Six Foundational Practices for the New Year
Practice #1. Tend to your sleep and nourishment. Balance the chill with warming and grounding foods. As always, make soup.
Soup offers an opportunity to easily work with an array of spices and flavor profiles; because it’s warm, and typically easy to absorb, it imparts a great deal of nourishment without being too taxing on the digestive system.
Soup is also a great delivery system for the six tastes, which are a cornerstone of healthy nourishment. The six tastes are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent and pungent. In the American diet we are typically heavy on sweet, sour and salty foods, but not so much on bitter, astringent and pungent. Adding turmeric root or dandelions greens brings bitter in. Think parsley and lemon for astringent. Ginger, onions, and chili peppers are pungent.
When possible, I make my own stock—but I also keep several quarts of boxed stock on hand. I tend to favor vegetable or chicken stock. (If you have a Wegmans Grocery near you, their Thai Vegetable stock is exceptional for packing in loads of flavor in a hurry.) Use fresh vegetables wherever possible: the closer they are to being picked when they’re consumed, the more prana (life force) they impart. In the winter, I often reach for flash frozen vegetables. I’ve been making soup for a while, so I tend to make my recipes up as I go along.
Practice #2. Care for your skin with good quality oils and practices like Abhyanga (self-massage).
The body needs a certain amount of lubricant to function optimally. a good quality oil (one that you would just as happily put in your mouth) applied to the skin holds a double benefit: not only does it lubricate the skin surface—you literally drink in the oil through the skin, and lubricate internal systems at the same time. There is also the added bonus of the compassion you generate by caring for yourself in a loving way.
Practice #3. Feed your mind with good books.
I have so many books I have turned to for inspiration in the depth of winter. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Bhagavad Gita are my favorite texts. There are a myriad of translations available for both.
Practice #4. Get in touch with your vision through meditation, yoga, and other gentle physical and enlightening spiritual pursuits.
I find meditating on a mantra to be very helpful. Some yogis work with a mantra given to them by a guru. Those mantras remain private and are deeply personal. I am fond of using my personal mantra as well as a universal mantra of Soham. Soham, practiced with the breath, literally translates to “I am.” Soham or Sohum (सो ऽहम् so ‘ham or so ‘Hum) is a Hindu mantra, meaning “I am He/That” in Sanskrit. In Vedic philosophy, it means identifying oneself with the universe or ultimate reality.
Practice #5. Create a yearly wellness plan in your journal.
I like to base my yearly vision on a wheel. I draw a circle, cut it into pie slices, and label each with an area I wish to cultivate. I also look at the cycles of the year; this allows me to compare my personal goals with the yearly cycles and choose when I should work on each goal.
- I know spring is charged with upward and forward movement: the days are getting longer and the weather is still cool. I like this time for building and making bold moves.
- In contrast, winter is light and mobile, and so I target more ethereal pursuits like reading and writing during this time.
- Summer days are long but hot; the propensity to burn out is high, so I parse out my projects and divide them into shorter bursts.
- Fall is for turning things over— a great time for sorting, cutting ties and letting go. Think of leaves falling to the ground and returning to the earth.
Practice #6. Spend time with people you love.
Winter is a time when one naturally seeks warmth, and nothing warms the heart and soul like the company of a good friend. (This includes yourself!) Make time to connect. Better yet—see if you can work some of these wellness practices into your existing relationships. Books, journaling, and soup-making can all be transformed into social events with wellness-minded friends, and wellness massage is a wonderful practice to incorporate into an intimate relationship.
The newness of a change in a year can be alluring time to start fresh. By all means, ride the wave of this inspiration. I invite you to consider what nature is doing right now and take a cue. Imagine your vision and new habits like seeds in the earth: they may seem dormant but they are lying just below the surface, nestled in the earth, ready to burst forth in spring with all the energy of a shoot pressing its way to the surface to find the sun.