The Art of Winter Living
In Toronto, Canada where I live, we enjoy four distinct, beautiful seasons. Each season has a different mood and character expressed through the spectrum of light and dark, damp and dry, calm and stormy, hot and cold, along with a changing array of colour and form.
It is erroneous to think we can maintain the same lifestyle through each of these dramatic seasonal shifts and remain physically balanced.
Traditional cultures understood this implicitly and learned ways adapt their diet and lifestyle to seasonal changes. The Neijing or Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, is an ancient Taoist text written in the 3rd century B.C. It provides beautiful insights into the art of seasonal living and is a fundamental philosophy in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
In the Neijing, Huang Di the Yellow Emperor states:
"During the winter months all things in nature wither, hide, return home and enter a resting period, just as lakes and rivers freeze and snow falls. This is a time when yin dominates yang. Therefore, one should refrain from overusing the yang energy. Retire early and get up with the sunrise. The mind should remain quiet and subdued, as if keeping a happy secret. Stay warm, avoid the cold and excessive sweating, keep the skin covered. The natural philosophy of winter is one of conservation and storage, otherwise the Kidney energy will be injured and vitality will be sapped."
Huang Di warns that if we disperse our 'yang' energy during winter, we are more vulnerable to pathogenic invasion.
NOTIONS OF HEALTH
Here in the West, our notions of health are guided by trends rather than by perennial wisdom - we will sooner choose a raw food smoothie over a bowl of soup, even when its 20 degrees below zero outside.
In winter, up to 80% of our caloric energy is dedicated to thermoregulation.
Basic wisdom would tell us to go into energy conservation mode - stay warm, eat warm, drink warm, and rest more.
In Ayurveda, the traditional medical system in India, the primary cause of disease is considered to be Prajnaparada, or thinking which 'goes against wisdom'.
REFLECTING ON NATURE
Working late, sleeping less, hitting the bar or gym everyday after work, eating cold food, drinking cold drinks - we don't realize we are going against the grain of nature and opening the door to aging and disease.
We cannot always control the circumstances of our life but we can take a moment to observe nature and consider the wisdom of our choices over the long run.
It is readily apparent that the winter landscape is cold, dark and dry. At times, eerily quiet after a snowfall and marked by the barren shapes of sleeping trees.
If we adapt our lifestyle to nourish the flesh, preserve body heat, and promote rest, we can create a comfortable cocoon from which to enjoy winter's introspective mood while cultivating health and longevity.