Sunday, December 09, 2007

Vital practices for winter health

Seems like this time of year people are commonly sniffling, coughing or run down. Vitalist practitioners like myself have a set of tools, in addition to nourishing herbs and foods for helping to stay healthy and happy through the winter months.

1) Sleep.
This is probably one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy through the winter. Just like the bear who hibernates during the snowy season, or rodents who retreat to their holes, we too have needs for increased rest and relaxation. Life moves in cycles, and the busy summer inspires us to be active, gardening, playing, and experiencing all the wonders of the green season. We stay up later becuase the sun sets later. It gives us more time to accomplish things we choose to put our attention to. But staying up late and exercising hard all season long can take it's toll, especially with the addition of work, school and family obligations. When the winter dark comes, it is no wonder we have a tendency to get a bit slower, and less active. SOmetimes we try to push through, especially during the holidays, parties, shopping, family gatherings require a lot of energy from us, but winter is the time to conserve the energy and restore ourselves with a long winter nap. You don't have to hole up for the whole winter and stay in bed, but do take advantage of longer nights, get to bed earlier, and sleep in or stay in bed later on cold mornings. Take time to restore your body and mind with quiet activities, cooking warming meals, baked roots, long simmered soup and plenty of down time. 8 hours of sleep is a basic reccomendation, but I find myself needing closer to 10 in the winter months.

2)Barefoot snow walking
I know, you think I'm crazy, but you'll just have to try it to believe it. Bundle yourself up well, complete with hat, gloves and warm coat and pants, but leave off the wool socks and snow boots. Step outside and walk around in the snow in your barefeet for 2-3 minutes, or as long as you can stand. This is especially fun to do in the fresh fallen fluffy snow after a snow storm. Be like a kid and run around in the fluffy stuff for a minute or two. Then return to warmth inside, dry your feet well, and feel the vital response. Your body will send blood circulating to your periphery, and your feet will warm up, your hands and other extremities will benefit from the increased peripheral circulation, which brings blood and immune function to the surface, ready to assist in protecting you from the slew of virus and bacteria floating about.

3) Hot and cool alternating showers
Taking a nice hot bath or shower in the cold weather feels great, but when we do that, we draw blood to our surface and open all the cappilaries on the skin. This makes us feel warm, but if we go outside with our pores and cappilarries open to the chill winter air, it can be detrimental to our health, and make us feel colder, deeper. I reccomend using an alternating cool/warm shower, or at least, finishing the hot shower with a cool rinse, including the head and neck, chest and back. This shouldn't be icy water, but cool enough to stimulate a vital response from your body. This will close pores and capillaries, and keep your vital warmth within. This alternating temperature is also good for training our bodies to deal with the constantly changing temperatures of cold winter air and warm heated buildings.

4)Deep Breathing
Dress warm and go outside (with shoes this time!) find a nice place to sit, either in the snow, near a tree, or on any other surface comfortable for you. Do 5 minutes of deep breathing in the cool fresh air. Fill your lungs from bottom to top, expanding the diaphragm and belly, then the lungs in the chest and the shoulders rise to fill the last inch. Then release the air in reverse, squeezing your belly toward your spine to expel the last bit of air. Fill your lungs with life giving oxygen, fresh and clean and cool. When you are done, return inside and sip on warm tea.

5) Drink water upon arising
Winter air can be extremely dehydrating, and it can be hard to keep up with staying hydrated. I usually wake up and drink at least 8-12 oz of room temperature water first thing in the morning. You can add a squeeze of lemon, or drink the water slightly warmed. But don't drink ice water or water cold from the fridge. The significant amount of water will stimulate peristalsis and aid in moving the bowels in the morning, and starting off the day hydrated.

6)Eat warm and seasonably appropriate foods
My appetite obviously changes when the weather gets cold, and I can't stand to eat cold raw salads or frozen fruits in winter. Encourage healthy digestion by givng your body warm and easy to digest foods. Stew your fruits with warming spices, eat warm broth in the morning, indulge in well cooked root vegetables mixed with oil and vinegar as a salad rather than cold lettuce and tomatoes. Eating plenty of warm and nourishing foods during the winter can go a long way in improving overall health, energy and immune function. Try to keep your consumption of sugary baked goods, chocolates and desserts to a minimum as sugar can reduce immune function quite significantly.

7) Listen to your body
Finally, always listen to what your body is telling you. If you are feeling tired and run down, rest. If you feel cold, bundle up, if you are craving a certain food (excluding junk foods or sugars) eat it. If you start to feel like you might be coming down with something, get in bed, stay warm, rest and drink plenty of hydrating healing herbal teas and soups. If you have a fever, stay home from work or school, drink plenty of fluid and refrain from eating until the fever breaks. Always pay attention to your needs and feelings and intuitions about yourself. The Vital force within each us has supreme wisdom for us, and listening to it and supporting it is the best thing we can do for our health.

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"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~