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Winter Wellness

– Anne Bradstreet (1612–1672)

In the heart of winter, each day the sun arrives late and departs early, the earth grows cold, and there is a natural slower rhythm to life. Research indicates that during the winter months we have a tendency to exhibit symptoms of moodiness and become sluggish more easily due to the lack of full spectrum light, fresh air and sunshine. We are more prone to want to stay in bed longer in the morning and indulge in more couch potato activities int he evening. During the holiday season we guzzle too many caloric rich foods and drinks and skip many of our usual workout routines due to the holiday frenzy and cold temperatures.

How many times on New Years Eve have we made yearly resolutions? "No more bad habits for me!" Unfortunately by the end of January our expectations are often met with failure. We begin to feel discouraged and least of all energized. I read in a newsletter recently, "What is the similarity between New Year's Day and Valentine's Day. On New Years Day we begin our diet and by Valentine's day it is over."

It is important to look at the sacredness of winter and why it is an important time in the years' cycle. The earth needs to rest and sleep before reproducing and growing anew in the spring. Winter's introspective nature provides us with an excellent opportunity and time for greater reflection. We need to create quiet and calm within ourselves to access this phase of transformation.

We think nothing of gearing up for colder weather in our climate by adjusting our cars and homes. We need to make the same adjustments to our bodies and minds. If you are reading this through to the end, thank your self for making the commitment towards health and wellness this winter. Luckily, there are multiple strategies that you can use to keep your energy up, your immune system strong, and your body in fighting form. My hope is that the following tips will help you envision how good you can feel during and after your new winter health plan.

Winter is a season where we are easily stressed by the hazards of snow, ice and cold temperatures. It is a given that stress is an unavoidable part of life. As long as we are alive, we will be confronted with unforeseen and unexpected challenges. Elizabeth Lesser in her book Broken Open states that "every obstacle offers the choice to stay where we are or to view it as a challenge or blessing towards growth and transformation... it is in the dark woods that we discover our strengths." Adopting an attitude that will allow you to go with the flow of the current will present the choice of becoming better and not bitter. Our resistance to what is happening in the present moment only intensifies our distress. While on the topic of managing stress, add a little humour and laughter to the mix. They have been referred to as tranquilizers with no side effects. Literature has proven that laughter is an authentic way to lighten up and has nothing to do with calories or fat. Loretta Laroche, a stress consultant feels, "Life is not a dress rehearsal and nobody gets out of here alive." Another fresh approach to stress is about the health benefits of music. Researchers at the University of Maryland found that when people listened to music it made them feel good, they had better blood flow which is good news for the heart. Tap your feet, boost your mood, snap your fingers, and always dance to the music.
During the winter months, our bodies remain consistently bundled up with multiple layers of clothing needed to stay warm. Our tendency to add extra pounds from not being as active physically and consuming heavier food and larger meals can cause us to wage a war with our bodies. Ask your self, "Am I eating out of loneliness, boredom, anxiety, exhaustion or overwhelm?" Is it possible for you during the holidays to get as much sweetness from your relationships rather than from foods high in sugar? The tendency to compare yourself with the illusion of air brushed perfect models in Christmas displays adds even more to the frustration. One aspect of creating health is to regain body acceptance which can be managed by maintaining a winter exercise routine. Integrate winter sports such as brisk outdoor walks, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and skating into your weekly schedule. One of the many benefits of regular exercise is a healthy and resilient immune system which will help fight winter flus and colds. Keep in mind that exercise combined with sunshine and fresh air are great ways to revitalize your body and mind during the winter. By focusing on how good you will feel during and after your outdoor workouts will be the motivation to sty with your fitness regime.
Valentine's Day, situated in the middle of winter, exemplifies giving and receiving love. Unfortunately, how many of us live in a narrative experience of criticism and judgement. Many of the things that we have chosen to believe about ourselves have absolutely no basis in truth. Our negative belief systems create a blueprint for how we choose to live our lives and hold us back from being our best selves. "You are not good enough, or you should have done it better, or the need to please are often at the root of our problems." Oprah feels that "our only limitation is in our minds... keep envisioning what you can be and then have the guts to go for it." Good mental health begins with self-acceptance of the self, releasing other people's opinions and approval, and honouring our uniqueness. The literature indicates that a daily practice of self-acceptance will provide you with the energy needed to stay buoyant during the day. Sharon Salzberg defines loving-kindness as "a priceless treasure that has the power to make room for calmness, clarity of mind, understanding, and compassion." Begin your day with the courage to be authentic and stop making yourself wrong.
In Canada, the prime season for colds and flus runs from November to March. During the winter months, people tend to spend more time indoors, close to one another, which makes the viruses easier to spread. Research clearly indicates that the healing power of nutrients found in food will enhance immunity and aid in recovering from illness. The usual remedies for winter colds and flus are plenty of fluids such as soups, tea with honey, lemon and ginger, fresh fruits, lean protein and vegetables. Much has been written about the need for rest and sleep when ill. Research indicates that without enough sleep you may suffer from increased tension, depression, weight gain and fatigue. We need sleep to re-energize our bodies and restore vitality and boost our immune systems back to health. The experts say that sleep helps the body function to its maximum. Therefore it is important to create a dark, quiet and comfortable sleep environment. To help you fall asleep, consistently maintain your bedtime and wake up hours. Try to avoid intense physical activity, noisy distractions, consumption of sugary foods and drink, caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime. Turning off cell phones and computers en route to bed will help create a restful sleep.
Breathing is one of the most important bodily functions in life. Did you know that you breathe about 20,000 times each day? According to Dr. Andrew Weil, "Breathing exercises can be done anywhere, anytime, and in any place... The simple fact is that all the equipment you will ever need is under your nose!" Breath work has been proven to have far reaching benefits, such as improving your sleep, relieving stress, managing pain, improving concentration and boosting mental and physical energy. Proper breathing is the one process that allows you to completely stop, let go of thoughts and simply to focus on being in the here and now. I recommend Dr. Weil's following exercise to harmonize mind, body and spirit. "Sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and back straight. Loosen any tight clothing. Focus your attention on your breathing without trying to influence it in any way. Follow the contours of the breath cycle through inhalation and exhalation, and see if you can perceive the points at which one phase changes into the other. Do this for a t least a few minutes each day. Your goal is simply to keep your attention on the breath cycle and observe. No matter how your breath changes, whether it speeds up or slows down, just continue to follow it." The wisdome of the Chinese proverb states, "Tension is who you think you should be, relaxation is who you are."

Please feel free to email me here or by using the contact form, any of your successful winter strategies that keep your mind, body and spirit in balance and harmony over the winter months.

In health and wellness,