Most likely, if you live in the United States you’re being bowled over by the gusts of spirit, cheer, and all the warm and cozy feels that roll over us like the first icy breeze of the winter season. These powerful gusts are conduits of change, ironically tethered to time-honored traditions and rituals that bring families together—and sometimes drive them apart. We’ve been culturally wired to believe that the closer we hold onto these traditions, including the attraction to material goods as ways to express saved-up love, the better off we’ll be. The more stuff that we give, the more love that we have.
But if you take a look into any ancient philosophy or belief system—whether its yoga, Ayurveda, the Wise Woman herbalist tradition, or most organized religion—the real source of love has nothing to do with external objects. Love comes from within, and as the adage goes one needs to give in order to receive. And while our culture is great at telling everyone, and women especially, that we’re not worthy of love, we can rewrite those messages by practicing giving ourselves love.
Short of adding “ME” to the top of your holiday shopping list (which wouldn’t be a bad thing! Jennifer typically uses Black Friday as an opportunity to stock up on my own staple items, instead of buying gifts ☺), there are myriad ways to make every day feel like a holiday, even once December is over. Taking inventory of our arsenal of healing modalities, we’ve come up with a top 10 self-love traditions, rituals, and other gifts that will reignite the sparkle in your eyes—and your heart—this holiday.
1. Greet the sunrise: Shorter periods of daylight used to make me more depressed, and Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing! But with my wakeup time being consistently between 5-6 AM, I’ve taken the opportunity to be in the presence of the rising sun. Whether I’m outside walking to the train to class, or practicing sun salutations on my own at home, or simply enjoying an extended seated meditation practice, I embrace the synchronicity of my own waking up with nature’s—and conversely, allow the earlier sunsets to encourage more rest and rejuvenation.
2. Get outside not only for the sunshine but for the fresh air. Make sure your home breathes too. Open the windows even for a short time to let stuffy air out and fresh air in. We were never meant to exist in hermetically-sealed units. Our environments need to breathe as much as we do. Deep breathing signals to the nervous system to let down the guard. Breathing fresh air increases oxygen flow, which aids digestion, improves blood pressure and heart rate, increases serotonin and boosting mood, helps the white blood cells keep optimal immune function, clears the lungs, and sharpens thinking. If stressed, take ten minutes for a walk outside or breathe in fresh air from an open window and notice how your perspective starts to shift.
3. Enjoy seasonal whole-foods daily: When parties with endless drinks and hors d’oeuvres abound, it’s hard to stay on track with healthy eating habits. First, don’t sweat a few days of indulgence—the body is designed to be resilient! Second, don’t be tempted to skip meals to “make up for” an extra glass of Almond Nog. Staying the course with well-balanced meals comprised of seasonal foods like squashes, root vegetables, and hearty greens will keep your metabolism in line—and your mouth happy given these foods’ naturally sweet and grounding qualities. Try this creamy and super easy Golden Beet soup to warm you from inside-out!
4. Stabilize with protein: The holiday season offers tantalizing snacks and treats and it’s easier to get off rhythm with diet. One easy way to keep on track is to eat some protein at every meal. Protein promotes a feeling of being satiated so it will be easier to moderate eating rich party foods and sweets. Protein grounds the sugar high of desserts, refined carbohydrates, and alcohol, helping balance blood sugar levels. Even blood sugar levels contribute to clearer thinking, less triggered reactions, and feeling grounded and present. Add some hemp seeds to your morning smoothie or oatmeal. Eat a small handful of nuts before leaving for the party. Though the tendency is often to eat less post or pre-indulgence, eat protein often enough so you won’t have “hungry in the grocery store” type extremes. Wild rice, amaranth, and quinoa are seeds that are used as grains. These high protein and high fiber “whole grain” seeds are good building blocks for meals.
5. Make your own holiday tradition: Living in New York City, there’s no shortage of festive activities to partake in from Thanksgiving through January. Many feel like cheesy tourist traps, but I’ve found some more tucked away areas where I can replenish my fill of cheer without being bum-rushed or spending too much money. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine has beautiful holiday concerts, and browsing the stalls of holiday markets (during off-peak hours) feels like such a luxury. Whether I buy anything or not is one thing, but allowing these artists to share their joy helps me channel more clearly what I want to give to others. Plus, I don’t have to worry about anyone’s schedules but my own to make it work!
6. Hydrate: It’s easy to overlook proper hydration in the winter with drying indoor heat. Make sure to drink plenty of water, and if drinking alcohol, the old trick of one glass of water (or two glasses!) for every alcoholic drink is a hydration lifesaver. I like to keep a bottle of rose water handy for an brightening facial mist. It’s also a nice way to subtly clear the aura of a new space or yourself when traveling. If you’re hosting a party, add rose water to the bathroom spray options. But most of all, I return to a few mucilaginous plant favorites in infusion form to get hydrated. Mucilaginous plants, like linden flower, sassafras, slippery elm and mullein, soothe tissue by coating it with a viscous polysaccharide fluid, keeping it moist and able to retain moisture longer. Slippery elm tablets taken with water help offset dehydration, while being a useful digestive travel remedy and a throat soother. Linden flower infusion is like drinking the liquid gold of summertime harmony, giving an uplifting boost to the spirit while aiding hydration. Check out my winter solstice infusion recipe.
7. Be okay with saying no: Abundance abounds during the holidays—party invitations, cookies, late nights, as well as end-of-year work deadlines and reporting. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the demands on your time, and feel guilty for not participating fully. But would you rather give 10% of yourself to 10 events, or 100% of yourself to one? Truly spending time with those you love requires your full presence, so if there’s anyone or anything that isn’t going to get that from you give them a gift of NO.
8. Circulate: Colder and inclement weather can mean more time inside. If inside more than usual, don’t forget to stretch often. Circulation exercises like turning the hands and feet in one direction, then the opposite and shaking out the hands and feet helps bring blood flow and flexibility to the extremities. Ginger and hawthorn berry are delicious teas traditionally used to promote circulation. Black pepper and cayenne pepper on food reminds us of the warm zing of feeling blood moving through the body, a little culinary “yes still alive over here”. Increased circulation also comes through exfoliating the skin, and letting go of old skin cells can become a ritual in letting go on deeper levels. Letting go requires movement, so move the body, gently scrub the skin, and include circulatory herbs condiments, teas, and foods in the diet. And don’t forget to circulate by seeing friends and family!
9. Meditate for groundedness: Winter can often throw our sense of rootedness out of balance as nature undergoes a big shift full of air. Give your root chakra, which lets us feel taken care of and stable, extra love by meditating with the sound LAM and/or visualizing the color red at the base of the spine.
10. Keep lit: From an earth cycle perspective, the winter solstice is about the return of the light, and tending that flame internally while it is not as present in the sky. Decorating your home with lights, burning candles responsibly, wearing colors and jewelry that remind you to keep that flame lit, can all help bring the light inside. Evergreens, like white pine, have been traditionally associated with keeping the winter flame lit, and their scent is relaxing and stress relieving. Know what gets under your skin and when possible, plan coping possibilities in advance so you can keep focused on the clarity of your internal light. Don’t let triggers take you down the rabbit hole of the seasonal blues and rehashing negative pathways. Offering what ails you to the fire, literally or metaphorically, reinforces the momentum of the birthing of the new cycle of light. Use the darkest time of the year to revel in the fertile darkness, taking time to rest and reset. Clarifying intentions through a practice like candle gazing is a great way to counter SAD, boost mood, and experience peace.
If you’ve made it this far in the article, holding off the relentless worldly distractions—congratulations! It is our wish that this holiday season, we will all remember the internal compass of love and its winning companions, a sense of good cheer, and a sense of humor, which bolster us in even the worst of times. Happiness is not meant to be a continuous state, and while it’s most possible through the acceptance of the present moment, it is gratitude that guides us back to our hearts and shows us the gifts and blessings that surround us always. Wishing you and yours a joyous holiday season!
Emily Cavelier is an herbalist, wellness coach, and chef living and working in New York City since 2003. In 2011, after many years of apprenticing in herbal practice and developing a wellness and nutritional philosophy rooted in deep physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness, Emily launched her consulting business, Nourishing Root, with the mission of helping people connect to the natural state of health and joy in their bodies and minds so they can live better, happier lives.
Photos: Pexels.com; Jennifer Kurdyla