Focus on Rhythms, Not Resolutions This New Year

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As 2021 comes to a close and a new year stretches before us, New Year’s Resolutions rise to the top of people’s minds. We find ourselves asking, “What can I do to be healthier this year than last?” “What creative methods can I employ to inspire myself to reach my goals?”

All of a sudden, we’re committing to daily high-intensity workouts at the gym (to which we’re now members), to giving up sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, and to joining a 30-day juice cleanse—all to prove to ourselves that we’re different; exceedingly better versions of ourselves than we were last year.

Then, February (maybe March) rolls around and we go back to “life as we know it.”

This begs the question, why do so many of us struggle to stick to New Year’s Resolutions? The answer may not be as simple as being lazy, lacking willpower, or even disregarding the habit-forming best practices we’re all too familiar with.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), optimal health is achieved by living in harmony with the seasons [1]. Our drive to shift into hyper-productivity, measuring accomplishments by how close they get to our (often unrealistic) goals, is contradictory to winter rhythms, setting us up to struggle to attain long and lasting results.

The Winter Season According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

In TCM, winter is a yin season characterized by cold, dampness, darkness, or dryness, depending on where you live. It is associated with the element of water, and thus, is a season to foster the health of our kidneys and urinary bladder. The water element also relates to the body through metabolism, reproduction, adrenal function, emotional and physical development, and aging and longevity [2].

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During the winter months, and in a season of yin, our qi moves deeper inward to help keep us warm. This means that energy conservation, rest, and stillness will become more natural and necessary for balance [3]. We might yearn to slow down and turn inward, feeling more sensitive or requiring time to withdraw and sit in quiet contemplation.

When we force ourselves to push against seasonal balance, pursuing draining or taxing activities like training for a marathon (or in my case, a 5k) or completing a 28-day strength challenge, we can end up causing ourselves more harm than good.

Just like the cycles of farming, we can take cues from the seasons and their weather patterns to build more sustainable, harmonious behaviors. If you tried to till your land during a frost, you’d waste energy on soil unprepared for work and unmalleable. If you put off planting in the warm months, you’d be missing out on days primed for productivity and growth. The same principles can be applied to our own lives and expectations.

Wait, Doc, are you telling me to avoid all activity in the winter?

Of course not. I don’t recommend succumbing entirely to sloth when winter rolls around, but I do recommend choosing your activities and energetic input wisely to maximize your health (and reimagining your New Year’s resolutions for long-term success).

TCM Tips to Maximize Winter Energy for Better Results

1. Choose your physical activities with care.

The best winter activities are those that are more nourishing or energy-building, such as tai chi, yoga, or qigong. Within these practices, the slow and focused movements release tension in the body and require the brain to slow down, contemplate, and turn inward. If you need more exertion, pilates, power yoga, or jumping on your favorite indoor bike are also good alternatives. Taking a walk, a brisk run or a moderately-challenging hike are also okay alternatives. 

Whatever you do, make sure you’re bundled up when you leave the house to keep from getting sick. Cold can negatively impact the body, contributing to increased pain, reduced fertility, poor digestive function, and more [4][5]. 

2. Foster mental strength through meditation.

Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting in your dark closet or uncomfortably cross-legged in the name of self-care. Instead, meditation is the practice of quieting the mind and being intentional in whatever way works best for you. For me, it can be as simple as strumming the guitar, drawing, painting, hiking, or listening to a guided meditation.

The point of meditation, especially as it relates to winter energy, is getting rid of the “monkey mind,” turning off racing thoughts, anxiety, unnecessary or unproductive worry about things outside of our control. When we turn to meditation, we are supporting our immune system and warding off the depleted, depressed feelings that often accompany an out-of-balance winter season [6]. 

3. Shift your focus to long-term personal growth.

Isn’t a desire for personal growth what got us here in the first place? Creating resolutions are just setting intentions about becoming a better version of ourselves. When we set goals to lose 30lbs, leave our jobs to start our own business, or decide to grow a family, we have to first recognize that the journey to attaining them will be a marathon and not a sprint.

If you expend all your energy in the first months of the year, you will burn out, give up, or regress into previous behavior patterns. Instead, if you use the winter energy to plan—researching healthy eating programs, building out a comprehensive business plan, or preparing your body for the hardest thing it will ever do —you can lean into the natural rhythms of the seasons and better reap the rewards of a life lived in harmony.

Respecting the Energy of Winter and Wellness

You should now have all the permission you need to lean into the cold months, wrapping yourself in a blanket, lighting a fire, relaxing with a good book, or napping in peaceful, sleepy contentment. Your body needs time to slow down, reflect, and rejuvenate in preparation for spring.

Further care for yourself by purchasing local, organic vegetables and making your favorite soup or stews, whenever you can. Make sure you have an ample supply of garlic and ginger, as they are warming herbs for the season. Stay away from the raw and juice diets until spring, and focus on incorporating good nutrition, daily vitamins, and acupuncture treatment into your regular routine. If you do get sick, try Chinese herbs and cupping to help your body fight illness [7].

So hunker down, give your body a break, and choose activities that are calming, warming, and nourishing until spring. Your body will thank you for it all year round.

If you want to know if you are more prone to illness during the Winter and need at-home strategies to strengthen your Water Element Personality, try my quiz. Find your dominant natural tendencies and receive simple, actionable next steps to being your best you!

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  1. Koithan, M., & Wright, C. (2010). Promoting Optimal Health with Traditional Chinese Medicine. The journal for nurse practitioners : JNP, 6(4), 306–307.
  2. Paternotte, M., Traditional Chinese Medicine: Finding Stillness In Water This Winter. Retrieved from:
  3. Whitman, J., (2021). 6 Tips For Healthy Winter Eating According to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Retrieved From:
  4. Aranow C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of investigative medicine: the official publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research, 59(6), 881–886.
  5. Foxman, E. F., Storer, J. A., Fitzgerald, M. E., Wasik, B. R., Hou, L., Zhao, H., Turner, P. E., Pyle, A. M., & Iwasaki, A. (2015). Temperature-dependent innate defense against the common cold virus limits viral replication at warm temperature in mouse airway cells. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(3), 827–832.
  6. Black, D. S., & Slavich, G. M. (2016). Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 13–24.
  7. ​​Mehta, P., & Dhapte, V. (2015). Cupping therapy: A prudent remedy for a plethora of medical ailments. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 5(3), 127–134.


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