As a new year begins and winter remains in full swing, January can be a month of personal conflicts. You might be on a health kick, but craving hibernation; determined to make your early morning fitness class, but discouraged by the dark mornings. How do you strike a balance? This time of year can also play havoc with our immune system - coughs, colds and general post-Christmas sluggishness are all too familiar.
With this in mind, we thought there’d be no better time to talk about how to keep healthy, soothe colds and look after body and mind during January. We called on a couple of our holistically-minded friends with a few tricks and tips up their sleeves to help guide us through the month, naturally. Because who wants to succumb to the January blues?
Although the cold, the dark and the comedown from Christmas can all contribute to this month feeling like a tough one for some, there are certain factors that don’t help. The minute the excesses of December are over, we are bombarded with messages of ‘new year, new you’, encouraged to ditch our bad habits and get to work straight away on self-improvement. With the pressure coming in from all angles (TV, magazines, the internet - sometimes even our friends and family…) it can feel overwhelming. Couple that with January feeling like a slow time of year anyway and it’s easy to end up feeling disappointed with our lack of progress (i.e. failing dry January four days in, choosing our bed over an early morning jog).
Sophie Whippy is one half of the duo behind Hackney yoga studio, Stretch. Her holistic approach to wellbeing isn’t just restricted to yoga, and she too finds January’s messages confusing.
“It’s a combination of societal expectation, media manipulation and the mentality that comes with the new year” she says, “The drive to hold yourself to new year’s resolutions that in some way better who you were the year before - none of these really look after you mentally, in my opinion. There’s almost a silent pressure to do better in January and with that comes the unspoken - that you weren’t good enough in the first place.”
She’s right. A study by the University of Bristol found that 88% of people who make new year’s resolutions fail to keep to them - who knows the impact this is having on the mental wellbeing of the individuals who made them in the first place.
“We’re still in the depths of winter and we need to rest and nourish our bodies, rather than being restrictive and punishing” says Chi, “It’s a great time to go into hibernation and really take the time for self-care and reflection, ready for the reawakening in the spring.”
With winter nourishment and rest in mind, we’re embracing a change of tack in Chi and Sophie style this January. What better way to implement this than looking at how we approach the inevitable seasonal cold or sniffle. Our immune system takes a beating in the colder months, so looking after it in a more caring way is vital.
As a yoga-advocate - not to mention expert - Sophie knows a thing or two about how slow exercise like yoga can actually boost your immune system and (gently) get us up and moving in January.
“A regular yoga practice increases the circulation of blood flow through the body - it increases lymphatic function and reduces cortisol levels (your stress hormone)” says Sophie, “By reducing the cortisol levels in the body, we allow the para-sympathetic nervous system to kick in, putting us in a state of rest and digest.”
The effect? Sophie explains that all of this will “promote better endocrine function, restful sleep and a general sense of wellbeing throughout the body.” Enough to keep us energised, relaxed and focused until spring we reckon.
Sophie also recommends some simple ways to ease sickness and sluggishness - getting outside for long walks, eating well, sleeping long and “getting on my mat as much as I can - but not punishing myself if I don’t!” Amen to that.
As we know, what we eat and drink has a big effect this time of year and a little herbal concoction can go a long way, especially when annoying winter colds are concerned. Last year, Chi released a book with her friend and fellow foodie Natali Stajcic. A Simple Table is all about nourishing ourselves with food and drink recipes, rituals and tips for a healthier body and mind. Taking a leaf (literally) out of this booked, we asked Chi for her go-to natural cold-busting tricks.
“If I’ve gone down with something cold-y, the usual ginger, turmeric, lemon and honey does the trick, along with cancelling any social events so I can rest” says Chi, “Making simple, nourishing and warming meals such as congee or daal that are easy to digest will also help the body heal itself faster.”
For a more intensive hit of sickness-prevention, Chi explains: “I have a crazy trick I do if I feel like I have food poisoning or something like cystitis coming on - I take a small glass of apple cider vinegar with a little water (make it a short drink, trust me), crush a clove of garlic in and chase an activated charcoal capsule down. It has worked every time. But don’t expect anyone to go near you for a few days.”
As a mother to a 16 month year old, Chi’s self-care tips aren’t just exclusive to her: “As I tend to look at what I consume to help with wellness, Baby Marloe has pretty much whatever I’m eating now- she’s developed a strong liking for coconut kefir, chicken bone broth, congee and daal” she explains, “She is still breastfed so she takes all the nutrients from that as well. Recently, when she’s been a bit phlegmy, I have been putting a tincture of angelika arch and aniseed in her sippy cup and that’s cleared her up.”
Although Chi and Sophie’s tips (for all the family) are certainly not exclusive to this time of year, we can think of no better time to arm ourselves with them and see us through to spring. So in the spirit of self-care, treat yourself to some winter nourishment for the ultimate boost in natural rejuvenation.
Cover image: Simone Le Blanc
Words: Lucy Vincent