In my latest post for the Wild Beauty journal I’m pleased to share my Winter wellness rituals with you, including a nourishing winter meditation.
Winter is now upon us - the temperatures are dropping and the days are short. We are part of the natural world and not separate from it, so we need to nourish ourselves, like the nature around us, by resting and turning inwards, so that we too are ready for spring.
"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” — Edith Sitwell
The simplicity of Edith Sitwell’s poem says it all. I believe that we should try to live in harmony with nature, with the natural cycles of our environment. The cold and darkness of winter urges us to slow down. Just like the trees, it’s time for us to replenish our energy, conserve our strength and reflect, so that we can prepare for the outburst of energy in spring.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), central to my QiGong and Yin yoga practices, winter is ruled by the water element, and associated with the kidney and urinary bladder meridians. In TCM the kidneys are considered the source of all energy (Qi) within the body, as they store all of our reserve Qi so that it can be used in times of stress and change, to heal or to prevent illness.
According to TCM, the cold and darkness of winter can rapidly deplete our kidney Qi. So, its vital that we pay attention to our bodies and nourish our kidneys by keeping warm, resting and ensuring we stay well hydrated. There’s a helpful meditation below to help with this.
While we all want to hibernate the winter away with hot chocolate and a hotter water bottle, it’s well worth reaching beyond the blankets and into the outdoors. There’s nothing better than walking out on a bright crisp winter’s morning with a cosy coat and warm boots.
Spending time in the winter’s sun is the best way to boost vitamin D levels, which is vital for combating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and a wonderful boost for our wellbeing too.
But even if it’s not a perfectly sunny day, there’s still a wealth of benefits to be gained from wrapping up warm and heading beyond the warm embrace of the sofa.
Even a 15-minute daily walk (NHS says 10 mins a day helps…) can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, regulate cholesterol, improve balance, strengthen bones and help manage joint and muscular pain.
Walking also makes us happier. A quick stroll can boost the production the feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin, as well as boost our ability to fight off infections.
I’m lucky to live in the Cotswolds, with miles of rolling countryside to explore right on my doorstep. My favourite winter walks are those I can take through the local landscape. In winter I visit the magnificent ancient beech trees in Lineover Wood, or hike up to the Kilkenny viewpoint, with its stunning vistas over the Cotswold landscape towards the Malverns.
I always offer mindful walks on my yoga retreats at Notgrove Estate, it’s a beautiful location not far from my home in the heart of the Cotswolds and, with its honey stoned cottages and gently sloping valleys, it’s the perfect place for a winter wander.
There’s nothing better than returning, with rosy cheeks and tired feet, to the warmth of the stove and a hot meal.
My family and I love a slow-cooked, melt-in-the-mouth, beef casserole – Carbonnade a la Flamande. Before we leave for our winter walk, I’ll do all the prep, then pop it into the oven, ready for our return.
I toast a little garlic bread before serving, then we all enjoy the classic richness of this hearty dish before returning to the blankets, sofa and the comforts of winter.
WINTER WELLNESS MEDITATION
My favourite winter meditation, nourishing the body, and kidney qi, on those chilly days:
This meditation brings your awareness to sensations within your torso and can even help to amplify the warmth from within.
Find a comfortable seated, or lying, position with your spine straight.
Bring your hands to rest palms down on your belly, gently close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath.
As you breath in feel the cool air enter your nostrils. Feel the breath move through your torso and down to your lower belly. Notice how the lower belly rises, and then your tummy falls and feel the warm air on your nostrils as you breath out. Repeat for as long as you’d like to.
As you repeat, be receptive to sensations that you feel in the lower belly, this helps you to appreciate the warmth here. Setting your intention to send warm loving energy inwards from your hands will help amplify this further.
Then move your hands a little higher on the torso to just below your ribs, and send your breath and this loving energy down into your kidneys, just above your lower back. Mindfully thank your kidneys for all the work they do to regulate all the systems of the body and for keeping the energy flowing through the body.
When you are ready to end the meditation bring your hands away from your torso. Feel yourself sitting or lying down, and take three deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth to help ground you. If you still feel ungrounded then take some sips of water or drink some herbal tea.
To learn more about boosting your winter wellbeing click here.