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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Winter wisdom: the power of sleep and nourishment

In traditional healing modalities like traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, living in harmony with the seasons is considered one of the keys to sustained wellbeing. Much of the wisdom from these traditional approaches is derived from a close observation of the natural environment.

The shorter days of winter, whilst not exactly a time to hibernate, are nevertheless an invitation to work less and rest more. If you ever go camping, you’ll have noticed when it gets dark that your mind automatically turns to dinner and bed, whereas in an urban environment, where we’re constantly stimulated, it’s easy to miss these basic natural cues.

In TCM, each season has an organ system that is associated with it. Winter is the season where the kidneys are paramount. I like to describe the kidneys as the batteries of the body. What recharges our batteries is quality sleep. How do you know if you’re getting quality sleep? Simple, you wake up feeling rested. Interestingly, people with chronic fatigue often have prolonged sleep but because it’s of poor quality, they are still exhausted.

If you are rested, then you’re not reliant on stimulants like caffeine to pep you up in the mornings or sugar to give you a boost throughout the day. It’s pretty apparent that most people are chronically tired and under slept and would not function without the crutch of stimulants. It doesn’t have to be that way. Unless you’re a shift worker or a parent of young children, you probably could get to bed an hour earlier and give your body a chance to ‘recharge’.

As well as shorter days, the other defining characteristic of winter is, of course, the cold weather, which calls for the balancing effect of warming foods like soups and stews, as well as methods where food is cooked for long periods of time. Cold shuts down function so use warming foods to help keep the digestion in balance and the ‘internal fire’ or metabolism buoyant. Dust off the slow cooker, try slow roasting joints of meat or making your own stocks or bone broth for extra nourishment. You can also try adding warming herbs and spices like ginger, garlic and cinnamon as well as fragrant culinary herbs like thyme and rosemary to enhance the effect. Foods like pumpkin, potatoes, root vegetables, winter greens, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, apples and pears are all considered beneficial in winter.

If you heed the humble call of winter to slow down and be nourished, then come spring you’ll emerge deeply refreshed and with an abundance of energy for life.

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