BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
“In the dead of winter, nature stops moving. It’s ok for you, too, to slow down and replenish, reflect, and plan. It’s a time to fill your inner gas tank.
—Jim Kulackoski, lifestyle consultant, yoga instructor, and student of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine
In knowing Jim Kulackoski, you quickly see that his considerable energy is directed to helping people discover their best selves, both in good health and life purpose.
With that in mind, he seemed the perfect person to ask how to face the freeze around us.
What do we need to know about living in a deep freeze?
The environment is dramatically different between seasons, and, consequently, our bodies adapt differently to these changes. In the summer, our energy is on the surface of our body. Nature itself says, ‘Go, go, go.’ We are outside, we socialize.
Our energy moves inward in winter. It is a time to go inside, reflect, and plan. For me, it is a time to think about not just New Year’s resolutions but to develop intentions for the year ahead.
In summer, the days are longer and you need less sleep, but in the winter, it is ok to get extra sleep—don’t worry that hibernation has taken over.
How can our diet help?
In the summer we discover the bounty of outdoor markets. We eat raw vegetables and terrific salads. In winter, soups and stocks, particularly those cooked with bones, are light but nourishing and warming. I also recommend sweet potatoes, winter squashes, walnuts, fruits like pomegranates, cooked dark leafy green vegetables, kidney beans and other legumes, items you pickled during the summer, as well as lamb, chicken, and beef. Listen to your body to learn what is the proper amount—it knows when it is done. It is not about gaining weight during the winter, it’s about fortifying your body.
What should we drink to stay warm?
Hot teas are great, and I particularly like brewing ginger tea. I cut up fresh ginger and bring it to a boil—it definitely helps digestion and circulation. We were in Amsterdam over the holidays and enjoying a glass of gluhwein from an outdoor vendor, similar to mulled wine or glogg, was delightful. All those spices—cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and cardamom—are very good for us. If you are craving an occasional hot toddy, that isn’t bad. A little alcohol can be medicinal and moves the energy in the body and, thus, is helpful at a sedentary time.
How should we exercise in winter?
Exercise is different, too. You don’t want to get all sweaty—it depletes your energy. What you want to do is get your energy going. We tend to tighten up in winter, so yoga and stretching are very good for opening up the chest and shoulders and exercising the back and the backs of our legs. Swimming is great low impact exercise, as long as it is not in a cold pool. If tolerable, bundle up and take a walk outside.
Spend no more than about five minutes in a steam room or sauna. An infrared sauna can be good for a short period of time. When you sweat too much, you are opening all your pores, which is similar to throwing open windows in your house on a cold, cold day. When you close them the house remains very cold. You have to be careful not to let too much energy escape.
Finns, Hungarians and others have built up their tolerance for polar plunges after a hot sauna. So many people get sick after the New Year’s polar plunges around Chicago, and they can really damage your kidneys.
What about dressing for outdoors?
You need extra warmth around your neck and your midsection. I am from North Dakota, and people routinely wrap their kidneys with heat packs when they are outside. This is your body’s furnace, its center of fire. Add an extra wrap for that area.
How do we counter the winter doldrums?
Depression often is caused by a lack of circulation of energy. It can be the result of too much looking inward. You can tell yourself it’s time to get going with yoga, stretching, and exercise. Fresh air helps. Eating too many carbs or a large amount of dairy products can affect your mood. Really be intentional about doing things you enjoy.
Your studies of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine and your work in lifestyle consulting with a wide variety of people center your life. How did you get started on this path and what are your New Year’s intentions?
I have always asked how things work—always been interested in the what, why, and how. Learning how the universe works, what makes it tick, has always been important to me.
A community filled with people who have discovered their purpose and work towards their best all-around health is a powerful community. I like working with people one-on-one to achieve this.
Any final advice?
Make winter your most meaningful time—it is really the best season to be with loved ones and friends.