As we move further and further away from the sun, there is little sign of life and a stillness in the air. This is for many a difficult season, filled with long dark hours and only a few barely lit days. It is nevertheless a very important season, and without fail, it will pass and spring will have its turn.
Most Chinese medicine therapists have read at some time in their career the ‘Huangdi Neijing’ or the ‘Yellow Emperors Inner Canon’, written around 250BC. The text is treated as the basis for Chinese medicine and Daoist theory. In the Emperors words, winter is ‘to stop for a moment and meditate on the passage of time, to feel time moving inside you, it is to practice the value of the winter season…..this cold and dark time is exactly when love between people passes most freely, with family visits, gift giving and acts of charity to the less advantaged.’1 These words emanates a reflective mood and reminds us to appreciate every season in all its beauty.
Light Exercise and Deep Breathing
While the organs of winter are the kidney and bladder, the element is water. Yin in winter is at its maximum, which is cold, dark and dense, while the Yang, Qi energy, is at its lowest. In winter our Qi is stored more internally. Our Wei Qi, immune energy, is also concentrated internally and we therefore should not deplete this with excessive sweating.2 In doing so, we would also delete our kidney Qi which is the root of all our energies, including that of development, growth, structure and reproduction. This energy supplies strength to our bones, teeth and hair as well as fertility.3 It is important to breathe deep into your belly, sending Qi down to the kidneys. Do this while taking long slow walks in nature, especially if the sun is out, or while meditating, doing Tai qi or Yoga.
Sleep Long, Eat Warm
As the days of light are short, winter is a time to go to bed early and get up later. For most of us our working hours don’t change with the seasons, so the best we can do is try to go to bed earlier, and therefore eat dinner earlier. Foods should in this season always be cooked. Braising and slow cooked stews are recommended, as well as soups. Fortunately these can all be prepared in advance and therefore preparation in the evening is little. Soups are especially good at night as they are easier to digest. Important vegetables to eat in winter include dark leafy greens like kale, chard and collard as well as potatoes and pumpkin as well as cabbage, brussel sprouts, turnips, beets and parsnips to name a few. As foods in winter need to reinforce the kidney energy, slow, long cooked beef and lamb can also be beneficial. Spices are especially helpful, such as ginger, chili, cardamom and cinnamon as they give warmth and help to stimulate digestion. These can of course be added to a tea. Although salt is the flavor of the kidneys, it should be used with care. Other options, used in small amounts, are miso, tamari and seaweeds. Black beans nourish the kidneys as black is the color of the kidneys, just like black sesame or beluga lentils. 4
Keep Warm and Drink Warm
Make sure you are dressed for the season. A strong Wei (immune) Qi can protect you when you are forced to face the elements, but warm clothing is also essential. The area most important is the neck, as this is where pathogens, viruses and bacteria can easily enter the body, as well as the feet, as this is where the first point of the kidney meridian begins. If cold enters through the feet it has a direct access to the bladder and kidney. The Kidneys as an organ filters waste from the blood and regulate the body’s PH level. This can be a beneficial time to do a water fast or a kidney cleanse. Don’t forget to drink even though you are not hot and sweating. Preferably warm or at least room temperature water! Make sure you are getting your 1-2 liters per day!
Last but certainly not least…The Festive Season
How do you survive the festive season without coming out 5 kilos heavier, bloated and uncomfortable? My life-saver is enzymes and probiotics!5 They will save you from digestive discomfort, but don’t expect them to bring you a Xmas miracle. Be also consciously aware of everything you eat and drink. Remember this is a time to be with friends and family, not a food and drink frenzy. A maximum of 14 units per week of alcohol and not more. And don’t nibble! No nuts, chips or other calorie full, but nutrition less, food. Enjoy your festive meal but try to avoid heavy cream sauces, and don’t dabble in between.
While winter can be tough, use this time to treat yourself! Nourish your body and mind, doing so mindfully.