This new column by Dori Fortunato offers wellness tips with a focus on diet, exercise and healthy practices. In addition to several specialties in the health field, she is a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine with western and eastern herbal studies.
Living on Long Island’s East End, surrounded by glorious beaches and the tranquility of the coast, we’ve naturally developed a grumpy nature towards Old Man Winter. Everything about it seems tedious, as if nature is somehow punishing us for the lazy summer days. Emotionally we cling to every ray of sunshine, longing for the return of light and longer days.
February marks the middle of winter until spring awakening. We welcome Groundhog Day (which, oddly enough, is my favorite off-holiday celebration) and Lunar New Year, heralding spring with lively celebrations. These traditions remind us that beneath every cold and dark day there is a movement within us that creates new beginnings that arrive with spring.
Yes, the weather outside is still cold; but as the earth slowly unfolds beneath us, let us nourish our bodies, reflect on our health and take steps towards healing so that we can enjoy the coming season with full participation. So let’s turn our focus to our own wellbeing/care now and use this time to our advantage.
The simple addition of culinary warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg and turmeric to teas, soups and especially all raw vegetables consumed can support digestion, reduce inflammation and protect the body from the cold.
In general, you should focus your food choices on cooked foods like soups, yams, grains, vegetables, and high-quality protein, and try to avoid overly fatty dishes and overly sweet desserts.
Another factor to consider is foods that fight dryness for optimal skin and lung health during the winter months. Focus on foods rich in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and beta-carotene. Pears, kiwis, avocados, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, peppers, oatmeal, oysters, carrots, and dark leafy greens are all good choices. Also, it’s a smart idea to use a humidifier while you sleep.
Winter is a great time to take out the heating pad. Place your heating pad on your lower back and lower abdomen for twenty minutes at least once a day. You can also massage the lower back yourself, first rubbing your hands together to gather heat, then placing your hands on the lower back and rubbing to generate heat and relax sore muscles.
Epsom salt baths or Epsom salt foot baths are also a great addition. All of these suggestions help relieve cold-related pain, are beneficial to the digestive system and reproductive system, and soothe and rejuvenate the body.
As the days are getting shorter make sure you have enough activity in your day as we tend to be more sedentary in the colder months. Movement generates positive emotions, helps our joints and muscles function properly, improves sleep, detoxifies and stimulates the movement of important physiological functions in the body. There are many ways to fit activities into your schedule.
I suggest finding a few different types of functional movements that you enjoy and that allow you to use different muscles, mobilize joints, and improve cardiovascular function. A combination of resistance training, targeted stretching, and aerobic movements are all elements you’ll want to incorporate.
We’ve developed a belief that we need to devote a lot of time to formal practice, and many of us don’t participate at all because of that idea. Seize the moments you have. Small intervals of 10-20 minutes twice a day with focused attention and commitment on a regular basis will yield big results.
As John Steinbeck said in his 1961 novel The Winter of Our Discontent, “In early June, the world of leaves and stalks and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different.”
Until then, let’s try to find a healthy relationship with Old Man Winter and our own bodies.