Pre-modern society, the changing of seasons determined how our ancestors lived their lives.
People were active and spent a lot of time outdoors in spring, summer and early autumn farming, gathering and tending to animals. As the weather became cooler, their activities and pace slowed down. Families gathered around the fire, telling stories, spending time together and relaxing. Everyone was well-rested and rejuvenated when spring arrived.
Thanks to our modern environment and busy schedules, winter has become just a season for us.
Slowing down in winter is natural
Think back to last winter. How was it for you? Did you change anything in your diet or exercise? Chances are you kept going like always.
Because of our convenience-driven environments and artificial blue light, we don’t feel the need to slow down when winter arrives. But our bodies haven’t adjusted to the rapid technological changes so when we keep powering on, it starts affecting our wellbeing in winter.
Human genes show seasonal variations
Science has found a link between human genes and changing seasons. Blood and tissue samples analysed from over 16,000 people worldwide showed that their genes changed according to seasons. For example, genes for immunity and inflammation were more active during the winter months and gut microbes also showed seasonal variations.
Ayurveda which has existed for over 3000 years recommends the practice of Rituacharya. Ritu means season and Charya means a regimen or discipline. Rituacharya is changing one’s lifestyle and diet to help the body cope physically and mentally with seasonal effects.
If winter is a challenging time for you, it might be time to change some things to help you adapt and thrive.
Here are some winter wellbeing tips to help you feel good on the inside and out:
1. Tune in to your body’s cues for better wellbeing
The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer, and our body takes it as a sign to sleep more. You could push through fatigue by drinking enormous amounts of coffee or you could choose to listen to your body and give it what it needs, whether it’s a nap, an earlier bedtime, a warm bath or time away from your devices.
“We’re designed to hibernate in winter, it’s natural!” explains Athil Singh, owner of Happy Buddha Retreats. “Humans are hardwired to nature, but in modern life, we tend to ignore Mother Nature’s cues and are constantly in a state of being busy and taking action. The key to adapting to different seasons is to tap into our innate needs and reconnect to our natural environment,”
How do you listen to what your body is telling you? Intentionally create the space and time to reconnect with your body and mind. Switch off distractions like your phone and the TV, sit down in a comfortable position and breathe in and out. Start with a few minutes daily and build it up.
2. Gentle exercises to keep your body warm and flexible
If you’re used to hard gym-style exercises or bootcamp, reducing the pace may prove to be a bit challenging but hear us out! In winter, strenuous exercises may cause injuries because it takes longer for your muscles to warm up. Instead of gym exercises only, mix it up with some gentler movements.
Go for a walk or a jog, join a yoga class, stretch frequently or dance. Go outside to soak in some winter sun whenever you can. At home, make sure every room gets as much sunlight as possible by rolling up the blinds or curtains and cleaning your windows. Getting sunlight stops the seasonal blues from sneaking in.
During a recent retreat, a facilitator detailed how “Movement (in any form) is medicine. Combat the winter blues by focusing on self-care and your mental wellbeing. Spend time nourishing your body with food and winter routines. Get cosy indoors, hunker down with your favourite book and a warming cup of tea. Practice longer, nourishing yin yoga practice to rejuvenate and rest. Light a fire within your body with energising yoga. Hike in the mountains and practice connecting with nature. Spend time connecting with friends and family and boost those feel-good hormones!”
Your body will be grateful that you resisted the temptation to stay under the blanket all day and will thank you with renewed energy, resistance to colds and enjoyment of life.
3. Eat warming and nourishing foods in winter
Change your diet according to the season by choosing stews, soups and slow-cooked meals. Take the time to prepare your food lovingly and enjoy it with your family. Add warming herbs and spices like ginger, turmeric, black pepper and cinnamon to boost your immunity naturally.
Eating warming food in winter like this recipe helps digestion and stimulates circulation.
“A favourite winter meal for me is dahl with rice. Super simple. It’s warming, rich with nutrients and immunity-boosting. It also takes me back to my childhood,” said Athil.
4. Take time to check in and reflect on your life’s direction
Winter is the perfect season to stop rushing through life and check in with your internal compass. Are you still moving in the direction you want to go? Have life events taken you off track? Either way, you have moved, learned and changed. Celebrate how far you’ve come and map out the next steps ahead of you. For deep reflection, our Journey into Stillness retreat may be the perfect getaway for you!
“I’d rather reflect and meditate in winter (rest and rejuvenate) and then take action in spring and summer,” explains Athil.
5. Treat yourself to a midweek or weekend retreat
Spend time seeing inwards and reconnecting with yourself. Block out two or three hours to run your mini-retreat at home. To create a relaxing DIY retreat at home, make some changes to your space so that it looks more welcoming, light up candles and play gentle music. Choose practices that you feel most drawn to – meditate, journal, do yoga, and make art.
Want to go somewhere healing to rest and rejuvenate? A midweek or weekend retreat in peaceful mountain settings where you’ll be supported by experienced facilitators and a group of like-minded soul-seekers awaits you.
// First published in 2018 and still just as relevant today in 2023.
Tatiana is a freelance writer and a mum of three living in Sydney. After a 10-years’ break, she has just returned to full-time work. She is still finding time for yoga, meditation and mindfulness, which is making a huge difference to her sanity and her enjoyment of life.