A Winter Recipe for Release & Rest

A field of snow in winter - A view from an airplane over Minnesota

We’re in the depths of winter here in Minnesota, and I’m really feeling it. Things are feeling extra stagnant and stuck this year so far, like I’m stuck in an indescribable in-between. 

Is it always like this in January? And do I ask myself that every January? I feel the tension in speculating if this is a feeling of being stuck and stagnant or a signal of needing to just rest and be slow. Neither are seeming attractive, and thus feelings of frustration arise. I feel like I’m having a hard time getting going on my and Ethel Studio’s goals for the new year, much less refining what those goals actually are. I’m wanting to feel fresh and all new-beginnings like, but my mind is foggy, and my focus wandering, and I know I’m not alone in this. 

Winter is extreme. Add in a drawn-out global pandemic filled with decision fatigue and widespread emotional and physical burnout… it’s a recipe for incredible difficulty in so many aspects of our lives. This week I got fed up with pushing this discomfort away, and turned towards winter instead of away. I listened to Katherine May be interviewed on the On Being podcast where she read from her book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.

It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing these deeply unfashionable things — slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting — is a radical act now, but it’s essential.”

Perhaps the past two entire years have been a winter of sorts, one that we’re still very much in the middle of. So instead of trying to rev up and push away the elements of winter, what if we just let ourselves just be in this season, even if that means not meeting the expectations we have for ourselves. I was reminded this week by my friend, who is the founder of Sister Seasons, that March used to be the start of the year just a few hundred years ago, not January. So it’s an arbitrary start date afterall! Winter is not a time of beginnings – the earth makes it very clear that it’s a time of darkness, stillness, rest, hibernation, and scarcity. It’s what we need to experience fully before Spring arrives, as it surely will. 

To help us find some moments of relief from the stagnation and heaviness of the season, here’s a quick energy-moving exercise to try. May it help you find some energy to keep moving forward through your winter…

  1. Drop what you’re doing, drop the phone. 
  2. Stand wherever you are. (If sitting is better for you, go for it - just modify step #5 and onward). 
  3. Take a deep breath and let your shoulders drop down. (When typing this I accidentally wrote “drop your shoulds down” and that’s a great idea too). 
  4. Repeat breathing and dropping your shoulders down with each exhale. Let that frustration -- or whichever emotions you’re feeling -- be really present, and send that energy into the ground more and more with each shoulder drop. Allow your arms to dangle freely.
  5. Now use your whole body to do a full body shake -- also called a shakti shake or “shaking the tree” in qigong – by letting your knees do little bends and letting your whole body shake. Let your body go and shake and shimmy. Get loose, and let the weight of your body go where it wants. Let that frustration be released! If it turns into a full body dance or laughing/crying session, so be it! 
  6. Continue for as long as you’d like. 
  7. When you’re ready, come back into stillness in your body, close your eyes if it feels safe, and notice the sensations of aliveness running through your body… 
  8. Proceed with whatever self-nourishing step you feel called to do next. A seated meditation on a cushion, flipping through a bright travel magazine, drawing sunflowers, taking a salt bath, sip some uplifting tea, watch the snow fall, calling a friend, taking a nap …. wherever your intuition guides you to do next to nourish and uplift your mind, body, and spirit. Even if for just a few moments. You may find that you can access a deeper rest after this exercise of letting go.