The view outside my window is beautiful. Slanted sunlight bathes the day in a perpetual golden hour, infusing the crisp, crystal-clear air with a stillness that seems almost frozen in time. The evergreen trees stand strong with their lush foliage, while their more delicate kin bare weather-worn branches and twigs, gesturing with a graceful fractal dance. Hints of grapefruit orange and pink cling stubbornly to memories of autumn, adorning this landscape with the much needed splashes of color.
Yet my body knows better than to be seduced by that beauty. It is really cold outside.
小寒 (Minor Cold) settled in just over a week ago. We’re now in the 12th month, the 23rd solar term, and the temperature dropped rapidly from an average of 10ºC to just above 0ºC in the morning. It amazes me how closely South Bay’s weather matches the Chinese lunisolar calendar, only because we’re sitting on the same latitude of 37º North. There’s a small comfort in knowing that, despite being on the opposite ends of the planet, there’s a continuity in the seasonal patterns that underpin our worlds.
Earlier in November, my trainer hinted at the idea of seasonal energy levels. I was skeptical, but it also made intuitive sense. We aren’t so far removed from nature., we still feel the temperature, the sunlight, and the rhythms of seasonal events like summer break, Thanksgiving, and countless other cues that signal times to rest, and times to flourish.
I made it a little project of mine to pay attention to my body energy level this winter. To be honest, I knew something was going to be different based on past years, but until I paid close attention, I didn’t quite know exactly what it was going to feel like.
As usual, I had many theories. Maybe every workout was going to be less intense. Maybe my appetite would reduce. Maybe I’d sleep more. Maybe I’d feel more depressed. It turned out that none of my theories came true. However, it wasn’t my baseline energy that shifted, but the duration between peaks that stretched out. I still had peak workout sessions and large meals, but they’d just occur less frequently.
I remember that back in July and August, my energy cycles were almost on a 24 hour clock. 5 out of 7 days, if I showed up at the gym, my body was ready for high intensity. Heading into 大寒 (Major Cold), that happens maybe 2 or 3 times a week.
I learned to respect this new rhythm and to be at peace with being “less than perfect.” The lunisolar calendar wasn’t just an agricultural technology, it also served as the perfect guide for understanding my own biological rhythms.
大寒 (Major Cold) is arriving in less than a week, and after that, 立春 (Beginning of Spring) and soon 春節 (Spring Festival). As the year marches toward closure, people start to wind down their work, prepare New Year’s food, get ready for an auspicious mindset.
Being 7,000 miles from my hometown, the ubiquitous and enveloping festivity that usually frames this season is absent. Yet, living in a region with one of the largest Chinese-American populations in the country, along with other cultures that honor the Lunar New Year, there’s a distinct, albeit subtle, sense of solidarity in the air. Greetings exchanged in hallways, signs adorning stores. Friends and families come together at home and at festive events. My organization works closely with East Asia, and it is well known that in February, productivity slows as our counterparts take their well-deserved breaks to celebrate and recharge. I’ve always cherished this mutual influence, coincidental as it may be, that aligns so neatly with my cultural calendar.
Now’s the time to think about how I’ll celebrate the Spring Festival.