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The Time for Hibernation

The Time for Hibernation

By honoring our bodies through mimicking nature in the winter season, we can become more in tune with the natural world around us. Winter is the season to replenish our energy stores, stores that have been depleted by long days and late nights.

As our days become shorter and nights longer here in the Northern Hemisphere, I notice a yearning for the need to look inward and slow down. It is, in essence, a time for hibernation. 

For those living above the equator, the winter season is heralded by falling leaves that have turned and now carpet the ground. The beautiful rustling noise when we go for an autumn walk will soon be tuned out by the snow that blankets the earth around us. 

You see, these noticeable physical changes that happen around us are also reflective of what happens within us. We, too, become shrouded in the proverbial soft blanket of winter, and our inner world may begin to yearn for quiet. 

During this season, I urge my clients to change the pace of their life by making a few fundamental tweaks to their daily nutrition and lifestyle habits. If we can take a cue from nature, we not only preserve our health but come out of hibernation with more strength and vigor than when we stepped into it.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), winter is represented by the element of water and the organ of the kidney. Together, both suggest yin energy, the energy of the night. Our yin energy represents the feminine, coolness, moon cycles, moisture, and openness. 

Our kidneys act as the storage units of our vital energy, the energy that we fervently expend throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Winter is the time to focus on this ever-important organ and restore its balance through deep nourishment, food, and rest. It is the time to recharge our batteries and restore this sacred energy.

So, what changes might one make to nourish and protect our vital energy? When it comes to nutrition, we want to focus on the taste of salt. This elemental component is a tonic to our nervous system and is critical to the electrolyte balance that our body works so hard to maintain. 

Good quality salt nourishes the kidney and for those of us craving this mineral, it might not only be a sign of a mineral deficiency but of our kidney being deficient as well. Focus on getting good quality salt in your food, consider options such as Celtic Sea salt, pink Himalayan salt, or Redmond's real salt which comes from the depths of an ancient seabed in the Western US and is free of modern-day toxins.

Interestingly, in TCM the colors blue and black are associated with winter. Therefore, it is thought that foods of these colors are also nourishing for our kidneys. Foods such as black beans, blueberries, blackberries, black sesame seeds, seaweed, black chia seeds, wild rice, eggplant, figs, and dates can help replenish our bodies. Try to incorporate these foods more often to help nourish your body during these winter months. Seasonal root vegetables are a wonderful grounding element that literally bring us back to our body and drive our energy inward when consumed. 

Winter is also a time to make changes to your cooking techniques, by moving away from grilling and raw foods to stewing, steaming, and sautéing. It is also the perfect time to prepare and eat warm foods and drink hot teas and warm broths. Consider chai lattes, ginger teas, and the use of warming culinary spices such as chilies, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and star anise, etc.  

There are also several lifestyle suggestions that I encourage my clients to embark upon. The most pressing and often the most difficult is to make time for is rest. Since this is a time for slowing down and conserving our energy, this is the season to forgo excess work and social engagements and instead opt to stay home, engage with family, or read a book in front of the fireplace. 

While not always doable, I suggest you try to live your days according to the sun's patterns, perhaps waking a little earlier in the morning with the sunrise and going to bed a little earlier after the sun sets. If going to bed earlier seems unrealistic, at least dim the house lights, or perhaps use candlelight as an alternative to artificial light, to help your body adjust to the winter hours. 

Wearing blue-blocking glasses when on screens and turning off all electronics a few hours before bed will help with guiding your body to follow the winter rhythm of nature and tune in with your circadian rhythm.  

Like our preference for warming foods, now is a good time to indulge more often in hot baths. Whether a simple bath with a generous amount of magnesium salt thrown in or an herbal bath made with fresh ginger tea that ignites the circulation and removes all forms of stagnation, you will find this practice very beneficial.

Finally, winter is a wonderful time to consider taking some herbal medicines to help restore balance to the kidneys and help manage your overall nervous system. I tend to turn toward adaptogenic herbs and plants that help the body find homeostasis when presented with moments of emotional or physical stress. Consider herbs such as American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), or Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum). Medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) or Lions Mane (Hericium erinaceus) are also excellent options, either in supplement form or as food. 

By honoring our bodies through mimicking nature in the winter season, we can become more in tune with the natural world around us. Winter is the season to replenish our energy stores, stores that have been depleted by long days and late nights. As the air begins to chill, it is our time to selfishly turn inward, find respite with a good book, and begin to recharge our batteries through warming foods and nourishing self-care practices. 

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