Wellness for the Long Winter

Are you dragging through this long, never-ending winter? I don’t know about you, but I’m OVER the snow, I’m feeling slow and tired, and I’m dreaming of a sunny beach. Many of my patients are reporting the same, and at least half are still getting colds and infections. The goal of this post is to share some wisdom from acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine to help you get through the doldrums and feel like your best self for Spring.

Be like a bear and hibernate
General guidelines of TCM are to go to bed early and rise after the sun has risen. Getting a solid 7+ hours is the single, most impactful action you can take to improve your immunity, energy level, mood, and overall health. Anything less zaps your health: according to a study by the Sleep Research Society, those who sleep only 5-6 hours per night are 4.5 more times susceptible to catching a cold.

Eat for the Season
When it comes to what you’re eating, 'warm and cooked' should be your mantra. According to TCM, it is important to avoid too many raw foods during winter because they tend to cool the body and can deplete our digestive "fire" which is the ability to assimilate food efficiently. Hold off on salad, smoothies and the like until it’s warmer outside. Eat warming foods, while cooking them longer and at lower temperatures with less water. Emphasize soups and stews, root vegetables, plenty of dark leafy greens, kidney and black beans, walnuts, black sesame seeds, whole grains, and seaweeds. Also incorporate warming herbs like cinnamon, ginger, garlic, rosemary, and black pepper. These specific foods help to fortify the kidneys, uplift the emotions, nourish the body, keep you warm, and help you to conserve energy.

Additionally, in the long winter months, people tend to exercise less, remain more sedentary and crave calorie-dense comfort foods. Eating for the season will keep you more satiated and avoid cravings. Pay attention to the amount and type of food you eat during this time, in order to avoid unhealthy weight gain.

Dress to Boost Body Temps.
Research confirms that a higher body temperature can tremendously boost the mood, increase immunity, strengthen the endocrine system and boost the body’s basal metabolic rate (read: support a healthy weight. First, dress warmly and cover the back of your neck and head. Colds tend to enter us through the nape of the neck, which is why many colds start as a stiff neck and shoulders. Second, keep your core (torso) warm. A warm core is able to readily release blood to the extremities. Do this by wearing a Japanese Haramaki (hara- center; maki - wrap) to keep it warm. You can find them on Amazon.

Build Self-Care into Your Schedule 
Whether it’s acupuncture, your favorite exercise class, massage or meditation — or all of the above — self-care is a healthy habit that has tremendous benefits. We live in an always-on society where technology rules, so having quiet time without the phone helps to strip away our heightened nervous system, boosts immunity, releases endorphins and helps to prevent disease. Make it a point to block out at least an hour a week to take care of yourself. Create a “care team” of practitioners whom you know and trust, so that you can call them on speed-dial when you need “me time”.

Embrace Mindful Daily Living.
The actual definition of meditate is “to engage in contemplation or reflection”. Notice it doesn’t say sit perfectly still and breathe for an hour with a totally clear mind— most people’s idea of meditation. Winter time is an excellent time for retrospection and exploration of deeper issues. To do this, we need to simply slow down. In fact, we are usually so busy that we are not even aware of how neurotic our thoughts and actions are. When we slow down through mindful activities like moving with intention, listening to music, savoring food, writing down our thoughts or simply taking some time off, we may notice a true downshift in our racing mind and body, via a calmed nervous system.