As I sit next to the fireplace writing, the rain is pouring down outside and the sky is gloomy & dark, and there was a 2hr power outage earlier this morning (a somewhat regular occurrence here in Tofino). I’m bundled in blankets, drinking hot coffee and wish I could stay here all day. I love winter; I love the space that the darkness allows for cozy nights inside and quiet mornings for reading and meditation that seem to stretch time. I love warming foods, scarves, wool socks and sweaters and sitting by a fire. Most people I know are aching for a tropical vacation by now and I’m here worried that spring is approaching too quickly (it’s only January). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the warm season too! However, over the years I’ve learned to embrace winter by adapting to the rhythms of changing seasons, giving me a deeper sense of belonging to the natural world. If you’re someone who struggles with this time of year, perhaps it feels uninspiring, you dislike the cold or you tend to feel lonely, I’m writing to offer just a few ideas that may help you in combatting the winter blues, and who knows… maybe one day you’ll even fall in love with this cold and dark season like I have.
Winter Self Care Ideas
- Get Outside
I know, it’s the last thing you want to do when it’s freezing outside and you’re cozy by the fire, bundled in blankets like I am currently, and totally content. Balance is what we’re going for here, so when you have some time off during daylight hours, trade your blankets for winter gear and get outside into the fresh air! Where I live on the west coast of Canada our winters are pretty mild as far as the temperature goes, however it rains A LOT. To avoid cabin fever and lethargy, I’ve invested in proper rain gear and a winter wetsuit and still get out for beach walks, forest hikes, and even into the North Pacific Ocean for a cold water surf every so often. I grew up in Ontario so I’m also accustomed to snow and far below freezing temperatures. In my teenage years I could have spent every day at the ski hill, and when I visit home these days I love to cross country ski or snowshoe, usually followed by cozy nights in with hot tea. Explore what’s offered in your area as far as outdoor winter activities, it could be ice skating, tubing at the ski hill, or keep it simple and go for a walk through the park and take in the quiet beauty of winter.
For me, yoga is like medicine and my practice changes a lot depending on the time of year and what my body is asking for. I use asana, pranayama and meditation as tools to bring balance to any excess or lacking energy that I feel. For example, a dynamic vinyasa practice combined with ujjayi pranayama can enliven my spirits when I’m feeling lethargic and dull. When my body and mind feel fatigued and I’m burning the candle at both ends a few restorative postures before bed can help me get a restful nights sleep. When life feels overwhelming and my to-do list piles up, as little as 5 minutes of meditation each morning gives me a sense of space and clarity, allowing me to approach tasks with a greater sense of calm. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to practice as variables such as where you live, your body type, constitution, etc. will differ greatly. The more you practice, the more attuned you’ll become in knowing which practices bring you back to a state of balance at any given time.
- Cooking & Sharing Food with Friends
I live in a small town and many people here struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation in the wintertime. It’s not uncommon for people everywhere to feel symptoms of mild seasonal depression with winters’ long nights and lack of sunshine. To lift our spirits in this dark time, my friends and I rotate hosting potlucks about once a week. It’s a wonderful way to gather with others while sharing warming foods, laughter and conversation. For meal ideas think nourishing foods like soups, stews, roasted winter vegetables or sautéed winter greens with warming spices such as ginger, black pepper & cinnamon. On nights where everyone opts to stay in, take time to make yourself a nourishing meal and homemade chai tea to fill your home with the aromas of warming spices, it’s incredibly uplifting!
- Abhyanga Self Massage
Abhyanga oil massage is an ayurvedic practice that I’ve been doing for years. This is a simple practice of massaging warm oil (organic sesame oil works great for most) onto your skin before a hot bath or shower. Warm the oil ‘baby bottle style’ by placing a bottle of oil in a pot of warm water for a few minutes, then apply a generous amount onto your skin working in a slow, circular motion moving from your limbs towards your heart. If you have time, allow it to soak in for 10-20 minutes before getting into a hot shower or bath, then continue to massage your skin, the steam will open your pores allowing the oil to deeply penetrate and hydrate the skin. Try adding a few drops of one or more essential oils to your carrier oil for some warming aromatherapy; ginger, rosemary, cardamom and clove are just a few options. Not only is this practice great for your skin, it’s also an act of self-love and is deeply nourishing at all times of the year.
- Get More Sleep
Follow nature’s lead and sleep more during the winter season! Take advantage of the long nights and allow yourself to sleep in when you can. Turn off your devices early and head to bed with a good book or your journal. When I allow myself more rest in winter, just like a garden bed that’s been put to rest in the autumn with care, I’m ready for spring when it arrives, blooming with creative energy.
I hope that you’ll try implementing at least one of these practices into your life this winter and that whatever you do brings you joy and a greater sense of connection with the natural world. Here’s to falling in love with winter!
Jacky Challenger teaches Vinyasa Yoga and manages her Yoga Studio, Coastal Bliss Yoga in Tofino, BC. She offers classes, workshops & retreats inspired by the cycles of nature and the wisdom of Ayurveda. This will be Jacky’s 5th year attending the Victoria Yoga Conference, 3rd year as an ambassador, and 1st year as a presenter.