Whether you live in the Northern Hemisphere or not, these past few winter months have been particularly dark. All over the world, everyday citizens and activists are taking action—organizing and mobilizing; standing up for what we believe to be right and true in our hearts. At the same time, the shorter days and lack of sunlight (not to mention blistering cold and weakened immunity) make us more susceptible to the cold and flu virus—and even bouts of depression.
That’s a lot of fight-or-flight rattling our nervous systems, which will inevitably take a toll on our wellbeing. So, what on Earth can we do?
Mindful philosophies and some religions argue that practicing tolerance, acceptance, and non-attachment could lead to, in essence, a transcendence from duality. While this may not necessarily equate to surrender, the reality of this ‘higher ground’ approach may not always resonate with the masses. And that’s OK. So aside from transcending duality, what can we do to continue fighting the good fight now and for many winters to come? How can we continue to navigate these challenging circumstances while still being able to put our best foot forward? Perhaps between taking action, gathering for peaceful assembly, and the relentless scrolling of stressful news stories, we ought to remind ourselves of one important thing: to take good care of ourselves so that we can take care of each other.
Like renowned yoga teacher and activist Seane Corn has famously quipped: “To heal the world we must first heal ourselves.” Sure, we yogis may already know that healing can begin on our yoga mat or meditation cushion, but there are countless other ways to incorporate more self-care to our routines during these dark winter months. And disclaimer: self-care isn’t an excuse to focus only on yourself. Seane’s ultimate point is to heal the world—not just ourselves. We just have to start inside.
The next time you find yourself cooped up indoors and frazzled by politics, or feeling helpless about what you can do to help, turn your energy toward the light and try these seven winter self-care rituals. When you connect to yourself in a kind and loving way, you encourage others to do the same. And isn’t that what the world needs more of right now, anyway?
Put Your Phone Down
We’ve all heard it: we live in a world that suffers from screen addiction, and taking a periodical digital detox is crucial to our sanity—not to mention our attention spans. These days, it’s a fine dance we must do between staying informed and staying offline when we can. Taking time off from news consumption and logging out of social media doesn’t make you selfish, nor does it mean that you don’t care about the latest developments in political upheaval. Not only will the news you missed still be there when you come back, but it’s not going anywhere either—not for the next, say, four years anyway. Same goes for scrolling through your friend’s perfectly curated beach vacay photos from a recent trip to Costa Rica—how could this possibly help anyone beat a bad case of the winter blahs? Get offline. Try it for a day, maybe a few days, and see if you notice a difference. Your cortisol levels will thank you. And once you’re ready to re-enter the conversation, you’ll do so from a more thoughtful place of response versus reactivity.
Go For A Brisk Walk
Baby it’s cold outside… But that’s what polar fleece is for. After you’ve put your phone away, bundle up and suit up your dog (or cat!) and treat yourself to a walk outdoors. Whether it’s early morning or during your lunch break, or a leisurely end-of-day stroll to clear your head, walking and breathing in the great outdoors has innumerable health benefits. The best part? You don’t always have to trek to some glorious part of nature to feel better—simply giving yourself a well-deserved breath of fresh air can go a long way. Bonus points if you left your phone at home and are looking up and all around you, instead of down at a screen.
Reset Your Nervous System
There are two parts to the nervous system: the sympathetic “fight-or-flight” and parasympathetic “rest and digest” branches. Yoga Physics creator Alexandria Crow believes that many people fail to access their parasympathetic nervous system, and that striking a balance between the two is vital to mental and physical health and steadiness of mind. “In my informal research over the years, most yoga classrooms are full of students who are chronically stuck in the sympathetic side of their nervous system,” she says. Alex explains that many yoga students amplify their own stress levels by overtaxing their nervous systems in fast-paced vinyasa classes, without a gentler, more restorative practice to move them back to equilibrium.
“The parasympathetic nervous system isn’t something that you can bulldoze your way into, it takes gentle coaxing to access it, and then repetition to create a new relationship with it.” Try Alex’s guided “Nervous System Reboot” method to hit the reset and de-stress button, to bring clarity and stability back to your body and mind.
Try A Creative Brew
Herbal infusions are equally medicinal as they are delicious. Brewing your own loose leaf teas or blends of dried flowers has endless possibilities. This well-curated list from Kundalini yoga teacher and herbalist, Sokhna Heathyre Mabin, includes herbal essentials that should be in everyone’s pantry. Chamomile flowers and lavender are widely known to promote relaxation and improve sleep, and have been used for centuries to treat irritation from chest colds. Skullcap and kava kava are also known as ‘anti-anxiety’ herbs, and could be mixed into your favorite regular tea blend. If your nerves have wreaked havoc on your gut and compromised your immunity, brewing your own kombucha at home has also never been easier. Channel your inner mad scientist and get yourself a SCOBY. Fermenting your own specialized blend of tea is both comforting and satisfying, plus you’re bound to save a lot of money in the long run.
Share A Pot of Stew
A warming one-pot meal is many a home chef’s favorite winter pastimes. With just a few simple items from your winter CSA or farmers market and large Dutch oven or crockpot, you and a handful of your closest friends can share in the bounty. One of my personal favorites is this apple-butternut squash soup enriched with gut-healthy miso. For me, spending hours in the kitchen and pouring love into the food I make is soothing to my soul and downtime well spent. Jordan Fleet, a massage therapist in Brooklyn agrees. “Cooking a big vat of healthy stew while listening to good music helps quiet those mean voices,” she says. “Even though there is much work to be done, checking in with myself to make sure I can enjoy the present moment aids in sustaining my energy and mental health.” A ‘soup swap’ with a larger group of friends is also a great way to stock your refrigerator and freezer for the long, dark months ahead.
Dance With Abandon (and Without Booze!)
Whether it’s a five-minute dance break in your living room, or you and your friends put on a favorite album and bust a few moves, there is no denying that dancing has the power to instantly lift our spirits. For a time, dancing and alcohol were synonymous—as one was often needed to fuel the other. But with the rise of early morning dance movements like Daybreaker in recent years, dancing emerged as a form of exercise among the wellness community. Take yoga teacher Allie Mason, who relies on dance to keep her healthy and balanced as much as her yoga practice.
“From an early age I knew I loved to dance,” she says, “but I was always sober.” Allie grew tired of the club scene, however, until she discovered The Get Down, an early evening ‘conscious dance party’ in New York hosted by DJ Tasha Blank. Allie describes The Get Down as a source for winter magic that helps her move through the darkness and into the light. The Get Down’s message is simple: To love and respect everyone. Even outside of New York, there are many sober activities you can participate in if you’re looking to connect with people in a more meaningful way. But in the meantime, for a quick mental boost and a shot of adrenaline, let loose and dance like nobody’s watching—whether you’re alone or not.
Sweat It Out (Without Lifting A Finger)
Sounds like a dream come true, right? Yes, it is possible to break a hearty sweat and get your heart rate up without a hot yoga or spin class. More commonly known as “the Banya,” Russian and Turkish bathhouses have long been used to to beautify and detoxify. The Wall Street Bath and Spa in Manhattan, for instance, has something for everyone: wet and dry saunas, a eucalyptus steam room, an ice room, and a cold plunge pool. Making your way through these hot-and-cold circuits improves blood circulation and immunity, and can even help you lose weight. Bonus points for bringing your own exfoliating scrub or clay mask—and a few of your favorite friends. Steam and soak your worries away at this ‘winter beach’ and emerge feeling revitalized and refreshed.
Andrea Rice is a writer and yoga teacher in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, NY Yoga + Life, SONIMA, mindbodygreen and other online publications. Connect with Andrea on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and her website.