"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience"
One of the beautiful things about living in New England is how distinct the four seasons are: the heat & humidity of summer, the dramatic beauty of fall, our long & snowy winters and of course the dramatic rebirth of spring. I love the change and transformation that nature makes and how we need to makes certain changes in ourselves to stay in rhythm with the season. This is what Chinese Medicine is all about, how to have vibrant health physically, emotionally and spiritually by attuning ourselves with the natural world.
In the winter season, this seems especially important, because it is a time where we can easily get steered off course. Colds and flus are easy to come by, depression is common due to the lack of sunlight and nature can seem cruel. Yet if we learn to attune ourselves to what our bodies and minds want, we can learn to love and even thrive during this time.
Winter is the most 'Yin' time of year. As opposed to the outward 'Yang' energy of summer, it is a time of introspection and hibernation. During the darkness of the season, it is time for extra sleep, staying warm and cozy. It is also a good time for meditation and internally focused exercise such as Tai Chi and Yoga. But on the other hand, it can also be a good time to bundle up and get in some nice brisk walks. Create some internal fire to balance the cold days. This is also a good way to enjoy the season. Winter looks very unwelcoming from inside the house, but once you are outside, getting what natural light there is, winter can be quite beautiful.
Winter is the season of the Kidney, Bladder and Adrenal Glands, which are ruled by the Water element. The Kidneys house our core energy, our deep reserves of Qi (prounouned "Chee"). The cold weather drives this fire deep inside, where it can be conserved and not lost. It is important to assist this conservation by dressing warmly in layers and wearing a hat and scarf to protect your body from being attacked by the wind and cold. The water element nourishes and lubricates every joint in the body and provides us with flexibility and ease of movement. Joint stiffness and muscle tightness that gets worse with cold and damp weather can indicate an imbalance in the Water element. This is why a certain amount of exercise is important to create enough fire so that the water can stay in check!
Another way to create deep internal warmth and nourishment is through our food choices. In the winter, it is all about warm foods, soups and seasonal eating. If one eats with the seasons, think about what you would be eating if there were no such thing as the supermarket. Hard to imagine, but you would probably be eating the squash, potatoes, kale, carrots and whole grains that you stored from your fall harvest. You would probably be eating meat, which is warming in nature. Some dairy perhaps, although dairy is damp in nature and may exacerbate the damp conditions of winter. Salty foods are especially good in winter months, because they promote a sinking, centering quality which aids in the storage of energy. Examples of good salty foods for winter are miso, bone broth, soy sauce, seaweeds, millet and barley. Do not however, overuse salt, which is already present in abundance in the typical American diet. So, get out your slow cooker and make a nice hardy miso or bone broth soup with lots of fall vegetables and seaweeds and warming scallions. This is a deeply nourishing meal for your body during the winter months and can aid your body in preventing colds and flus. Below is a really great and simple recipe you can try!
Specific foods that nourish and warm the Kidneys during the winter months include black beans, kidney beans, bone broth, lamb, chicken, walnuts, chestnuts, and dark leafy greens. The spices that are best to choose are cloves, fennel seeds, anise seeds, black peppercorn, ginger, cinnamon and foods from the onion and garlic family.
The emotion associated with the winter is fear. When the water element is out of balance, fear may arise in many areas of your life, and like the Kidney's Qi, it can be deeply rooted. This fear can be very draining to our core energy and so practices that nourish the Kidney energy, such as meditation, journal writing and quiet walks in nature, can help replace this fear with wisdom, trust and equanimity.
While diet, exercise, sleep and meditation are all powerful tools for staying in balance during the winter season, sometimes our self-effort alone is not enough. Acupuncture & Chinese Herbal Medicine are both powerful ways to help with the the fatigue, back pain, depression and colds that can accompany the winter season. Acupuncture can tap into and nurture our deep reserves of internal energy, and allow them to circulate throughout the body. It can also be a valuable time for some deep rest and quiet, which the body needs so much of this time of year.
Life and our society in general are usually going at a rapid pace, no matter what the season. This is great if your mind and body are thriving. But often, this pace can result in high amounts of stress and physical ailments. Slowing down during the winter season, is aligning yourself with the natural cycles of the earth and seasons. Winter is a time of rest, reflection, conservation and storage. While we still need to work and continue with life as usual, making some shifts in your life to integrate some of these principles will surely lead to better health, deeper breaths and a greater enjoyment and appreciation for this time of year!
Melissa is a self described 'nerd' about all topics relating to health and wellness. She is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist and co-owner of Open Circle Acupuncture & Healing.