I love how pretty my stairs look at this time of year. I also love going to bed so I don’t need much tempting up there, but sometimes, sleep is difficult and not only do I feel awful if I haven’t slept well, my mood is low and my skin suffers too. It can seem impossible at this time of year to rest properly as culturally, Christmas is a time when parties, alcohol, rich food and other general indulgences are a high priority. Yet, this is in complete contradiction to what our bodies require in winter; it’s no wonder we all feel weary and lacking in motivation during January.
The ancient Chinese Medical text, The Yellow Emporer’s Classic of Medicine (Neijing Suwen) is one of the most important philosophical classics of Taoism. The book describes our deep connection with nature and how our environment and lifestyle affect our health.
The chapter entitled, ‘The Art of Living through the Seasons’ describes the season of winter as the “ultimate period of Yin dominating Yang” and “During the Winter months all things in nature wither, hide, return home, and enter a resting period, just as lakes and rives freeze and snow falls. This is a time when yin dominates yang. Therefore one should refrain from overusing the yang energy. Retire early and get up with the sunrise, which is later in Winter. Desires and mental activity should be kept quiet and subdued, as if keeping a happy secret. Stay warm, avoid the cold, and keep the skin covered. Avoid sweating. The theory of the Winter season is one of conservation and storage. Without such practice the result will be injury to the Kidney energy. This will cause weakness, shrinking of muscles, and coldness; then the body loses its ability to open and move about in the Spring.
If you need to improve your ‘conservation and storage’ skills, my best advice is to get as much quality rest and sleep as possible. I know that our modern lives make even this necessity seem like a challenge in itself, but if you can turn some of these behaviours into habits, your mental and physical health will improve. Not mentioning the obvious tips (avoid caffeine, not eating too much too late etc) try these:
- Come off all laptops, tablets and phones at least an hour before bedtime/lights out – the light from the screen interferes with melatonin production which is an essential hormone for sleep,
- Stretch before bed – I often do this yoga routine at the end of the bed before I climb in (yes, it’s on a laptop but you know..!),
- Meditate – even for five minutes. Sit silently and breathe, gently counting your breath. You can try breathing in for the count of 4, holding for 4, breathing out for 4, holding for 4 and repeat…,
- Try the 4,7,8 breath technique,
- Get the bedroom temperature right – turn off the heating and use a hot water bottle if you get cold,
- Practice yoga nidra (my patients will confirm my addiction to this wonderful relaxation technique),
- Get pressing some acupressure points. Watch this video (try not to be distracted by the music),
- Clear up any disagreements with loved ones,
- If a list of things ‘to do’ is on repeat in your head, write it down and forget about it,
- Finally, don’t fight it. If you’ve tried all of the above and are still not sleeping great, accept it. Breathe into it knowing it will pass and there’s always tomorrow….