Patience in the New Year
January marks the beginning of a new year, and for most of us it brings on thoughts of new beginnings, new resolutions, new plans. We promise ourselves we’re going to eat better, exercise more, be more organized, more efficient, more fabulous. It is tempting, at this time, to start a diet or weight-loss plan, or to want to cleanse from all the excesses of the holidays. The trouble is, the heart of winter is not the best time to try to cleanse, reduce, or lose weight. To try to do those things now is to fight against nature, get frustrated, maybe even depressed about it, and give up until next year, when we start the same cycle all over again.
There’s nothing wrong with January being a clean slate, but how about we consider January to be a quiet time to rest and to plan what we’d like to begin when Spring comes and the seasonal energies are with us for creating change?
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine and philosophy, the winter months are under the influence of the element of Water. The energetic of Water is still, conserving, inward-looking, and receptive. This makes Winter, the time of Water, a good time for rest, replenishing one’s energy, and contemplation. Around March, the Spring energy of the Wood element will begin to surge upward, stimulating growth and movement. That will be an excellent time to cleanse, begin a new exercise routine, or work to lose weight.
In the Winter, we instead look to nourish and strengthen. This does not mean over-eat, or indulge in cravings or inaction, but it does mean to eat well, use exercise to strengthen and maintain, and to use herbs that support nourishment of the tissues.
While it may not be the best time to start a new, intense, fat-burning workout, it is a good time to do strengthening exercise. My personal routine is Yoga, and I choose poses that strengthen and tone the whole body, but especially the torso. My favorites are Plank, Modified Warrior, and Bow. Remember that these are challenging poses and you may need to work your way up to them! If you’re new to Yoga I highly recommend starting with a CD or better yet a class. It’s easier to hurt yourself doing Yoga than you might think! For strengthening routines you may choose Yoga, Tai Chi, Weight training, or any of the many other strengthening and building forms of exercise out there. Try to find something you enjoy, and look forward to, rather than something that feels like just one more tedious thing on your to-do list.
Herbal allies for the Water time of year include Adaptogens, Nervines, Nutritive Herbs, and Immune Tonics. Including some of these herbs in your winter routine can help protect and nourish your body for the coming Spring.
Adaptogens are herbs that help the body to respond in a healthy way to stress. They tend to strengthen and support the nerves and glands. There are many to choose from. Some of my favorites are: Ashwagandha, Schisandra Berry, Eleuthero, Licorice, and Holy Basil.
Nervine/Nerve Tonics are herbs that support healthy functioning of the Nervous System. Winter is an excellent time to give a little extra nourishment to this system. It’s easy to get worn down by the dry, cold air and long, dark nights. My favorite Nerve Tonics are: Milky Oat Seed, Skullcap, Lemon Balm, and Bacopa.
Nutritive Herbs are, very simply, herbs that are high in nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Some herbs, like Stinging Nettle and Burdock root, can be eaten as vegetables! Others, like Yellow Dock, Shatvari, Oatstraw, and Horsetail, are best taken as teas or extracts. I’m a huge fan of Stinging Nettle, myself, and I take it every day. Rich in minerals and Vitamin K, Nettles are also astringent and anti-inflammatory. I find them extra help supporting my sinuses from dry air and dusty radiators as well. If you like rich herb flavor, Nettles and Oatstraw make a lovely nutritive tea. Add a little Mint, Rosemary, or Sage for flavor and you’ve got a winter tea that will get you ready for spring adventures!
Immune Tonics, are of course, an important consideration in the winter months. Colds and flus get passed around all too easily this time of year. There are plenty of herbs that support the immune system, but I’m most interested in those that can be taken daily through the season to prevent catching those colds. Other popular immune herbs, like Echinacea and Oregano, are best saved for when you are already sick and need a boost to fight off infection. My favorite immune tonics are Astragalus and Reishi Mushroom. These can be taken separately or together, in capsule, tea, or tincture. I take an immune blend of medicinal mushrooms and wash it down with a strong cup of Ginger root tea to increase absorption.
So with knowledge, and a little bit of patience, we can take advantage of the energetics of the world around us. We can strengthen in the quiet of winter, and wait until spring for growth and change. Be well, Friends!