Winter is the time of rest and retreat, where the Yin Qi is now dominant and the Yang Qi moves inward to regenerate. In nature winter is a time of stillness and quiet. Cold causes things to slow down and contract, making you feel even colder and can lead to symptoms such as cold hands and feet, aches and pains, asthma, arthritis or colitis.
Chinese medicine theory understands that there is a macro and micro view of health, that the cycles of nature are reflected in the body and the cycles of the body are reflected in nature. Think of a tree; in spring and summer the sap rises up and courses through the branches to feed all the leaves and produce fruit. As autumn begins the sap slowly starts to descend back down the trunk and the leaves begin to change colour and fall. By the winter solstice the sap has fully returned to the roots of the tree where it is stored, safe from the harsh weather and has time to regenerate in order to produce flowers and fruit in the seasons to come.
The season of winter in Chinese medicine corresponds with the organ system of the Kidney, and just like the sap in the tree, resting in the winter months helps to regenerate Kidney Qi. This ensures your body is ready with all the get up and go it needs for the next spring and summer to come. In nature winter is a time of stillness and quiet. So if you want to snuggle up inside the warmth of your home and embrace the urge to hibernate, rest and sleep more, this is the season to do it!
The peace and quiet of winter is a wonderful time for inner reflection and contemplation but it is still important to move your body and keep your blood circulating to stave off the ‘winter blues’. Having a regular practice of Yoga and Qi Gong are great ways to do this along with other light activities such as jogging, bike riding and walking. Be sure to wear appropriate clothing and if you sweat during exercise it is important not to let your body temperature cool and have the moisture on your skin, as this is an easy way to weaken the body’s defence and catch colds.
The best foods to eat during winter to help stay healthy with a strong immune system are the ones that grow naturally during this season such as root vegetables, squashes, mushrooms winter greens, citrus fruits, apples and pears. Our bodies need warm foods in winter so this is the season to bake, roast and stew. Slow cooked soups and stews made with rich broths with animal bones are nourishing for the whole family. Specific foods that nourish and warm the kidneys are black sesame seeds, kidney beans, black beans, black rice, bone broth, lamb, chicken, chestnuts, walnuts and dark leafy greens.
Adding a small amount of unrefined sea salt to home cooking is helpful as the salty taste is associated with the Kidney. Salt is Yin and cooling and moves energy down and in, just like the nature of winter. Salt has a grounding and moistening effect, and can soften hardness such as muscle knots. It enhances digestion, is calming and improves concentration.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help your body maintain balance in the winter months. Acupuncture can help nourish Kidney Qi by using selected points suitable to your condition or adding the technique of moxibustion, which can bring a stronger warming energy into the body- it feels heavenly! Herbs can help at a deeper level if there is internal cold, which can help nourish the Kidney’s and stoke the body’s internal fire.