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Complementary Corner

Brrr… It is Cold Outside! Staying Healthy in Winter

Renee Lehman

(January, 2009) We officially moved from Fall into Winter on December 21, 2009 (the date of the winter solstice). I hope that you took time to notice the changing of the seasons while you were preparing for all of your holiday festivities, AND that you didn't burn yourself out with all of the partying over the holidays.

Winter is nature's "resting season". When you look outside, it is cold, days have less light (are shorter), and the countryside is "quiet". Some aspects of nature may look dead (at least you may think that); however, nature is actually storing its potential deep in the earth and the roots of vegetation. Life does not stop during the winter months. Remember that the bulbs that are in the ground are not dead, and the seeds that fell to the ground from the trees/plants are still alive. They are storing up their energy and preparing to burst forth during the growth period of Spring. Also, think about how animals like bears and ground squirrels hibernate during the winter. We know how bears hibernate, but did you know about ground squirrels? The ground squirrel's body temperature drops to within a few degrees of the cold outside its den, its heart rate decreases to 1 - 2 beats/minute, and its breathing slows from a few hundred times/minute to once every 5 minutes. Basically, these animals slow down and sleep until the first signs of Spring warmth.

The gifts that Winter gives us include the strength of reserves (storage) and endurance (just remember about the hibernating animals), wisdom, stillness, deep listening (the "quietness" of winter allows us to listen), reflection, and reassurance (Spring will come again!). Many people do not like Winter. Our "adrenaline running" culture tends not to value stillness, quietness, and taking time to rest and reflect. Can you see yourself needing any of the gifts of Winter? Can you see how the energy of Winter is needed in your life? Now is the time to take advantage of what this season has to offer!

You can stay healthy (body/mind/spirit) this Winter by: 1) seeking replenishment; 2) getting quality rest and sleep; 3) taking time for self reflection; 4) seeking inner warmth; 5) spending time at home with family and friends; 6) eating well; 7) exercising; 8) preventing disease; and 9) conserving your resources.

Seek Replenishment. What type of stress are you experiencing? Is it emotional or physical? Write down a few tips that may help you with your current stress level. Often the solutions can be very simple ideas! By reducing your stress, you will conserve energy and slow down unnecessary drains on your energy. Wouldn't it be nice to feel energized in mid-January?

Get Quality Rest & Sleep. The important word here is quality. When you go to sleep at night keep the room dark. If there is even the slightest bit of light in the room it can disrupt your circadian rhythm and your pineal gland's production of melatonin and serotonin (both are involved in the regulation of your sleep). Turn the TV off before going to sleep (and don't sleep with the TV on). The TV is too stimulating to the brain and it will take longer to fall asleep (disrupts the pineal gland function). Also, don't read, eat, or work in your bedroom - keep it for sleeping only. Finally, try going to bed ˝ hour earlier than usual and assess how you feel upon awakening. You might be surprised how much more "refreshed" you are.

Self Reflection. Take this "quieter" time of the year to go deep within yourself. Take an honest look at where you are in your life. As the same time, be gentle with yourself. Ask yourself,

"Are you depleted"? If so, you may also feel more vulnerable and more susceptible to illness. "What are your emotions like"? Are you more sensitive than usual? See if you are able to accept yourself more fully in as many areas of your life (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc.) as possible.

Seek Inner Warmth. During this colder time of year, do things that stimulate your inner self. What brings you joy and excitement? Maybe it's time to go to a museum, an art gallery, a movie, a coffee shop, or just hang out with friends. Observe how food substances may alter your moods (like sugar, caffeine, alcohol, food additives: food coloring, MSG, aspartame, etc.). Limit them if you find yourself feeling in a more negative way after eating them.

Spend Time with Family/Friends at Home. It's cold outside, so build a fire in the fireplace and invite friends or family over. Bring the "warmth of Summer" into the season of Winter. This is a great time of year to renew old friendships, spend time with trusted friends/family, and to deepen the intimacy with them. Appropriate touch and intimacy are good for your health.

Eat Well. How many of you tend to get cold easily in the Winter? Since the weather is colder, eat a diet that produces more internal heat/warmth. What sounds better to you right now: a cup of soup or a garden salad? Complex carbohydrates and protein will produce the heat that the body needs to stay warm. These foods would include: whole grains, beans, nuts/seeds, cooked vegetables (steamed/roasted/sautéed), vegetable soups, seaweed, root vegetables (carrots/turnips/onions/sweet potatoes), quality meats, and spices.

Whole grains like millet and buckwheat are good "body heaters" and are less starchy than other grains like wheat, barley, and brown rice (try making millet muffins or buckwheat pancakes: and Beans, such as kidney, black, and lentils along with grains, create complete proteins (try making soups with any of these beans - yummy!). Vegetable soups are easy to digest. Seaweed is a high protein vegetable, is high in Vitamin E and A, rich in calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, iodine, and other trace minerals that stimulates skin, hair, and nails along with nourishing the endocrine system. Meats, especially saltwater fish (low in fat, high in protein, minerals, and vitamins), quality poultry and lean red meats are great sources in protein. Finally, spices, like garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper are great to add to your food, especially when the weather is cold and damp.

Exercise. Even in the cold weather, it is important to be active. If you don't like being physically active outside, try some indoor activities. Perform gentle exercises, such as, yoga, tai chi, qigong and pilates instead of energy expanding exercises such as jogging, cycling, and swimming. These gentle, more subtle forms of exercises strengthen your inner self and build your "internal" energy and tend not to run your "batteries" down like the energy expanding forms of exercise. They also help to "clear" excesses such as too much food, work, tension, etc.

Prevent disease. Continue to wash your hands as a first line of defense against the spread of illness. Minimize touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands/fingers. Sneeze or cough into your elbow or shoulder instead of your hand. Drink plenty of water, and remember to keep the region around your neck covered and warm. The neck is an important area in relationship to your immune system.

Conserve your Resources. Winter is a great time to decrease the number of activities that you are involved with. Remember that this is the season of quiet and storage. By conserving your energy now, you will be prepared for the rebirth of Spring. For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Warmth of the Spring gives rise to birth,
the Fire of Summer fuels rapid growth and development,
the coolness of Fall matures all and provides harvest, and
the coldness of Winter forces inactivity and storing.

This is the rhythmic change of nature.
If the four seasons become disrupted, the weather becomes unpredictable
and the energies of the universe will lose their normalcy.
This principle also applies to the body." (Su Wen, chapter 6)
No matter what text you reference, winter is a time for stillness and replenishment!


If you are interested in learning more about how to stay healthy with the seasons, read the 2003 edition of Staying Healthy with the Seasons by Elson Haas, MD.

Information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information in this article for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman