Dr. Japa K. Khalsa
Hibernating is a human thing: We are designed to shift into low gear in winter. Like a farmer tinkering with his tools while snow covers the ground, downshifting gives your body time to repair itself. This is your body’s natural agenda.
Given extra downtime and deep nutrition, your body can refill the disks in your back with fluid, rebuild immune system cells and recondition your stressed-out nervous system (among other things). That can mean less back pain, better overall health and an increased ability to handle hectic lives.
Just like night gives us time to recharge our batteries after a busy day, winter gives us time to restore ourselves after the wear-and-tear of summer.
But if we want any of these benefits, we have to lift our foot off life’s accelerator.
Mainstream culture rewards “doing”; it judges “being” as unproductive and lazy—which makes it extra hard for us to slow down. We think we are relaxing by watching television or drinking and eating with friends—but in reality we need more hibernating: sleep and actual “quiet time.” When we stop doing, our bodies can start repairing. Give yourself permission to slow down.
If you find yourself getting sleepy much earlier in the evening, this is your body’s natural clock giving you extra time to nourish yourself with deep sleep. Stop your activities as early as possible, ideally by 8 pm. Unwind and relax and go to bed by 9 or 10 at the very latest.
To get the deepest sleep possible, have an herbal sleep tea or grate some nutmeg into warm milk, as nutmeg helps maintain a deeper sleep cycle. Give yourself a foot massage with oil and do some long deep breathing before going to sleep to calm your mind.
How to Give Yourself an Evening Foot Rub
How can you go to bed earlier and fall asleep easily? Let your body know that you are serious with a foot rub. This stimulates special nerve endings in your feet that help calm your mind and shift your nervous system for sleep.
Begin by rinsing your feet in cool water and drying them. Pull one foot towards you and rub a bit of oil on it. Start by massaging around the ankle and down to the heel on both sides of the foot. This area carries the reflexology connection to the sexual organs, so massaging it relaxes this tension.
Next, rub the underside of your foot with several long thumb strokes. If you find any bumpy spots or calcifications, rub harder on those areas until you feel a gentle softening of the tension. Press hard on the ball of your foot and dig deep between the first and second toe in the natural hollow of your foot. This soft spot on the underside of your foot is soothing to stimulate because it is an entry point for energy in Chinese medicine. Stay with it for a minute. Now grab your toes with both hands and stretch and bend them in both directions, towards the sole of your foot and away. You get extra credit if your toes “pop.”
Squeeze your foot with both hands, caressing and massaging it and then switch to the opposite foot. If you have children, this is a wonderful way to unwind them from their day. In reflexology, massaging a child’s heel every night helps them develop a photographic memory.
Foraging for Yummy Winter Foods
In order for your body to carry out quality repairs, you need to eat nourishing foods. Most of us add a few pounds during the holidays, which feature an abundance of sweets, carbs and fats. Now is an excellent time to choose nutrient-dense, seasonally available foods that will satisfy without adding weight.
Winter greens such as kale, chard and seasonal lettuce are packed with nutrients like iron, potassium and calcium, which build blood and can help people (especially women) feel more relaxed. Root vegetables make an easy meal, are gently cleansing, and satisfy that urge to chow down. Beets, turnips, parsnips, radishes, yams and carrots have a blood-building effect because of all their minerals and are known for a cleansing effect on the liver. Root vegetables that have been harvested in the fall save their energy and potency for the winter and are especially beneficial. Make a root vegetable bake for a simple seasonal meal that is satisfying and chock full of nutrients.
Roasted Roots Recipe:
Take any combination of root vegetables (beets, parsnips, radishes, carrots, onions, potatoes and yams), chop them into evenly sized pieces and put them in a Dutch oven or covered casserole dish. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and perhaps some basil or oregano and let the roots bake at 375° until tender (45 minutes to an hour).
How to Hide Winter Greens in a Smoothie
A favorite way to disguise winter greens is in a nut-and-fruit smoothie. The trick is to add a “sweet” item (like dates, berries, oranges or fruit juices) for every additional “healthy” item (like spinach, sprouts or spirulina) to balance the flavor. Start with frozen berries and toss in a few cashews, almonds or hemp seeds to help it keep that creamy flavor and add some healthy fats and protein. There are an infinite number of fruits, nuts and veggies to combine.
In Eastern medicine, raw fruits and vegetables are considered hard to digest and are better for the summertime. However, because you are blending them, it breaks through the cell walls and allows all of the dense energy of winter greens to penetrate your body. Try this as a breakfast and you will be surprised how energized your day can be. One word of caution: drinking this in the evening might be too energizing. Experiment and see what works for your individual body type.
Recipe (Serves 2)
Raspberry and raw cacao “green” Smoothie
2 cups frozen raspberries
Cover raspberries with your favorite juice, then add:
1 handful of any winter green (kale, chard, lettuce, spinach)
1 tsp spirulina
1 “splash” of tart cherry concentrate
3 Tbsp hemp seeds
2 Tbsp raw cacao powder
Blend in a good blender until creamy, adding more juice if needed.
Deeper Nutrition: Healing Core Digestion Issues
These are easy, inspiring recipes, but what if you have more serious issues? Digestion plays a critical role in helping the body resolve health challenges. Most people have some digestive complaint like gas, bloating, constipation or acid reflux that indicates poor digestion. Cleaning up your diet, eliminating processed foods and adding whole foods is very important for digestion (and healing) in the long run.
Quick tips for dietary changes
People really struggle with changing their diet and improving their health through eating. It is very hard to eliminate something from your diet, because if you are what you eat, it feels like you are taking away a part of yourself.
This is why it’s important to keep the focus on adding healthier foods to your diet. Instead of removing dessert, for example, add smoothies (see recipe above) or baked apples with butter and cinnamon. Tame your sweet tooth by filling up on fruits. Fruit is the ultimate fast food, it tastes amazing, has zero fat and tons of vitamin C and antioxidants. Fill your cupboards with good quality fruits and prepare them in interesting ways. Focus on adding them to your daily foods and see if you can satisfy your sweet tooth in a way that heals your body instead of sabotaging it.
It is common to slip off the wagon and go back to old eating habits. It takes time to create a change in the body and for the body to accept the new food regimen. One great way to keep yourself on track is through herbal teas. In addiction circles, people talk about alcohol as a “gateway” to other drugs. In terms of food and your body’s addiction to fattening, fast and salty foods, herbal teas are a “gateway” to health food. They encourage your taste buds to adapt and open your palate to real food and better habits.
If you find yourself slipping off the healthy food wagon and veering into processed foods, grab a hot herbal tea on your way down to cushion the fall. The hot water in the wintertime is beneficial for all body types, and the plant medicine available in the tea keeps your body oriented towards real food. Ginger tea is the most obvious, inexpensive and tasty tea that supports digestion and nerves. You can chop up the ginger root and boil it for 10 minutes or just buy the prepackaged tea.
Cultivate Your Inner Farmer
If you keep your foot on the accelerator, despite the cold and the snow, your inner farmers will never have a chance to repair summer’s damage. So in these busy times with an overload of food choices, bring it back to the simple pleasures of life: sleeping in, cooking good food and practicing self-care.
Like a bear in need of a good nap, listen to your body this winter and indulge in the sweet escape of sleep. And if you find yourself craving rich foods in this brisk cold weather, pamper yourself with truly nourishing foods that deeply build the cells in your body. Value yourself enough to allow for the natural hibernation cycle to occur, so that in the summer, you may reap your rewards.
Dr. Japa K. Khalsa received a Bachelor of Science from Northwestern University and completed her Master of Oriental Medicine at Midwest College of Medicine. She is a Board certified and licensed Doctor of Oriental Medicine, and practices in Española, NM. 505.747.3368, email@example.com, http://www.drjapa.com