The Wisdom of Winter: Rest & Renewal
January 30, 2020
With each season comes a wave of varying emotions – from the exuberance of summer to the freshness of spring to the introspection of autumn. The darker days of winter, though, can be a challenging time as we turn to more slumber, more hours indoors and less sunlight. For those of us sensitive to these dimmer days, we can feel our moods shift towards gloom, fatigue and depression, making winter one of the most dreaded times of the year. However, when we look at nature and the wise ways our bodies connect to it, we see how this quieter time of year actually holds its own value as part of an essential cycle in balance.
Phases of dormancy and stillness are essential in order to flourish, and these darker months of nature represents the counterpart to the bloom. So, rather than viewing winter as a challenge, we try and welcome its slower current as a mechanism for replenishment and rejuvenation -- offering chances to spend more time with friends and family, and restore our energy through inward reflection and creativity. To learn ways to reap the rewards of this introspective season, read on.
Winter is an ideal time to slow down our pace and catch up on all of the rest we missed throughout the year. Taking a note from the bears (as well as our natural instincts), it's time to hibernate! Use the darker evenings to go to bed a little earlier and the darker mornings to languish. Getting adequate, non-REM sleep is essential for staying healthy. This cycle encourages our pulse and heart rates to lower and our heart and blood vessels to recover, while chemicals circulate, strengthen and boost our immune system. Deep sleep is also the time when the body works to repair muscles, organs and cellular structures, and it is essential for hormone regulation and detoxification. Researchers believe that non-REM sleep is when our brain stores long term memory and clears out the information we don’t need. So, it's important to support our natural circadian rhythm by turning down bright lights and screens an hour before bed. With so much stimulation around us all the time, this practice may take a few days to adjust, but it will improve the depth and quality of our sleep, recharging our body and spirit for the rest of the year.1
Hygge is the Scandinavian concept of coziness and the convivial feelings associated with a deep sense of contentment and well-being. In cultures that experience exceptionally long, dark winters, Hygge has emerged as a cultural anti-dote to SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Hygge is experienced through comfort and connection, by carving windows of sanctuary into daily life and cultivating a sense of well-being. In other words, anything that brings joy and comfort is a step in the right direction – a favorite pair of cashmere socks, a glass of delicious wine or an uninterrupted window to read a cherished book. Slower days make it easy to bring this way of living into our daily lives with simple acts like lighting candles, relaxing in front of an open fire and enjoying intimate time with loved ones. Pausing to enjoy the small, cozy pleasures that bring us a sense of gratitude and well-being is the Hygge way of life – something we definitely get behind.2
Permission to do less
When we move with the tide of the current season, we become more present and reduce the struggle of trying to be somewhere that we’re not. The stillness and quiet of winter are an opportunity to dive inward and conserve our resources. It is also a great time to practice saying “no” to the activities that keep us overworked and over-extended. The natural introversion of winter invites us to plan less and listen more, preparing our bodies for the bright spark of spring and busy energy of summer. When we fight the natural rhythm of the season, we can become fatigued; however when we find ways to stay in tune, we can retain balance and a good equilibrium over the span of the whole year.3
Time with Family & Friends
Dreary weather often makes us want to stay indoors, eat more food and cozy up on the couch. So then, why not invite some family and friends to join? Winter is a great time to reconnect over a nourishing meal or cup of tea, share stories, catch up and laugh. As we live in a culture that places incredible value on doing and being productive, we often miss out on the act of simply being. Families who share quality time together tend toward strong emotional bonds as well as a sense of stability and belonging. Likewise, friendships with deep heart connections (not just shared interests) provide a broader base from which to draw when challenging life events occur. Embrace winter as a season to truly nurture the human connections that mean the most and enjoy food or couch-potato time with loved ones.4
Replenishing the Spirit
Winter is the season to nourish our creativity. Stiller months offer us time to turn inward and make space for new projects and activities. Whatever our medium of choice is – from painting to cooking, film to writing, movement to decorating – more time indoors means more time to delve into our interests. The key is to engage in activities that leave us feeling inspired and full of energy. For once spring arrives, we’ll have the energy to execute these ideas in full. Consider winter our incubation phase and the perfect moment to ideate, create and render our visions for the year.5
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ― John Steinbeck