Winter is tough on anyone. Even those who love it – which I don’t.
Montana winters are especially difficult. The freezing cold temperatures are hard on your skin, make the joints ache, and couple this, with the limited sunlight – can really effect your mood. No, embracing winter is not something I’ve been able to do yet. But I have learned to survive. And you can too. Here’s how:
1. Oil up.
Nothing like a cold, arctic blast to sting the face and zap every bit of moisture from your body. My face takes an especially hard hit – as do my joints. And why skin and body care routine are like a whole other practice unto themselves.
The two oils (one for the face and one for my body) I couldn’t live without are these: Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil from Drunk Elephant and Mahanarayan Oil from Banyon Botanicals for my muscles and joints. I apply the facial oil over my moisturizer so it not helps revitalize, but acts as a seal to protect my face against the elements outside. The other, I heat up and apply in the evenings. Just before cozying up under covers, letting it soak in over night.
2. Go to bed earlier.
Lots of animals hibernate in the winter – and while you shouldn’t necessarily hunker down like they do, it will feel good and natural to start your bedtime routine a little earlier than you do during other months. Look, it’s hard to keep up your energy once the sun goes down. There are other more biological reasons for this that I’ll get into in #3, but once the sun goes down, it really is hard to rally. So don’t.
Instead, schedule in some reading time. Snuggle up by a fire. Journal. Have a bath and oil up. This really is perfect sleeping weather, so enjoy. At the same time, try not to deviate from your wake up time. Keep this time consistent. Remember, too much sleep can make you even more tired.
3. Use a light box.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Basically, this is what helps regulate our wake and sleep cycles. Light suppresses the production of melatonin and why it’s sometimes harder to sleep in the summer. But then, as the daylight fades, we produce more melatonin – and sometimes, too much. And why you feel so sleepy. And for some, perhaps a little depressed. Especially if you live in parts of the world where your daylight hours are more dramatically effected by the seasons. Like Alaska. And Montana.
My doctor recommended one for me to try. I was skeptical. Do you think they really work? I asked. Which was a stupid question given I doubt she would’ve recommended it if she didn’t think so. Can’t hurt, was all she replied. So I did begin using a Light Box from Verilux – 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon. I’m a believer. And why everyone in my family got one for Christmas. You can even simply replace the bulbs in your house and use them regularly, in day-to-day living. My husband uses one in his fly-tying room.
4. Get enough Vitamin D.
Something else effected by sunlight – or the lack of – are our levels of Vitamin D. I take a daily supplement from a company I trust. But I also get my levels checked regularly by a doctor. Not all doctors will check these things, but you can ask them to run your blood work at your yearly exam. It’s routine and usually covered by insurance.
But sunlight and supplements aren’t the only ways for you to keep up your levels. There are also foods like eggs – and also salmon and sardines, also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, also essential for your health. And yes, I eat salmon. And eggs. So I am not vegan. And since menopause, this is a change for me. A change that was vital to my health and well being. It’s important we realize that as our bodies change and seasons change, how we take care of ourselves, inside and out, should also change to fit.
5. Prepare comfort foods.
Speaking of foods, eats ones that feel especially nourishing. Think warm and moist. Like oatmeal, thicker soups, curries, and pastas. I love this list of comforting curries from Food52 as well as these heartier vegan recipes.
6. Stay hydrated.
It’s easy in colder temperatures to forget to drink enough water. For me, it’s easier to sip on warm water throughout the day, while Meghan sticks to her water bottle. Either way, keep drinking.
And while you’re at it, run a humidifier. Especially in your bedroom, though I keep one in my office and of course, the practice room, as well. The forced air that most us use to heat our houses push around dust and steal any moisture in the air. You’ll sleep better and breathe easier.
7. Enjoy longer practices.
Because it stays darker in the morning, I feel less guilty increasing my practice time. Plus – it takes me longer on cold mornings to warm up, so to speak. Taking deeper, longer breaths and spending more time in postures feels good to me. Honestly, I am personally my steadiest with some of my strongest practices are right around now. It’s what my body craves and needs. There is no better time to settle in and deepen your yoga practice than in winter.
8. Take time to reflect.
This is the time of year I do most of my reading and writing. Unlike spring and summer when I’m the busiest, winter is a time I love to settle in. One of the greatest gifts I gave myself to begin the year was a yearly diary from Ink+Volt. Unlike most planners, this one has lots of blank space for my ideas to write down along with dates and appointments. I’ve begun the practice of manifesting – by writing down my intentions. Already the first one has begun to take root.
Reading is another practice I simply don’t do enough of during other seasons. But winter seems perfectly suited to sit by the fire, curled in my favorite rocking chair, deep into a good book. Right now, I’m reading Sustainable Happiness as an assignment from my meditation teacher, John Churchill. We are going chapter by chapter, using this as guide for our sessions and reflection. I suspect seeds being planted here, blooms we shall recognize later.
At the same time, I’ve just begun the book, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle. Waiting for me after this is, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, by Urlusa K. Le Guin.
9. Dress in layers.
There’s nothing worse than trying to get warm after being cold. And why, even in the house, I wear layers. Silkies for days above 30 but as soon as the temperature dips into the teens, I break out the long underwear. Tops and bottoms. A hat too. And that’s in the house! And when you leave the house, never assume what you have on is enough. Remember, it’s always easier to take off layers than freeze your arse off while wishing you’d worn more. Because the next tip is perhaps the most important of all …
10. Get outside!
That being said, make sure you stay active and get outside! This is, of course, the joy of having dogs. They will drive you insane if they can’t get outside and exercise. But you will go insane too. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – that will increase your mood or your circulation better than making sure you get outside, and do something active, every single day. Even just a midday walk is enough to lift your spirits – I promise.
And when you have more time, go rent a pair of cross country skies and head to a golf course. Or go sledding with your kids – like not just watch them. Take the dogs on a longer walk in the woods. The colder it is, the harder it will be for you to want to go outside. But you will feel better once you have. I promise. Spending time out in nature is perhaps the single most healthy and uplifting things you can do for yourself. Period.