January is one of the hardest times of year to establish new habits. Instead, use these compassionate intentions to support your body through the hard winter.
While the practice of New Year's resolutions was once a commitment to spirituality and community, it has evolved to frequently focus on things like diet and exercise. While setting intentions can be wonderful and the New Year can definitely feel like a fresh start, it’s actually a terrible time to be making big changes, especially when it comes to adding exercise and reducing calories.
In the Northern Hemisphere, January is the darkest, coldest time of year. Traditionally, this is a time of non-action, a time to rest and reflect. Early versions of the Roman calendar began the new year in March, counting the months from there until December (“tenth month” from March). January and February originally had no names at all because nothing much happened during this time—everyone just rested.
For some of us, New Year’s resolutions can have a rather Protestant flavor of self-punishment and guilt, especially after the indulgence of the holiday season. And yet January is notorious for being the most difficult time of year for mental health, not to mention that barely any of us actually keep these resolutions past March. What if we could set some intentions to work with, rather than against, our bodies’ needs? What if we made some anti-New Year’s resolutions?
If you want to change the way you eat and increase your exercise, do yourself a favor and wait until the light starts to come back in the springtime. Here are five New Year's resolutions that might actually make you feel better, support your health and wellness, and help you start the calendar year on the right foot.
We need more sleep when there is more darkness. Some studies have shown that without access to artificial light, humans would sleep much more in the winter than in the summer. Even people who live in urban environments and experience plenty of artificial light tend to sleep up to an hour more in December as compared to June.
Depending on what’s possible for you, resolve to go to bed a little earlier, wake up a little later, and/or find time for a nap, even a short one, every day in January and see how it affects your general health and wellbeing.
Eat More Warm, Cooked Foods
According to Ayurveda, we have digestive fire in our bellies called agni. In the summertime, agni is high and hot, and we can digest all kinds of things including cold, raw foods. In the wintertime, our agni is lower, and we do much better with warm, cooked foods like soups and stews. Traditionally, food stores would have been lower in January with very few options for fresh, cold foods. Most things would have been cooked and preserved. We are lucky enough to live in an era when most of us can enjoy a variety of foods any time of the year, so eat! But honor what your body needs at this time and nourish it gently.
Resolve to stop eating cold foods during the winter (unless your body really likes them) and instead opt for bone broth, spiced soups, cooked vegetables, and other warm and cozy foods. Put the ice water away, especially right before you eat, and instead sip on tea or hot water with lemon.
Try Restorative Yoga
Yes, movement is good any time of year, but in January our bodies love a short walk when the sun is up at midday and that’s about it. Restorative yoga is a style of yoga practice that involves lying down in very comfortable positions and seeing just how deeply we can rest.
Resolve to try a restorative yoga class, ideally at a studio where there are plenty of props and a teacher who can help guide you into a wonderful, nourishing rest.
Make Things Easier on Yourself
The best New Year’s resolution I ever made was to continually ask myself, “How do I make this easier?”
Rather than getting all caught up in the complications and details of whatever I was doing, I’d pause to see if I could ask for help, delegate something, re-prioritize, drop what wasn’t useful, lower expectations, and generally intend to make it all a little easier. There’s usually a way to do it, but we often forget to ask ourselves how we might be adding unnecessary complications.
Resolve to slow down and see if there’s a way to uncomplicate your day-to-day life and any difficult situations you may find yourself in.
We don’t have a lot to give in January, but we benefit greatly from receiving. Book a massage, go to a sauna or hot tub, sign up for some reiki, or try whatever other forms of bodywork you most enjoy. Refilling your own cup means you’ll have more to give to others later.
Resolve to find a way to receive some gentle attention for your body in a way that could work for your schedule and budget.