Mindful Strategies for a Happy, Healthy Winter
Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, then by now you’re either embracing winter or enduring it. For those of you who find the cold, dark days challenging, here are some ways to thrive during the frostiest time of the year.
Cooked seasonal vegetables like winter squash, sweet potato, parsnips, beets and carrots are excellent choices. “Turn on the oven and stovetop for hearty stews and warming casseroles,” says Erin Casperson, Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda. “Be mindful to combat the dry quality of the season by incorporating healthy oils, like olive oil, into your dishes. Favor cooked fruits or a hot grain cereal for breakfast over a smoothie or cold fruit. Bring soups and stews to work for lunch in an insulated thermos. Roast veggies and bake breads for a light dinner."
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” says Micah Mortali, Director of the Kripalu Schools. “If you live somewhere that gets cold during winter, invest in high-quality outdoor gear. Being outside and breathing the fresh, clean air makes us feel more alive. It’s invigorating.” Micah likes to get outside when there’s snow on the ground and look for animal tracks. “See if you can identify which animals made them,” he suggests. “As you do this, stay in the present moment and allow your awareness to open up to the communities of creatures that you share your environment with. There’s so much we can learn from nature." Finding a “sunshine sit spot” is a simple yet powerful way to connect with the seasonal sun cycle and your natural circadian rhythm. Sitting in the sunshine helps to reset and rebalance, especially after looking at the cold blue light of computer devices.
Try doing an early-morning meditation. Winter, with its increased darkness, is an excellent time to begin an early morning meditation practice. “The stillness and extra darkness of the morn - ing hours is prime time for meditation,” says Erin. “The hour before sunrise is considered by yoga and Ayurveda to be the most subtle time of day to shift the awareness inward and deeply listen to the still, small voice within.” And don’t forget to breathe: Yogic breathing can be a very effective way to shift the mind state. “If you’re feeling anxious in the winter,” says Erin, five to 15 minutes of Dirgha pranayama (ThreePart Breath) or Nadi Shodhana (Alternate-Nostril Breath) might be just what you need to soothe an excitable nervous system.”
Mix It Up
Winter is ideal for investing in activities you’d never think about in summer weather. “It’s a great time of year to discover your untapped creativity and interests,” says Erin. Pick up knitting, complete a 1,000-piece puzzle, learn a new musical instrument or join a community choir. But most important, remember that winter isn’t forever. After the solstice, the days get longer and spring is (almost) around the corner. Let’s enjoy winter while it’s here!
How to start a sunshine sit-spot practice:
1. Dress warmly and bring along a thermos of your favorite hot beverage.
2. Look for a south-facing, wind-protected nook outside, in the most natural setting available.
3. Establish a comfortable seat facing the sun.
4. Take off eyeglasses or sunglasses; if you can, remove your contacts before heading to your sit spot.
5. For five to 10 minutes, breathe fully and deeply, with eyes closed.
6. Allow the benefits of the sunshine and the outdoors to soak into your body and soul.
7. Visit once or twice a day—or more often if you have time.