As the autumn leaves are falling to the ground and the animals are making their final preparations before hibernating it’s hard to ignore the signs that winter is on it’s way. The world around us is slowing down. Quite the opposite of the world of work or school, where the energy is go, go, go, push, push, push. Yet somewhere inside us we can feel that energetic pull to slow down as well. And that pull in opposite directions to my mind, is a cause of winter time stress and unhealthy un balance that so many of us suffer from each and every year.
Today we seem to suffer from the delusion that slowing down is counterproductive. When actually nothing could be further from the truth.
Don’t believe me? Well nature, the chinese and science agrees with me.
Let’s look at nature.
During winter plants go into a period of slow growth or in some cases no growth. We take this for granted but have you ever wondered why plants need to stop growing in the winter? Well just as we struggle with cold weather, plants are the same.
If plants were actively growing during the winter, the water in the trunk, stems and leaves would freeze, causing tremendous damage to these structures. With the lack of light and water dormancy is a mechanism vital to plant survival. In short it’s a survival mechanism. The plant slows down, protects itself. Rather than fighting against the seasonal tides causing stress and damage, it hibernates and waits for the spring warmth and energy boost to begin it’s new vibrant growth. If we apply the principles to our own life it is easy to see how trying to grow at full power when there aren’t enough nutrients around is going to cause the same damage to us. And if there is damage it’s going to take all our spring energy to mend and heal before we can begin the new growth.
Our ancestors knew this all too well.
If you look at the Tao Te Ching, the fundamental text on Taoism, written sometime in the sixth century B.C. Taoist cosmogony explains that there are two opposing forces in the universe Yin and Yang. Yang is daylight, Yin is night. Yang is activity, Yin is rest. Yang is productivity, Yin is restoration. And for ourselves to be healthy, balanced, and peaceful, we should be half one and half the other. Winter is the season of Yin. It is the Earth’s time of rest, darkness, and importantly conservation. They understood that it takes this period of consolidation to regenerate the burst of Yang that will crack the seedling and push it up through the soil to reach the sunlight at winter’s end in a burst of Yang energy. To exist Yang needs Yin.
And Science is beginning to discover that these natural and philosophical changes are apparent in the human body.
Chris Wallace’s paper published in Nature showed findings show that as many as one-fifth of all genes in blood cells undergo seasonal changes in expression. Our Dna actually changes with the seasons. And our bodies metabolism also slows down during winter. During the seasonal change, which occurs around late summer/early autumn, our brain tells our body to increase its insulin resistance. As a result, our liver can increase fat production, and our adipose and non-adipose tissues can store fat to get ready for winter. Animals get ready for winter by putting away their winter food; we get ready by storing fat in our body. (See winter weight gain is a biological thing. Although that said staying healthy boosts our immune systems response to winter illness so it’s up to you how to interpret this in your own life.) Not only that the most recent and outstanding study by Dr. Gilles Vandewalle, a neuroscientist at the University of Liege, shows that it’s possible that the brain adapts its level of efficiency to the time of year! Researchers found that the brain is more active in the summer when attention tasks are being performed, where as in the fall memory recall uses more brain activity. Basically the brain utilizes its resources differently to perform the same cognitive tasks depending on what season it is!
So you see nature, philosophy and science shows us that changing our activity with the seasons is both natural and beneficial to our health, our lives and the way we perform our tasks.
Now I am not suggesting that you stop everything completely. Far from it. There are plants and wildlife that continue growing during winter. What I am recommending is slowing down the pace. Choosing fewer projects. Do tasks that can take advantage of your body’s seasonal changes and strengths. Basically allow yourself to ride the tide of winter and flow with the energy rather than pushing against it.
So how do we do that?
For me I take my queue from nature and mirror plant and animal activity and prepare for the winter wind down.
For example during this autumn break I allowed myself to indulge in the luxury of both slowing down and preparing for my winter hibernation. I planted out the winter bulbs. Decluttered my office. Made Christmas presents. Choose which projects I want to focus on this winter and put the rest away for the spring. My social calendar is now clearer and my yoga mat is back in pride of place ready for my morning yoga routine. And most importantly invested time in activities that we easy to do, relaxing and helped me to wind down.
In preparing for the winter wind down I feel energised, revived and in my natural flow. I know what I am going to focus on and what is most important and that my friends will make me healthier, happier and more productive.
Life balance is so important to our physical and mental health, as well as our personal growth. And if we don’t know how to harness it the answers are often staring us in the face when we look out of the window and see how nature is reacting to the season. It’s up to us to get the hint and follow the flow. Trust me it makes life so much easier!
So what can you do now to prepare for your winter wind down?
What can you do to flow with the slow energy and still be productive?
Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to share this article to inspire others to do the same.
This week on my Facebook page there will be lots of ideas to inspire you on your winter wind down plans – so come and join us!
Have a wonderful week