The Strengths of Winter

Each season has its strengths. How do we prepare ourselves, what strengths will help sustain us during the winter months? 

In the natural world, summer is the season of fruiting and production; winter is about latency, dormancy, and survival based on preparation and stamina. In industrialized life, winter is a season of continued productivity, with artificial light allowing almost perpetual activity. Yet the natural cycles of internal recovery and preparation are required in both.

Shortened daylight hours, the changed angle of sunlight falling on the earth, cooler temperatures, the different foods and herbs that naturally flourish in these seasons are all information processed by the mind-body. The angle of winter sunlight yields different dominant light wavelengths, and affects our mood to be more self-scrutinizing and reflective. We “naturally” put on weight to protect our organs from cold exposure – although we live and work mostly indoors. The natural foods of the season, complex-carbs and protein, provide for stamina rather than long-day high levels of physical activity. If we stored lots of summer sunlight, our bones and muscles are reserves of minerals to deal with the toxic accumulation of less sunlight, less movement, less Vitamin C in our foods.

Our bodies respond to these wavelengths, temperatures and foods as they have for eons. It’s a gift that winter, with human engineering, is a productive time. We also need to respect the strengths of introspection, stamina, and recovery that are seasonal cycles of human health.  When we insist on being so engaged and productive, using our resources at “summer rates,” we deplete our immune systems. The stress of continuous productivity alongside an internal yearning for restoration, needing more sleep to balance less sunlight, and combining dietary excess with less detox activity, contributes to extra tension and toxicity. Nutrients for balancing musculature, calming the mind, and eliminating toxins need replenishment.

Winter offers prime real estate for viruses. Viruses are a necessary part of healthy human function; we have specialized resident viruses that work beautifully for us. However, winter activities create invitations for other viruses to arrive as unwelcome guests. Fortunately, most viruses can be characterized as “lazy” and “wimpy” to our advantage. They don’t succeed with healthy hosts; in their laziness they seek depleted, weakened hosts. They’re easily defeated at the “front door” of our immune systems, the oral cavity, if we greet them from strength and don’t let them sneak in! Extra dosing of zinc and Vitamin C are often sufficient to bolt the door against viruses, when exhaustion and insufficient sleep left the door ajar.

So for the winter season we can add nutritional support:

  • extra antioxidants from spices like clove and cinnamon, Vitamin C and other flavonoids, vitamin A and betacarotenes (think sweet potatoes, carrots!);
  • minerals like zinc and magnesium, mushrooms, herbs like milk thistle;
  • important anti-inflammatories like omega3s and Vitamin D;
  • dark leafy greens, dense with Vitamin A (lung, gut support), minerals, fiber;
  • sprouted nuts with proteins, important fatty acids and minerals;
  • fiber and resistant-starch rich root vegetables, beans and whole grains.

We can enjoy different kinds of activity support:

  • Activities of gratitude and appreciation support introspection, resilience and connectivity – e.g., a daily gratitude list, holiday cards, gift exchanges, celebrative gatherings
  • Slower-moving sports keep us active but focus on stamina rather than exertion – e.g., camping, group dancing, snowball battles, skating, sledding
  • Practices and events help restore physical, energetic and mental balance – e.g., meditation/affirmation/prayer, spa retreats, spiritual retreats, intensive learning
  • Detox practices – massage, intermittent fasting, increased sleeping hours
  • Energy balancing practices – deep breathing, singing, chanting, reiki, tai chi, acupuncture

These extras support us with the strength and energy to meet the doubled agenda of summer-like productivity and winter restoration. Enjoy building winter strengths!