Thriving in Winter

More tired, sluggish and unmotivated in winter? How to keep your mojo in the cold

Some people prefer the winter months, but for many there’s a tendency to feel a bit blah.   Here are some holistic tips –  inspired from both ancient and modern paradigms –  to help you feel more vibrant when Old Man Winter doesn’t seem like your friend.

1. Here comes the sun, little darlin’ 🎶
We all have a ‘master clock’ in our hypothalamus, but signals coming into the body’s senses and being processed for interpretation, can influence our inner-clock, and this includes artificial light.   Just as it’s important to lower lights and stay off blue-screens to let prepare the body for sleep, a dose of light in the morning can signal to your body that it’s time to stop producing the sleep hormone melatonin and give you a gentle increase in cortisol to give you the rajas  – that quality that drives movement and activity – to get up and start your day. 

If you’re waking up in the dark, stumbling about, try a blast of sunlight immediately upon waking, or explore ‘sunrise lamps’, which gradually lighten to simulate sunrise.   Even with closed eyes, your clever retinas can detect the oncoming presence of light.

Of an evening, have fun starting to switch off your main big lights, and enjoy some candles or fairy lights as you prepare for sleep. 

2. Practice simple contentment
Humans may not literally hibernate in the cold months like some of our mammal cousins, but it is a great opportunity to slow down and practice not over-scheduling ourselves. Lean in to the contractile nature of Winter, learning to give your senses a reprieve from constant over-stimulation and rushing.  Modern life has us so wired to try and do more, more, more. Buck the unhealthy trend and follow the wisdom of Mother Nature, time to do less and rest.

Lockdowns may heighten this, so use it as an opportunity to enjoy what the Scandinavians refer to as Hygge, enjoying simple pleasures  – often at home but may also include time in nature – that bring contentment and allow the nervous system to rest and reset.  No, phone scrolling and TV don’t count as this will wind your nervous system up!  Instead, try enjoying a book, baking or making Chai from scratch, drawing, colouring-in or painting, walking in nature, taking a bath, making a bird-feeder or other craft activities, giving yourself an oil foot massage, and chatting with household members over a warm drink without any other distractions. Practice listening without judgement about what is going on for them. 

Self-care activities that fill your cup, that replenish your energies, help you feel soothed, calm or make your heart sing, can actually all be regarded as part of your yoga practice.

If it fills your cup up, it’s self care, and if it’s self-care, you can think of it as part of your yoga practice.

You can listen to our founder and director Michael de Manincor here as he talks about the expansive definition of yoga and how he increasingly refers to his “self-care practice” instead of his “yoga practice”.  

3. Eat for vitality
Winter can make us want to reach for more refined food and other dubious choices, but this can actually spiral us further into a sluggish cycle.   As in any season, it is beneficial to:
 – Choose towards foods in their most natural and whole state, where they retain the most life force,
 – Choose towards foods that are naturally plentiful in that season, keeping us in harmony with nature, and
 – Diversify with a colourful plate. If you fall into narrow ruts, even ‘healthy’ ones, you might put yourself more at risk of a nutrient insufficiency.

A diverse diet, revolving around a rainbow of plants, will mean a happy gut microbiome, important for winter immunity (not to mention mood, weight management, and protection against a host of modern life’s preventable chronic conditions)

When our bodies are working in harmony with nature, they will ‘crave’ things that help us maintain balance: Just as a hearty bowl of stew is not appetising in the heat of Summer, our pull towards such foods in Winter is our body’s way of helping us get the nourishment to keep us in balance.

Eating seasonally is also a great way to diversify your nutrient intake, keep food interesting, and it means food hasn’t had to travel as far, helping you save money and decrease your carbon footprint.  

See which foods are in season in your part of Australia

Through a more western nutritional lens, Winter can deplete vitamin D, important for immunity, bone density, mood, brain and nervous system health, and gene expression. Our bodies can make vitamin D through safe sun-exposure, but in the absence of sunshine, foods like fatty fish, eggs, dairy and vitamin D-fortified foods can offer a reasonable contribution.

4. Move that body!
Physical activity in the colder months is important for physical and mental health.  Apart from being beneficial for cardiovascular health, lung capacity and general muscle and bone maintenance, it is associated with improved sleep, mood regulation, self-esteem, fatigue-reduction and release of tension and stress.

Taking at least some of your physical activity outdoors has the additional benefits of fresh air and connection to nature.  But wait, aren’t the cold months precisely when motivation tends to decrease?    See our post on maintaining physical activity and asana practice in the winter months for helpful tips.

5. You can be yogic doing more things that you realise
Yoga is a lifestyle, not a mat-anchored activity.  If you approach any activity with elements such as presence, curiosity, and non-judgement, even things like folding your laundry and cleaning your shower can all be done with a yogic mindset.

Why do we want to cultivate a yogic mindset scrubbing our bathroom? Because while yoga on the mat can make you feel great, it’s true purpose is not simply to make you feel a short-term relief or ‘escape’ from day-to-day life, and then revert to our habitual patterns that cause us suffering.  It’s about changing our capacity as human beings, changing the way our mind works. And if winter affects your mood, why wait until you are on your mat to do transformational work?

Life is so often about noticing how your mind flips between trying to avoid the activities and feelings we don’t like, and seeking more, more, more of the activities and feelings that we do like.   Attempting to race though chores as fast as possible just reinforces the mind’s habit to try and avoid unpleasant sensations.   Chores may not fill your cup back up, but they can provide a very useful practice for our flighty mind.  Remember, nothing is good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.

6. Practice gratitude
Gratitude can’t easily co-exist with emotions such as anger, resentment, a sense of lack, or even anxiety and depression.   Neuroscience backs up gratitude as an evidence -based practice offering physical and psychosocial benefits.   Make a game, can you find things you like about the cold seasons?  Your favourite scarf? The beautiful red and orange leaves?  Your favourite soup?  The laughter you get watching your fur babies hog the best spot in front of the fireplace or heater? The sensation of snuggly flannel sheets? How quiet a city becomes on a winter evening?  

You can try journaling, writing thank-you letters, verbalising your appreciation to others, and looking in the mirror to acknowledge something you like about yourself.   Gratitude has benefits for every single person, but if you are feeling a bit out of sorts in colder months, it may help you recalibrate towards a greater sense of wellbeing.    

DISCLAIMER: This information is for general educational purpose only and does not constitute any kind of lifestyle or nutritional advice, which can only be provided when a qualified health practitioner understands you and your individual circumstances.  Further, if low mood is affecting your ability to function or sleep, please consult your primary health care practitioner.    Help is available.  

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Written by Nicole Small, The Yoga Institute 

The Yoga Institute acknowledges the Cammeraygal people of the Eora nation as the Traditional Custodians of the land on which our centre is based.

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