishing growth in this section of your life.
5. Take a long hot bath. The ancient Chinese associated the winter with the cleansing, nourishing, energy of water. One way to embrace rest and stillness is to soak in a hot bath. While resting in the bath, allow your body to relax and let go of anything that no longer serves.
Its also especially important to nourish ourselves during the dark days of winter. One of my favorite winter foods is bone broth and with leftover turkey bones in so many fridges now is a wonderful time to make it. Bone broth is deeply nourishing, provides minerals and collagen and helps our bodies refill and restore at the deepest levels.
Below is a recipe for:
BONE BROTH (A WINTER STAPLE!)
- Roughly 2lbs of bones (turkey, chicken or beef). You can use a leftover carcass from roasted chicken/turkey or get bones from a butcher. If you are using raw bones from the butcher roast the bones with a little olive oil and your veggies at 450 degrees for 10-20 minutes or until deeply browned.
- 1 onion quartered.
- 2-3 carrots in large (2-3 inch) chunks
- 2 stalks of celery cut up in 2-3 inh chunks.
- A couple of garlic cloves-cut in halve
- Enough water to cover the bones and veggies
- A few bay leaves, 1 TB whole peppercorns
- 1-2 TB apple cider vinegar
In a large stock pot place the roasted bones and veggies and cover with water. Bring to boil and skim off any foam. Add the spices and vinegar and lower heat to a low simmer and cover. Check broth every few hours, adding water when needed to make sure bones and veggies are covered.
Allow broth to simmer on low for 24 hours for chicken and turkey broth and 48-72 hours for beef broth, until bones are soft and start to break down. (If you are nervous about leaving the broth on the stove overnight you can also use a crockpot to cook you broth.)
Strain out the bones and veggies, pressing gently to squeeze out all the good juices!
Allow broth to cool and skim off the fat layer that forms on top. I usually freeze in small single or double serving batches. Broth will last 6 months in the freezer and 4-5 days in the fridge. You can also freeze the broth in an ice cube tray and then pop out the broth cubes into a plastic freezer bag for 1 oz servings to use in sauces.
Your broth can then be the basis for all sorts of delicious winter soups, can be used to add richness to pasta sauces or can simply be eaten or drank on its own for a nourishing snack. I know folks who drink 8 oz of bone broth a day during the winter months to help fortify their systems!
One of my favorite winter breakfasts when I'm in a rush to get to work is my quick and easy bone broth egg drop soup. I heat up 6-8oz of broth, add a couple of dashes of soy sauce or tamari (Gluten free soy sauce) and whisk in an egg, letting the egg cook in the hot soup. Pour it into a thermos or travel mug, grab a spoon and I'm off to the races. It takes less than 5 minutes to make and is deeply nourishing and surprisingly satisfying!
Of course, acupuncture is a wonderful way to help reset your body, nourish and strengthen yourself. If you are struggling with this shift to winter, don't hesitate to reach out for an appointment!
Meg Casey, L.Ac. is an acupuncturist practicing in Silver Spring, MD where she works with patients to discover courage, faith and their own innate power to heal To make an appointment with Meg you can call her at 301-408-9873 or reach out be email at firstname.lastname@example.org.