As the seasons change and we move into winter, it is interesting to notice the simultaneous changes that are occurring internally. That slow and sluggish feeling that takes over as we eat more, exercise less and intermittently fall into mild blue spells appropriately known as S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder). It is as though our bodies are preparing for hibernation; beneath the brands, we are still animals after all. But for most people in this capitalist city, 6 months of slumber is not really a viable option. So while our bodies tune in to the natural slowing of the seasons, our minds must continue to work.
What I have noticed constitutes a large part of this rat race of which we are all a part, is the complete imbalance that we become so accustomed to. We dedicate so much of our time and energy to the race and so little to our own wellbeing. ‘Work hard, play hard’ is the cliche yet most appropriate phrase I have found to describe this lifestyle. We swing from one end of the spectrum to the other; channelling our energy into productivity and then indulging in hedonistic pleasures, to gain that instant dose of satisfaction that serves to completely disconnect us from our overworked minds.
There is a concept in psychology termed ‘Confucian dynamism’ that represents the extent to which cultures focus on the long or short-term consequences of their behaviours. Geert Hofstede, a well-known Dutch, social psychologist conducted extensive cross-cultural research on this concept. He found that compared to the east, the west have a far more short-term orientation, suggesting that we place greater value on immediate results.
This is an easy concept to grasp when you take the time to reflect upon our habits and lifestyles. However, while this fast pace is seemingly functional on a surface level, it has far deeper consequences; could the significant rise in the prevalence of mental illness in recent years be a consequence of this? As we feel the strain of these cold, winter months it is important to consider the approach we choose to nurture our wellbeing.
While flu tablets and winter jumpers may serve as an effective, immediate relief from cold(s), they do not prevent persistently weak immune systems, aching joints or constant fatigue. There are however, many Eastern approaches to wellbeing that focus on prevention rather than cure. One such approach is Chinese medicine and its by-product is known as Chinese Nutritional Therapy (CNT). Chinese medicine is rooted in the belief that living in harmony with the seasons is the most effective way to prevent disease and nurture the body, mind and spirit.
The tradition considers winter to be a ‘yin’ season, characterised by slow, dark, inward energy (contrasting those of ‘yang’ that represents summer). In accordance with this it is recommended that we consume seasonal foods, cooked for longer periods of time on a lower heat (such as stews and soups). Practises such as meditation, gentle exercise, writing, reading and rest are recommended as they complement the slow, inward moving energy of winter.
Each season is also believed to correspond to an organ, body part and sense organ; namely the kidney, bones and ears. The importance of relaxation is key given the destructive effect of stress on the kidneys; eating and exercising well is essential to maintain our strong skeletal structures; and as nature quietens down, we are given the opportunity to tune in and listen to the subtle sounds of winter (both internal and external).
While winter is a testing period, it also presents us with a new opportunity to tap into ourselves; Chinese medicine provides us with a new approach to perceive our behaviour and respond in ways that will nurture our whole self to fully function in our busy lives.
‘Tis the season for introspection and self-reflection, comfort food, a slow stretch and snooze. It seems a simple concept really, flow with the seasonal rhythm and reap the benefits. As long as you keep your blood circulating and maintain a consistent (but not too rigorous) practice, your inner furnace will keep you warm and those happy chemicals will keep you jolly, until springtime comes again.
Jessie Fuller was born in Kenya to British-Chinese parents and raised multi-culturally in Croatia, India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. She has a degree in Psychology and Sociology and is currently living in London, completing her Masters in Psychoanalytic Studies at Birkbeck University. While she continues to work in the psychosocial field, she connects to her Eastern roots through her yoga teaching and practise (facebook.com/fullerflow ). Her intention is to merge her academic background in western psychology with a holistic, Eastern approach to healing and combine the best of both worlds in her writing and practice.