With the holiday season behind you, pause for a moment to reflect on how you experience winter. Was your holiday activity so frenetic that you wound up exhausted? Did you go through an annual cycle where you felt more stressed than uplifted, much less rested? Some people get the winter blues or even suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) due to lack of exposure to light in the darkest months of the year.
Rather than fall back on your usual patterns and getting stuck, winter is a good time to take advantage of a great human gift: adaptability. Your body's biorhythms adapt to the seasons naturally, and by tuning in to them, you can use the winter months positively rather than wishing spring would come faster.
Let's concentrate on two important goals: energy and renewal.
Every aspect of life comes down to your state of awareness, and even though you might think of energy as physical, the body is influenced just as much, if not more, by the quality of energy. If you walk a mile enjoying the experience, you expend the same number of calories as someone who walks a mile feeling depressed or worried, but the messages your body receives will be entirely different.
In Ayurveda, the aim is always a balance, so don't try to force any experience. Highs and lows revolve around a center point. It's nice to have the highs, and for the majority of people, the lows will pass. The crucial thing is to keep your quality of energy at a comfortable place of balance. Dynamic balance is known medically as homeostasis, and the body-mind is designed to maintain it. So, your goal is simply to cooperate with what your body-mind wants to do.
In terms of energy, the main points are simple and straightforward:
- Don't go to extremes of pushing yourself or becoming too sedentary. Make sure you move around at least once an hour even on days when the weather keeps you housebound.
- Keep tabs on the quality of your energy. If you notice that your mood has turned negative, address it immediately, which can mean getting away from a stressful situation or turning your attention to an activity you know you will enjoy.
- Pay attention to stress, which includes keeping away from people who complain about winter, the holidays, and other sources of winter blues. By the same token, don't contribute to the surrounding stress by joining in to such complaints.
- Avoid the tendency to overeat out of boredom or being housebound.
- Keep a regular routine of sleep.
The remarkable adaptability of the body-mind is about more than homeostasis. You are also designed to renew yourself. The ideal is to greet every day as if it has brought a new world. From the viewpoint of consciousness, it has. Even though you wake up every morning in the same house with the same family, friends, and job, those elements are really secondary. Your primary focus can be on other things that lead to true renewal. These include:
- Being creative
- Being of service
- Approaching your life and other people with appreciation
- Having an accepting attitude
- Being alert to new opportunities
- Being kind to yourself
- Acting as your own healer, either physically, psychologically, or emotionally
These items amount to a large agenda of potential things you can do to renew yourself. I feel personally that renewal as a conscious pursuit is much more effective than battling against old habits, memories, and negative emotions. Battling with yourself is exhausting and keeps you focused on what's wrong with your life.
If you pursue renewal every day, the result will be that healing these old habits, memories, and negative emotions happens more easily and naturally. Healing should not be approached with an attitude of "I have to fix myself." Healing is a natural process of the body-mind that you only need to cooperate with. (For an in-depth treatment, see The Healing Self, the book I co-wrote with Harvard geneticist Rudy E. Tanzi.)
The real goal of attuning to the winter season is increased self-awareness. The key word in that phrase is "self." Despite the appearance of sameness from day to day, you experience yourself differently as experiences rise and fall in your awareness. Once you notice this, it becomes obvious that life consists of nothing but the constant appearance and disappearance of thoughts, images, sensations, and feelings. This presents you with a choice. You can inhabit the mind as an arena of constant activity, which is what almost all people do. Or you can identify with the self, the screen against which all this ceaseless activity occurs.
If you attend to these areas of life—energy and renewal—you will transform winter into a blissful season of the year, just as every season is designed to be once you approach them consciously.