Ugh, I hate winter. On the other hand, the snow is beautiful and I am cozy. Kitcheree is cooking on the stove…

As we become more sensitive to the rhythms of nature, wherever we are, how does one maintain balance during extreme winter weather? When it’s less than accommodating outside, we may shut the door and try to disconnect from the discomfort that radical weather can bring. We grumble at the sheer injustice of it and forge through another day, perhaps wishing we were somewhere…anywhere…else. We may find ourselves displaced, detached, depressed.

Not easy. But there are few lessons we can learn from Nature, that may help us stay centered during these times.

1.Dig Deep.

When the ground and everything above it seems frozen, do what the plants do and dig deep. Root systems are often two thirds of the entire plant. Just imagine what lives beneath a giant Oak!  Those roots are alive and vibrant, harnessing energy for the upcoming spring.  But for now they are hidden and take some getting to. When there’s not much to see on the surface, the only place to go is IN.

Daily simple breathing practice (courtesy of Dr. Andrew Weil)

Body comfortable, spine straight. Inhale through the nose, for a count of 4; hold the breath for a count of 7, exhale through the mouth for a count of 8. Repeat 4 times. Do it 2x daily, preferably at sunrise and sunset, but this practice can be anytime.

2. Lighten up.

In Ayurveda, cold, frozen temperatures and dry fluffy snow bring out the Vata dosha, which governs movement of all kinds. In balance, Vata fosters creativity, inspiration and enthusiasm. But in excess, vata pushes these characteristics farther along the continuum towards anxiety, worry, and restlessness.

Being overrun with thought can be debilitating. It is often about what you can’t do or don’t want to do, leaving one with a feeling of helplessness and discontent. Traditionally, grounding activities such as sticking to a daily routine and warm, heavy foods will help to calm the mind but in extreme weather this can be tricky.

If we overdo these practices we will give rise to the Kapha dosha, which in excess can foster a heaviness and lethargy. The balancing act between these two doshas is a challenge in this environment and requires some work. Keep food choices cooked and warm to pacify Vata but stay light by choosing vegetable soups and stews. Take a day off meats and refined sugars. A 20 minute walk, preferably outside, is the key to keeping kapha in check. Exposure to sunlight for 15 minutes (when possible) is enough to gather some of the sun’s energy to ignite the pitta dosha, which leads to productivity.

3. Go with the flow.

Everything in nature survives by adapting to its surroundings, and we are no different. Consider how in those first days of winter we are chilled by falling temperatures. Here in the northeast when the thermometer falls below 40 F for the first time we feel frozen, and by February we feel as if 40 F is practically a beach day! Try not to hang on to the feelings you are experiencing in extreme weather, because you will miss the fact that it is already changing.

Sunrise during this time of year is around the time most of us are waking up. Most weather apps that come with smart phones will tell you exactly when sunrise is in your area. Make a point to get up a few minutes before and deliberately watch the sky. Combine it with the simple breathing exercise described above. You will immediately feel the positive effects.

With each passing day, the ice is melting and the water is flowing underneath, the roots are spreading and foraging for moisture within the frozen ground. Each day has a beginning and points us towards our own spring. Sometimes the pace is not in sync with what we would like it to be but the more we can align ourselves with the pace of nature, the better we will feel!