A Mindful Approach to the Winter Shift
Winter is here and Alexandra Legouix explains how the changing season can affect us.
Winter is here and with that comes change, a word that instills fear in many of us. We embrace the colour of the leaves turning and the crispness of the weather change, however many of us are affected by S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and the darker evenings can make us feel depressed and anxious. We start to have the desire for ‘cosiness’ and while that may be fine for some, it may feel lonely for others. Many of us will start to – knowingly, or unknowingly – make big life changes. Nature’s cycles are mirrored in our lives. Winter is a time for letting go and releasing things that have been a burden. Emotions that may have been hidden before may start to become exposed, asking to be acknowledged.
In my last article, we looked at how yoga and breath control will calm nerves and help alleviate anxiety, and I was overwhelmed by how many people contacted me and said it really helped them. Suddenly people who may not have taken a few moments to sit in silence and slow their breathing before, now did and really noticed how much that helped them.
This simple tool is a scientifically proven healer, but what the act of sitting and breathing also encourages is the practice of ‘mindfulness’ – and mindfulness is one of the very best ways of dealing with change. The act of sitting in the ‘here and now’ helps us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings so that, instead of being overwhelmed by them, we’re better able to manage them.
Research has proven mindfulness can help us regulate our emotions, reduce stress, lower judgmental attitudes, improve memory and focus and even reshape our brain structures.
So how do we do it?
There is a myth that in order to ‘do mindfulness’ we need to be sitting cross legged in silence, but that is nonsense. By all means, do that if you prefer, but the most useful thing about mindfulness is that we can take the practice into everyday life. Bringing mindful awareness to whatever we are doing, wherever we are doing it, be it at home, on a bus, a train or while walking to work. We can be mindful anywhere and bring our attention to whatever is happening in the current minute, directing our attention to the experience as it unfolds.
One of my favourite mindfulness techniques that I teach my new students to really help them understand how to incorporate it into daily life goes like this:
Find a flower in a garden or vase. Really look at it closely. Notice the colours, the small intricate details, the lines on the leaves. Notice the smell. Touch the petals, the leaves. How does it feel? How do the different sensations compare? Mentally note every tiny detail without overthinking anything. Just observe.
Open your frame of observation. What is around the flower? What can you see? What can you smell? What can you hear?
Again, widen the circle of observation. Look all around you and notice how the flower appears in the entire picture. Again, run through the senses – see, hear, listen, smell, touch. Notice how, for the last ten minutes or so, you (hopefully) didn’t really think of anything else.
You can take as long as you like on this above technique. Obviously, the initial focus can change. Try this on the underground for example, and you will be thoroughly entertained by what you notice. The smell is never too peachy for a start! Once you have started practising, you will easily be able to bring this awareness into your normal activities. When you shower – how does the water feel? What are the sensations you feel when you climb into bed? What do you notice when you walk down a busy street?
As you spend time practising mindfulness, you’ll find yourself feeling kinder, calmer, and more patient. These shifts in your experience are likely to generate changes in other parts of your life as well. Gradually, you realise that you are in control of what you are thinking about. You do not have to be lost in your chimp brain.
So allow yourself to accept that winter anxiety is real, but also manageable. Embrace change. Remember to breathe. Practise yoga. Surround yourself with family and friends. Load up on Vitamin D and magnesium. And take yourself for a long walk and be present – notice the wonderful colours, smells, sights, sounds and honour the energy of this new season.