Winter is upon us. Even here in California, there’s frost on the ground, the days are nippy, and darkness falls sooner.
Winter is also within us.
Do you know that your winter body is not the same as your summer body? Maybe you feel a bit inward, more slow-moving, and even depressed as winter deepens? Modern life may demand consistent levels of activity and productivity year round, but this really goes against nature.
It all comes down to light and heat—sunlight in particular. Light is a stimulant. Sunlight has a range of wavelengths that stimulate a variety of functions in our bodies. The longer, brighter days of summer amp up our mood, metabolism, and energy level. The shorter, darker winter days slow… us… down. Or they try.
Our bodies function best when we alternate between activity and rest.
In the evening, as sunlight wanes, our bodies produce hormones that make us sleepy, giving us a chance to restore body, mind, and soul. This rest cycle occurs naturally every night—if we don’t throw things off with too much electric light. Winter has a similar effect. The farther you live from the equator, the less winter sunlight you get and the more your body wants to approximate hibernation in winter.
Our ancestors didn’t have central heat and electric light, so they lived differently in summer and winter of necessity. In summer, they were outdoors and active much of the time. In winter, they retreated indoors and hunkered down around a central fire, repairing tools and telling the tales that wove their culture. They packed themselves close together; piled on skins, quilts, and dogs; and slept long and deep.
But we modern folks not only have light and heat, we have alarm clocks to wake us up at the same time every day, no matter where the sun is. A client of mine, who likes to arise at 5:00am for yoga and meditation, was beating herself up for having trouble waking up in winter. “Stop thinking there’s something wrong with you,” I suggested, “and listen to your body’s wisdom.”
No wonder so many people feel depressed in winter! Forcing ourselves to operate at summer levels in winter goes against our grain.
What would it be like to stop fighting your nature?
In winter, you’d probably sleep longer at night and demand less exertion of yourself by day. You wouldn’t worry too much if you crave starches and fats and put on a little body fat; it helps you through the winter, and it will naturally burn off toward springtime. You’d be more inward, more reflective, more about huddling and cuddling than racing around. You might even be less depressed, more at peace.