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Winter Survival Guide

By: Dr. Dalite Sancic, DAOM, L.Ac, MS

It is a new year, a collective sigh of relief to be moving on, yet we are still very close to the winter solstice, the deepest darkest day of winter. In 2020, we all experienced a massive slow down, halting social gatherings and various hobbies or activities. For many, like me, this has been difficult on the psyche, challenging our beliefs about what forward momentum and success looks like. We live in a society that congratulates us for doing more and pushing harder; it is the measure of who we are, or is it?

In eastern traditions, winter is the time of the year that is the most yin, we call it yin within yin. Yin is likened to darkness, quiet, night, rest, regeneration and stillness. It is the time when we restore, when our body does it’s deepest healing and regenerating. We are at the most opportune time of year to conserve energy and slow down. Overdoing during this time of year can be counterproductive and actually cause the release of the stress hormone cortisol. By honoring the winter season annually, it sets us up for a more successful year mentally and physically. This is the time of year that sets the stage for the other seasons to follow: the spring when we want to move, plant a garden and have extra energy for new projects, the summer when we have long days, tend the garden and often sleep less, as well as the fall with the continued momentum from the year, the harvest and finishing up of various projects.

This is the time of year when best practices include the following:

— Get more sleep. Deep sound sleep is restorative and feels amazing but can sometimes be illusive. Sleep could also mean a nap or a rest in the middle of the day.

— Consider your movement. Just because it’s winter and maybe we feel less motivated to exercise doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. This is a time when slower, more fluid movement is vital to lubricate the joints, stretch the connective tissue, allow for proper circulation throughout the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems.

— Habits that restore and replenish are important as we have become so deeply embedded in electronic entertainment. Finding things to do that truly invoke cellular restoration provide a formidable response that can be felt within. Some suggestions include: epsom salts bath, reading a book, meditation, get out in nature, journaling, breath work, gratitude practice, drink a cup of tea, take a nap.

— Hydration: Almost everyone can drink more water. Especially if you are noticing that your skin is dry, your hands or feet or your lips are cracked, this means you are dehydrated. We should each be getting approximately half of our body’s weight in ounces daily. If you are having any caffeine or alcohol, or if you are sweating more than a little, you will need even more water daily. It’s best to drink water earlier in the day, which is not a habit many of us are into; however, it ensures the daily intake is more, and we are not up in the night too often. Starting your day with a large warm glass of lemon water, you can add cinnamon or ginger for an even more warming drink, aids in eliminating toxins, ensures daily bowel flow and sparks our metabolic fire.

— Food therapy: Choose foods that grow naturally during the winter. Items such as squash, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, root vegetables such as beets, greens, carrots, mushrooms, apples, pears and cabbage, are great. During the winter months, cold foods like salads and raw foods should be avoided as they can deplete the immune system because their thick cellulose wall causes them to be difficult to digest. There are foods that specifically target and nourish the organ system in eastern medicine that is working the hardest for us during this time of year — the kidneys. These foods include kidney and black beans, beef, goose, duck, lamb, chicken, dark leafy greens, garlic, ginger, walnuts, quinoa, asparagus, celery, onion, fennel, scallions, cloves, watercress and turnips.

— Stay warm: Keeping our skin — specifically, feet, hands, head and lower back — covered and warm this time of year increases our body’s ability to fight off viral infections and supports the balance of flexibility versus contraction in the musculature. This allows for ease of physical movement in the spring and summer months.

Creating healthy habits this time of year will support you as the seasons progress. By honoring the current season and your body, you are enabling innate healing to occur.

Dalite Sancic, DAOM, L.Ac, MS, is a doctor of East Asian Medicine at Moon Brook Medicine

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