Tuesday, 21 January 2014

New ways to be new in the new year

[From a talk given the day after Blue Monday, and in the middle of the Polar Vortex]

Yesterday I heard about "Blue Monday", the officially recognized Worst Day of the year—a day when depression hits, divorce statistics peak, and everyone supposedly feels thoroughly miserable. The jollity and, to some extent, the anxiety that's kept us ticking along over the holidays screeches or sputters to a halt and we find ourselves sad and snappy.

It's also at this time of year that we can be most stern about our new year's resolutions. We will go running every day/give up caffeine/go on a diet. So, this morning I'd like to talk about self care in wintertime.

It's so cold right now. And when we get home on a freezing night, we don't go and stand by the fridge—we snuggle up somewhere nice and warm. Your organs want to do the same! Now is the time to eat warm, nourishing foods and steer away from anything icy. Both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda tell us that root vegetables will give a feeling of being earthed, grounded (rooted!). By roasting food, you get a warm, slow release of flavor.

Notice this slowness. Things are slower in winter (try doing a cartwheel in McCarren Park today). It's harder to move—through the snow, and our 20 different layers of clothing, and the fact that we simply feel less energetic.

Raw foods are harder to digest. Now is not the time for salads. Eating cold, uncooked food you run the risk of stressing and depleting your kidneys.

What your body needs right now is rest. In TCM, winter is a Yin season; it's slow, quiet, reflective. It's a time to plant seeds, not crack the whip. Tune in to the longer nights. Recharge. Let the winter be the seasonal equivalent of having an early night. Know that there's plenty of time for wildness in the spring and summer, and you'll have an even greater appetite for it—not to mention capacity to go for it—if you're properly rested and healthy.

New year's resolutions are a lovely idea, but they can turn into ways to be mean to yourself; to self-shame and criticize.

Yoga teaches us ahimsa, non-violence—which can be understood as non-violence to the self. Notice when you're tempted to be mean to yourself as you practice today, and let it pass. And notice ways you can look after yourself today.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us, Sthira sukham asanam. Asana practice is steady and sweet.
There is always a balance to be negotiated between strength and softness; and cold grey days like this one give us a golden opportunity to explore it.