Winter: a lot of us associate this season with sadness, darkness, coldness, discomfort. A time of year when the sun disappears early and we feel like all we can do is bundle under our covers, disappearing from the world.
What if that desire to hide away isn’t wrong but is what we’re meant to do?
Many of us live in societies that idolize productivity, action, and hard work. Nature reflects this same drive for action in the warmer months. But Nature is typically much better than us at knowing when it’s time to rest. Remembering that we are also a part of nature helps us to realize that the way nature responds to these winter months is a que for our response.
Here are five nature winter habits we can practice that will help us lean into this quiet season.
1. Poorwill Torpor
Energy comes from proper sustenance. In winter, when food is scarce, many animals hibernate to conserve energy and warmth until the spring.
But some animals, such as birds, practice a short-term form of hibernation called torpor where they lower their body temperatures and remain dormant until a time of abundance arrives.
The poorwill bird is the only species that can remain in a torpor state longer than several days yet shorter than a full hibernation period. These small foragers practice torpor for the exact period they need to store up their energy for the moments when they find sustenance.
We can imitate the poorwill during this season. The holidays are a paradoxical time where, for many of us, our energy naturally wants to lower but is required for get-togethers, parties, gift-getting and giving, and spending time with family and friends. We all know the exhaustion that comes during the holiday rush where we’ve entered the winter season yet cannot go deep into hibernation mode.
During this time leading up to celebration, let’s remember to imitate the poorwill by taking moments to conserve our energy for the big holiday moments. Take a midday nap rather than wrapping all the gifts. Maybe say no to a party so you can sit and watch the frost cover. Excuse yourself from the family get-together to spend a quiet moment with your child or yourself. Read a book one afternoon rather than rushing out into the loud streets.
Torpor is not laziness – it is wise energy conservation so we can be fully present in the big holiday moments.
2. Going Inward with the Trees
Darkness and starkness in nature indicate fertility, not barrenness. Trees are great teachers for how replenishment and rejuvenation come during times that may look bleak or uninteresting.
The autumnal practice of trees cutting off resources and letting their leaves fall may seem sad or uncaring – but the reality is trees are happy in the winter months! The cold allows them rest from defending against fungal infections and pests that weaken their immune system in the warmer months. Winter is when trees get to turn inward and go deep – they rely on their root networks lying quietly under the ground to provide them with nutrition and they grow thick bark that warms their internal tissues.
Trees show us that this bleak wintery season is a kind season, giving us respite from activity and allowing us time to turn inward. Winter is a wonderful time to replenish yourself through reflection. Read through the year’s journals you may have kept and remember how far you’ve come. Spend a few quiet moments in meditation to give your mind some peace it may be difficult to find in the rest of the year. Bundle up in a warm blanket and notice how it feels to give yourself space to be warm, comfortable, and quiet.
It's natural to become human incubators during winter!
3. The Unexpected Warmth of Snow
While snow may be fun for some, providing sleighrides and snowball fights, for others it is a cold, heavy, inconvenient nuisance.
But in moments when snow is getting you down, it may be helpful to know that the area between the ground and the snow is a life-saving place for many plants and animals. Called the subnivium, this area acts as an incubator. Plants stay warm here while still photosynthesizing and getting the energy they need. And animals burrow into the snow to remain warm and simultaneously receive important protection from the elements.
So, the next time you are walking bundled against the freezing snow or clearing your car, think of our plant and animal friends that are keeping warm and safe in the blankets of snow.
4. Sleeping with the Sun
The early departure of the sun in the winter months can lead to seasonal depression. Lack of vitamin D from fewer hours of sunlight takes a serious toll on our mental states and our ability to rest.
It’s helpful to be aware of this – and to take a que from the lack of sunlight when it comes to our sleeping patterns during this season. Dr. Selena Faiers, Naturopath and Healthcare Practitioner, recommends going to bed earlier and sleeping later during the winter months.
“We live in a society of continual striving and exertion and we expect instant results and immediate answers. But nature has another idea: everything to its season. If you follow nature’s way and take a winter rest, you’ll emerge into spring ready to go with restored energy, clear vision and a sense of purpose.”
As much as possible during the winter months, create a slow wind-down habit with the sunset to prepare yourself for an earlier bedtime. Going to bed earlier than you would normally and letting yourself stay tucked in a little later in the mornings will help rest and rejuvenate your wintering body. Don’t feel bad about sleep – it’s winter’s MO!
5. Flow with Winter
Have you ever experienced getting so engrossed in an activity that you lose yourself? Think of a pianist performing a beautiful piece of music and how absolutely lost they are in the moment. That state of total self-forgetfulness is called a flow state. Research has shown that being in a flow state increases our sense of satisfaction and engagement.
Winter is the ultimate season for flow. Nature quiets down and lets itself go in hibernation and quiet preparation, fully engrossed in rest and conservation. Rather than seeing this as a frozen or stagnant time, think of it as a time where nature is quietly flowing.
Enjoy this season by learning how to enter the flow state. Take time to participate in activities that help you forget yourself and leave all your “buts” at the door. Maybe paint a picture even though you don’t consider yourself an artist. Teach yourself how to tie knots even though you’ve been putting it off for years. Do a puzzle even if you’ve lost a few of the pieces. Allow the winter season to be a time to practice letting go of distracting self-expectation. It’s a time to commune simply and deeply with yourself.
Everything is a matter of perspective. We can gripe about the cold and dark of winter. We can think about the inconvenience of the snow, and we can wish for summer days. Or we can take this season as it is – a blessed time for rest and rejuvenation – and thank nature for knowing exactly what we all needed when we needed it.