Turning Winter Blues into Winter Warmth

by Cheryl Kain

When the time changes and the birds fly south, so does my mood. But I try not to fight it tooth and nail. Contrary to my old belief that feeling down is bad, and feeling up is good, I resonate with the idea that feelings don’t need to be eliminated or changed. They are a sacred part of me and need and deserve love. When I love the winter blues, they neutralize. When I accept, rather than try to change how I feel, I can ride the waves of the seasons and learn to love and nourish the sad one, the tired one, the lost one. Here are some ways to do just that.

Invite the Light

In many parts of the world, the sun can feel very far away from November through January. Here are some ways to invite winter warmth and bring more lightness into our daily lives all year.

  • Candlelight can add beauty and intention at mealtimes or during your meditation or yoga practice. The candle-lighting ritual acknowledges the darkness of the season, and creates sacredness around familiar patterns.
  • Invest in a light box. Used in areas with extremely limited sunlight, these portable helpers make a noticeable difference in energy level. Generally, sitting in front of a light box for 15 to 45 minutes daily stimulates dopamine.
  • Stay near the sun. Make a point of doing paperwork by a sunny window, and get outdoors for a bit, even on cold days, during peak sunlight hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Small Pleasures

“Self-gifting” is especially important during introspective months. Incentives and rewards can spark joy and remind us that we are worthy of tender care.

  • Rewards: If I complete a dreaded task, I will buy a fresh flower for my meditation table.
  • The gift of time: Make the radical step of scheduling in a half hour for reading a book just for pleasure, or another completely “unproductive” activity you love.
  • Positive self-talk: Whether you call up your favorite mantra or make a new one, the power of affirmations is awesome. Even a simple Good for you, said internally, invites neural pathways to let go of habitual self-judgment.
  • Sing—in the shower, in the car, or in a community group. Singing reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and is a great way to connect with yourself and with others.

Warming Nourishment

It’s the time of year when many of us are putting out energy without replenishing our wells. The fatigue can feel bottomless. Deep sensory and soul nourishment is the recipe for reviving our tired selves, when food and drink expand their roles as healer and comforter.

  • Low-maintenance cooking: Slow-cooker soups and stews satisfy on multiple levels—sight, scent, temperature, and texture.
  • Total hydration: Drinking warm water with lemon is a cold and flu buster; ginger tea, miso soup, and hot chocolate with a dash of cayenne all provide a cold weather treat and stimulate the digestive tract.
  • Restorative yoga: A simple Legs Up the Wall pose, practiced in a dim room with meditative music, enhances relaxation and sleep.

Return to Rituals

Having our schedules disrupted during the holiday season can weaken our sense of internal structure. Ritual can help contain and guide us back to ourselves.

  • Movement, especially in the morning, starts your day on an energized note. Walk around the block, stretch (even in your bed), practice some gentle yoga. Twelve minutes is all it takes to bathe your brain with mood-elevating endorphins, lasting you until sundown.
  • Service is its own reward. Try sending one positive email every morning to someone you love, or who has done a great job, or who just needs cheering up. Call someone who you know is weathering a tough time. The feeling of connection and usefulness will help your own state of mind.
  • Write. When the blues begin their winter wail, I pull out my journal or a notebook I have decorated. Just five minutes of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) allow my thoughts and feelings to be heard. The energy moving from my body onto the page transforms my mood.

Cheryl Kain is a writer, teacher, and musician who has practiced Kripalu Yoga for more than 20 years. She appeared on Good Morning America to share how yoga changed her health and her life.

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