By Kari Swenson // Illustration by Birgitta Sif
During the winter, most people head indoors and come out only when spring sheds its light. But not if you live in the Tetons (as this Iowa transplant is learning!). Just like the summers, the winters here are equally buzzing with activity. And despite the shorter days, there’s still a cultural pull to play hard, even amidst the busyness of work, family, and the holidays.
But this intensity doesn’t always jive with the natural rhythm of winter’s solace. So this year, why not step into the pulse of the season by preparing your home, body, and mind for optimal health and vibrancy.
A Humble Abode
Your home is your sanctuary. When you walk in the door you should immediately feel a sense of relief and relaxation. Yet in the winter, this place of warmth and comfort can create a feeling of claustrophobia or cabin fever. The key to thwarting these sometimes-inevitable moods starts with some creativity.
So I sought out design expert Jeffery Larson of Harker Design in Wilson to tell us how it’s done. “Color is so important in affecting mood,” Larson shares right away. “The warmer the tone the better—sage green, sienna, brown and yellow tones, and warm white, similar to the trunk of an aspen tree.” When choosing fabrics and textures, “think warm and fuzzy—wool and silk being the best [fabric choices] for throws, rugs, pillows, chairs, and couches.” Create warming sounds and smells with a crackling fireplace or wood stove. And add oils like citrus and cinnamon to a diffuser, or pot of simmering water, to nurture you on a cold day.
“It’s all about balancing the energy in your home and understanding how energy travels,” says Lora Davis, a Driggs real estate agent and certified feng shui consultant. She suggests using full-spectrum light bulbs to add more light in your home, alleviating seasonal depression. And on sunny days, leave the curtains wide open to cleanse the space. Keep energy moving in your home with ceiling fans, pendulum clocks, and fountains. And don’t forget the greenery! An abundance of healthy plants keeps you breathing fresh, oxygenated air.
But it’s not just plants that clean our indoor air space. Take extra care to prevent allergies and illness with a few home maintenance tips. Kurt Mitchell, owner of With The Grain Construction, recommends sealing joints, cracks, and any exposed insulation in your basement to help prevent mold, mildew, and dust from entering your living space. Seal concrete floors with a vapor barrier paint to keep moisture from settling in. And for those gnarly crawl spaces, seal the foundation vents from the outside with rigid insulation board, making sure to remove them in the spring for ample airflow.
An Uncluttered Mind
Imagine a winter season filled with ease and optimal health instead of stress and sickness. Yes, it is possible!
Clutter invites chaos. So when you declutter, you create a physical space that you can truly relax in. The byproduct of this purge also allows your mind to release its overburden, too. Jill Oja-Johnson, a professional organizer in Wilson, suggests throwing a family organizing party.
Choose an afternoon, pick a closet, turn on some music and offer up snacks, then have each person find some selections to donate to a charity or gift to the thrift store.
Being a yoga student and teacher, I’ve experienced the immense benefits that yoga and meditation have on the mind. So I sat down with my dear friend Sundari Lucey, owner of Yoga on Little in Driggs and instructor at Akasha Yoga in Jackson, to get her take on cultivating a practice for the winter season. She suggests slowing down your regular practice to allow for longer holds in postures, and adding a few restorative poses to reflect the gradual inward energy of the season. Choose Child’s Pose and a seated forward bend when you feel frazzled and need to calm down.
“A small practice of meditation can keep you healthy, too; even just ten to twenty minutes a day has great benefits,” she offers. Sundari also recommends a daily yogic breathing practice, like Alternate Nostril Breathing, to keep the chest and lungs open and to clear the lymph system of excess mucus that forms when breathing in cold, dry air. To do this, first make a gentle fist closure with your right hand. Use your ring finger to close off the left nostril and inhale through the right nostril. Next, use your thumb to close off the right nostril, releasing the left, and exhale out the left nostril. Then inhale through the left, close the left nostril, and exhale right. Inhale through the right and continue alternating for one to two minutes to calm and center the mind.
A Steadfast Temple
As a holistic nutrition and wellness coach, I teach about seasonal foods that best support a healthy body. According to Ayurveda philosophy (and quite contrary to popular belief), winter is the best time to strengthen immunity, as your digestion is the strongest.
In the winter, eat warming foods that are cooked slowly to fight off viruses and illness. Enjoy fall-harvested vegetables like potatoes, yams, onions, squashes, apples, and carrots. These foods strengthen your immune system, and their heartiness helps curb holiday binging. Aid your digestion with warming spices like chili powder, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, or coriander. Add ginger or garlic to stir-fries, eggs, or soup for antibacterial and antifungal support.
Your immune system lives in your gut, making it important to increase the amount of good bacteria that resides there. Eating fermented foods that are high in beneficial enzymes, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics helps you achieve a proper balance. Sauerkraut and kimchi fuel the digestive fire with their inherent probiotics. Or choose other foods like kefir, yogurt, strong aged cheeses, and kombucha. As a weekend project, make your own fermented creations or look for them at Jackson Whole Grocer or Barrels & Bins.
Due to our dry, high-altitude climate, most of us experience dry skin in the winter. Prevent or remedy this issue by engaging in self-massage with sesame oil. Apply a small amount of oil onto your hands before you bathe. Gently massage the oil into your feet and slowly work up your legs. Then apply it to your stomach, chest, arms, and neck. This deeply soothing massage combats dry skin and also familiarizes you with your body, making it easier to recognize anomalies.
Winter is a time to tune into the natural rhythm of the season. So this year, in addition to your daily dose of outdoor activities, incorporate some inward practices, too. Cozy up your space, clear the clutter, eat warming foods, and engage in yoga and meditation to shift your experience from sickness and stress to one of rest, ease, and optimal health. tf