With cold and flu season underway, many of our families are being hit hard by illness. In fact, some people have learned to just expect that at least one member of their family will be sick at all times throughout the winter season. Colder temperatures and inclement weather have most of us spending much more time indoors, with doors and windows closed, breathing recirculated air and wishing for the sun to come out again.
However, just because it is winter, it does not mean we can't stay healthy. It is possible to feel just as radiant, content and filled with well-being during the winter months as during the bright, warm summer months.
In order to get a better understanding of why many of us tend to fall ill more frequently during the winter, we need to look at a couple of different factors.
- Most of us spend much more time indoors, with minimal exposure to fresh air, sunshine and contact with the natural world.
- Many of us are much less physically active during the winter months.
- As a result of the above, and other individual factors, many of us end up choosing less healthy food options and portions.
- Many of us do not pay attention to the cycles of the seasons and how to best participate with the flow of nature.
In looking more deeply at the first factor, it is important to realize that exposure to fresh air and the natural environment on a regular basis is critical to our health. There has been much awareness lately around the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”. It is attracting attention because of recent studies showing improved immune function and mental health from the practice. It turns out that what we have known all along is true – when we are more to connected to the natural world around us, we are healthier.
Because we are spending more time indoors, for most of us, that also means we are less physically active. There have been numerous studies linking physical activity with better immunity. I think the key thing to think about here is that while we may be more limited in the options for physical activity, there are still many ways to keep our bodies moving during the winter. Yoga, Tai Chi and various forms of dance are great ways to keep your body moving and to maintain flexibility the whole year round.
Many of us tend to gravitate more toward food in the winter. There are a variety of reasons for this: holiday celebrations, spending more time inside, closer to the kitchen, feeling the need to nurture ourselves and families, feeling pulled into a sort of natural hibernation mode which results in the need to store up food to last us through the cold season, etc. All of these are good things, though. And, I think that doing these things more mindfully and selectively can actually help to keep us healthy instead of being a factor of illness.
As an extension of the previous thoughts, I feel it is vital to step back into the natural flow of health and well-being that can only come from understanding how we are all part of the cycles of nature. Winter is a time when all the natural world slows down, takes time to sleep and dream and gather energy for the rebirth of the spring. This is an invitation for us to do the same. When we ignore that opportunity to rebuild our energy stores and nurture ourselves in quieter, gentler, more restorative ways, we miss out on the opening to take our health to the next level. Winter is a time of introspection and envisioning our future. If we choose to come into the awareness of the flow of nature, our body, mind, and spirit will follow suit and exist within the flow of health and well-being.
In the next post, I will discuss various practical tools, techniques and remedies that can help us along our winter journey.