Winter is upon us here in the more northern part of the country. It was seven degrees this morning as I took my first phone call to talk about recovery with one of my clients recovering from an eating disorder. As a psychotherapist (musician and yoga teacher) I work from home counseling adolescents and adults who struggle with their relationship with food and body image. In our culture that includes almost everyone.
Sometimes in the Yoga world we refer to the practice of Ayureda (an ancient health practice from India that defines health as the dynamic state of balance between mind, body, and environment) and in these cold winter months Ayurveda suggests we tend to experience more "Vata excess." It's difficult to feel grounded in the winter time.The cold, dry, windy days along with shorter amounts of sunlight might translate into dry skin and lips, feeling disconnected, with increased anxiety and scattered thoughts. Vata-excess is cold, light, irregular, dry and always changing, and when it is out of balance it zaps creative life force.
Vata-excess symptoms are not unlike those associated with individuals struggling with anorexia or other restrictive eating disorders like orthorexia, obsessive dieting, and disordered eating. As anxiety about weight gain increases, restricting food intake "helps" to manage the anxiety. Ruminating about food and weight, obsessing about weight loss or weight gain, calculating calories, performing body checks, worrying about being able to control food in social situations are just a tiny sample of the thoughts that plague the individual struggling with disordered eating. Worry about weight becomes a way to channel anxiety and experience a sense of control over something. But stressful thoughts and behaviors keep the nervous system on high alert (fight or flight) making us prone to feel nervous, irritable and ungrounded.
Perhaps winter time is the perfect time to rest and restore, slow down a little, go inward to reflect more, hibernate under the covers, and give a little extra care to the parasympathetic nervous system. I like to make soups and stews, bake something delicious in the oven, and curl up with a good book in the evening. Maybe the shorter days are nature's way of telling us to do a little less, sleep a little more. So here are some tips to keep you healthy and in recovery this time of year:
1.) Stay warm no matter what the weather. Wear adequate clothing (cute snow boots, mittens, hats and scarves) and layer!
2.) Stick with light exercise that enhances balance. Restorative or gentle yoga practice, walking in the morning sunlight, and stretching.
3.) Meditative practice. Quieting the mind is everything.
4.) Learn to sit with thoughts and feelings to see what you can learn from them. It's all temporary, they won't last forever. Chances are they hold some important cues to guide you in your life.
5.) Get good rest and nourishment. For those of you in recovery you know how important this is for you.
6.) Talk about the things that are bothering you, don't hold it in. Seek healthy solutions for real fears and let go of unnecessary anxiety. Deal with reality. If you have an unhealthy relationship with food and body image, get some help.
After living in Texas for many years, returning to Iowa winters is a big change. I'm looking forward to enjoying four seasons and finding ways to take care of myself and my clients.