In winter everything huddles up and retracts, nature enters an inward period of rest and reflection. This is in preparation for the outward growth and expression of spring. The best natural health comes from adjusting to the cyclical changes in nature around us. Maintain health during winter by embracing and nourishing the qualities of the water element in your life. Use this time to focus inwards and allow internal nourishment, by building and fortifying the blood and circulation.
It is a season of retreat and rest, when the yin (female, cold) is now dominant and the yang (male, hot) energy moves inward; listen to our own body and its needs. In winter the earth lies dormant, nature appears frozen and dead. In this deep stillness of nature, winter calls us to look into our depths, to reconnect to our inner being, to befriend the darkness within us and around us. Like the seeds that are beginning their metamorphosis and starting to manifest their destiny in the deep recesses of the earth, all of our energies are being called to examine the depths of our being. In winter, nature seems to be at rest, and in this rest, it replenishes itself.
Winter is ruled by the water element
In Chinese medicine Water is the most yin of all the five elements. The organ systems associated with Water are the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder, which rule water metabolism and maintain homeostasis, a dynamic continual re-balancing.
The earth’s surface is approximately 75% water, and water makes up about 70% of our adult body weight, yet it has no shape, taking the form given to it by its container.
As we age we lose water, and our bodies begin to dry out. Our bones and hair become more brittle, our skin loses its elasticity, our minds may lose their accustomed flexibility.
Chinese Medicine and Winter Season
The ancient Chinese believed that human beings should live in harmony with the natural cycles of their environment. The cold and darkness of winter urges us to slow down. This is the time of year to reflect on our health, replenish our energy, and conserve our strength.
Winter is Yin in nature; it is inactive, cold, and damp. Remain introspective, restful, and consolidate your Qi through the season and prepare for the outburst of new life and energy in the spring.
Organs: Kidney, Urinary Bladder, Adrenal Glands, Ears, and Hair
Emotion: Fear and Depression
According to the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys are considered the source of all energy (Qi) within the body. They store all of the reserve Qi in the body so that it can be used in times of stress and change, or to heal, prevent illness, and age gracefully.
During the winter months it is important to nurture and nourish our kidney Qi. It is the time where this energy can be most easily depleted. Our bodies are instinctively expressing the fundamental principles of winter – rest, reflection, conservation, and storage.
The Water element governs the Bladder (Bl) and the Kidney (Ki) and helps to create balance, both between salt and water level, and in life, cultivating a sense of fluidity and stability.
Kidney governs will power, and when well balanced has an effortless quality, the path of least resistance. It also governs balance, bone, hair, hair loss, teeth and nail strength, hearing, reproduction (DNA) and hormones. Imbalances in Ki are often expressed as fear, agitation and exhaustion. Physically it can manifest as problems with lower back, ankles, hormones, hearing, and feeling the cold.
Bladder is very much about our sense of self, our inner stability and confidence. When imbalanced we can feel strained, anxious, fearful and not real. When we are ungrounded we are often deficient in bladder energy. It also governs the nervous system, sacral and spine stability, hormones and memory. Frequent headaches, urinary problems and sciatica are common manifestations.
Symptoms Associated with Imbalances in Water
• Lower back pain—chronic or acute
• Knee pain and weakness
• Problems with urinary retention
• Fatigue and shortness of breath
• Vertigo or dizziness
• Sexual problems, lack of excitement, premature ejaculation, vaginal dryness
• Anxiety and excessive fear
• High blood pressure and/or occipital headaches
• Inflexibility and resistance to change
Foods for Winter
Winter is a time when many people tend to reduce their activity. If that’s true for you, it’s wise to reduce the amount of food you eat, too, to avoid gaining weight unnecessarily.
Avoid raw foods during the winter as much as possible, as these tend to cool the body.
During winter you should emphasize warming foods:
• Soups and stews
• Root vegetables
• Miso and seaweed
• Garlic and ginger
Eating warm hearty soups, whole grains, and roasted nuts help to warm the body’s core and to keep us nourished. Sleep early, rest well, stay warm, and expend a minimum quantity of energy.
How to Keep Healthy and Joyful During Winter
• Practice Self-acceptance: We all have fears; fears freeze us so that we feel stuck and hopeless, but observing our fears without judging them can liberate us from the stagnation that fear sows. According to TCM, stress, frustration, and unresolved anger can work together to throw your immune system off, allowing pathogens to affect your body.
We need to learn the gentle art of “witnessing” to ourselves without judging ourselves. Rather than attempting to overcome our fears, we can learn to recognize and accept them. Self-awareness and self-acceptance burns and thaws our fears so that we become “unstuck” and can move on healthfully.
• Take Time to Listen and Recharge: Listen to your body, and take time to replenish your reserves, which will be needed during the surges of spring. Winter is a time to recharge; learn to listen, listen to what others have to say and listen to your heart speaking to you. This is a time of receiving, not doing. Be patient.
• Keep a Journal: As winter is a time to go within, your inner being comes closer to the surface in winter. Keep a journal and record your feelings, thoughts, and dreams: don’t analyse them, just record them. Don’t be afraid of your darker side; allow any and all images to unfold; look at them again later and see if the images convey an inner message to you.
• Nurture Yourself Inwardly: Imagine that the ideas and images that have been planted and are germinating within you, as in a garden, will begin to sprout in the spring. Nurture these images of hope, but allow them to grow and develop within you quietly and naturally, just as plants grow.
• Nourish Yourself Well: Nourish yourself with warm food and drink lots of water; winter sucks the moisture out of your body. It is very important to hydrate by drinking at least 8 glasses fresh water daily or weak herbal tea. Eat warming foods such as root vegetables, whole grains, and small amounts of meat or fish protein. If you are a vegetarian, eat more beans, nuts, and tempeh.
• Keep Warm: Prepare for the weather, and dress accordingly. Chinese medicine says that the neck and shoulder areas contain the “Wind” points through which pathogens can enter, so keep these areas protected; wear a scarf and keep your neck covered. Meanwhile, enjoy everything that winter has to offer, within nature and within your inner self.
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