Jennifer Racioppi: Need a cosmic pick-me-up? Work with nature’s cycles

The best way to beat the January blues, says astrologer Jennifer Racioppi – and live a happier and healthier life all year round – is to take a cue from nature.

The idea that our health could be intrinsically linked to the universe and the behaviour of the sun and moon might sound far-fetched, until you take a moment to think about how the short winter days have been making you feel. Sluggish? Craving carbs? It’s exactly this sort of disjunction that Jennifer Racioppi, a transformational coach and professional astrologer, tackles in her intriguing new book. Jennifer works with celebrities, corporate leaders and brands including Reebok and Netflix. She believes that we’d all be happier and healthier if, rather than getting up when our phone alarm goes off, we lived our lives based on when the sun and moon tell us to. It might sound quirky, but this approach to living goes back to basics by asking you to observe what is happening in the world around you. The revolutionary part? Remembering it’s not tech that’s in charge of making you feel better – it’s you. So why not follow her ideas? You could make 2021 your best year yet…

how to work with nature's cycles
Illustration: Petra Braun

How to work with nature’s cycles

The sun rises and sets. The moon waxes and wanes. We live on a planet that rotates on its axis, alternating between day, an extended period of light, and night, a roughly equivalent period of darkness. These are small examples of how the cosmos operates according to nature’s rhythms. But our bodie salso act and react cyclically, biologically responding to fluctuations of light and dark. Most cells and tissues in the body run on molecular ‘clocks’ that operate most effectively when they synchronise with the external light-dark cycle they mirror.

For example, the circadian rhythm – the 24-hour cycle that regulates our sleep and waking times – works best when it syncs with the cycle of night and day. It’s responsible for creating the hormone cortisol in the morning, helping us to get out of bed, and for prompting a rise in melatonin at night, making us feel sleepy. It also governs the body’s other hormonal and bodily processes – from hunger and digestion to body temperature and energy levels. So by living in a way that’s more in tune with the natural cycle of light and dark, dictated by Earth’s daily rotation and yearly revolution around the sun, we allow our bodies to function better. But when we live out of sync with natural cycles of light – as we do in society when we banish darkness with artificial light, and work and rest according to a clock, not the rising and setting of the sun – this natural internal clock is disrupted. Metabolic function, mood and cognition are all compromised, performance suffers, and the mood-boosting chemical serotonin dips too low. This inevitably drives us to push ourselves harder, which only causes us to start feeling worse and weakens our immune system.

Conversely, if we return to a life that’s more in sync with circadian and cosmic rhythms, we can improve our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Small, simple practices, such as shutting down digital devices at a set hour each night, can help. But looking at the bigger picture – how the hours of sunlight change across the year – and working out how best we can try to work with the seasons is also important.

The trick is to stop expending valuable time and energy fighting these rhythms, because they guide so much of our biology. When we live in sync with them, everything becomes easier. Here’s how to plan your year…

Nourish yourself in winter

While other parts of the year are all about the social whirl, winter should be a quieter time. Think of it as a chance to focus on yourself and what you need in order to feel content. Pick up the phone and call loved ones, and really invest time in catching up with friends.

The lack of sunlight means decreased serotonin levels, making this feel like a season to retreat. Remember, this is part of the natural cycle. Life can’t always be about being upbeat – we need downtime too, and opportunities to reflect in order to grow. A lot of people find this introspection a bit frightening and, if you’re one of them, don’t panic. Think about what you can learn from the stuff that feels uncomfortable, without letting it overwhelm you.

Winter is the season for restoring the calmer energy of your body – a time when nature goes dormant, yet underneath, the power required to grow remains strong, working hard beneath the surface to rejuvenate itself. It’s the traditional season of hibernation for nature, so you may be less inclined to be out and about anyway. But while this extra time can be an opportunity for extended focus on work, do also take time to nourish yourself from the inside out. The long nights provide ample opportunity for restorative sleep and rest.

Make plans in spring

People tend to think of spring as lush, blooming and full of life, but really, in early spring nothing is ready for harvest yet. This is a time when little shoots can start to sprout in the natural world and inside ourselves, a time to initiate new beginnings based on the wisdom we gained during autumn and winter.

The roots we set down now will carry us through the year ahead. Forget New Year’s resolutions made during the darkest days – spring is the perfect time to work out what you want personally and professionally from the rest of the year, and to start putting together plans that will take you towards those goals.

As the weather gets warmer, we feel less of a need for comfort food, so minimise complex carbohydrates, reduce your consumption of sugar, take a high-quality multivitamin, eat a blood-sugar-balanced diet with lots of leafy greens and high-quality proteins, and drink plenty of water. Don’t call it a detox, but do think of it as an opportunity to come out of hibernation and be more active. Find an exercise that will get your blood pumping and help you sweat out the stuff your body doesn’t need in preparation for this new phase.

In addition to this ‘decluttering’ of the body, it’s a good time to declutter your physical environment with a spring clean.

Get outside in summer

Welcome to the season of light. With increased exposure to sunlight, the body’s serotonin (happy hormone) levels are naturally higher, making summer a joyful season. It invites you to wake up earlier and go to bed later.

Summer is a season of play, but with so many social activities it can also lead to

burnout, especially if you’re not careful. So accept the invitations but drink lots of water as well as rosé, and don’t say yes to everything.

From an exercise point of view, get out into nature – swimming in lakes, oceans and pools not only cools you down but nourishes your body’s relaxing energy, too. Not a swimmer? Go for forest or beach walks instead.

Summer-related imbalances include sunburn, hot flushes, exhaustion, acne and digestive issues. Emotionally, excess heat can manifest as anger, jealousy or impatience. To counteract this, stay mindful of what you do at midday – stay out of the sun at its hottest.

Where possible, eat lots of locally grown foods, especially fruit and vegetables. With plenty of opportunities for outdoor activity, fresh air and sunlight (hello, vitamin D!) also help deliver important bacteria that nourish your gut microbiome.

Seek self care in autumn

The end of summer can often tip us into a negative headspace. You’ve just got used to being social and outdoorsy, and suddenly the days are getting shorter again. And all the fun of the outside world has pulled your attention away from your connection to self. The shift in seasons is the cue to start focusing more on you, and getting in touch with how you’re feeling and what you need.

While in many ways the equal balance between day and night that autumn brings should give a sense of harmony, it’s still a change from the previous months and that can make us feel a bit unstable. And the decrease in sunlight (resulting in reduced serotonin levels) may in turn lead to seasonal affective disorder, which could leave you feeling melancholy or anxious.

Rather than rebelling against this mood, try to see the value in more time at home and use it for pampering rituals. Prioritise skincare, since skin may feel dry. Sesame oil is a great body moisturiser, and hydrating face masks are helpful at night. Castor oil foot massages are especially healing too (add a few drops of sandalwood essential oil for extra grounding).

Nourish your digestion at this time of year too, as the change in weather and exposure to sun can slow your metabolism. Warming soups that are easy to digest and packed with nutrients are a great option.

Use this time of waning light to process your emotions. In Chinese medicine, autumn is the season of sadness, grief and worry, so look for cathartic activities that will soothe the soul. Art, music, dancing, writing, therapy and yoga are great ways to engage with your emotional side.

RETHINK WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HEALTHY

Health in my world isn’t about being perfect: attaining the perfect BMI, following an eating plan perfectly for ever or being totally free from disease. It’s not about a life that is stress-free or about being disciplined.

The sort of health that I want my clients to aspire to is one where they can give free rein to the things that they enjoy; where understanding stress can be something that helps you grow, and where we prioritise replenishment as much as we do productivity. This means eating for nourishment, sleeping for energy, living for joy, finding purpose in our work and developing loving relationships.

We need to accept that our state of mind and bodies will fluctuate. Being healthy means being able to face life as it is, rather than as it ‘should’ be, while simultaneously moving in the direction we choose.

Cosmic Health by Jennifer Racioppi will be published on 12 January (Piatkus, £14.99).

Extract by Claire Coleman.