Chinese Medicine and Winter
At the heart of Chinese Medicine is the idea that to stay healthy we should also be in harmony with nature and the natural cycles of the environment.
Winter is all about storage, rest and restoration. Ever wonder why you feel more tired in the winter? According the the Chinese it’s because you’re supposed to in order to recharge for the bounding energy of the spring. In my fall post I talked about Yin and Yang and the organ systems in Chinese medicine. Winter belongs to the yin, which is exemplified by cold, darkness, dampness and inactivity. In the winter time we should emulate this in how we behave. Early to bed and late to rise is best, as is a minimum of spending energy.
The organ system associated with the winter are the kidneys and bladder. In Chinese medicine, the kidney is the root or source of all the energy (“Qi”) in the body. The kidneys store this vital essence as a reserve so that it can be used in times of stress, illness and to age gracefully. In the winter, it is important that we nourish the kidney Qi. It is also the time when it can be most easily depleted, so it is equally as important that we don’t “overdo it” in the wintertime.
Acupuncture is a great way to support your kidney energy. It’s a time to relax deeply in quiet and silence while your practitioner needles points that nourish and support your kidney qi.
Here are some other things you can do to nourish your qi and stay healthy this winter.
Exercising is always healthy, but from a Chinese medical perspective it’s best to change up the way you approach it in the winter. Long, slow movements are better. Stretching, yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are great options, as it is great to balance a physical workout with a mental and spiritual one. For your cardio workout, consider shorter walks and movements that strengthen the lower body (legs, hips, pelvis and low back) such as squats or lunges.
Food as medicine:
In the winter, it’s best to focus and warming soups and stews. Also add in some walnuts, black sesame seeds and goji berries to oatmeal in the morning, as these are what we consider “food grade” Chinese herbs and are nourishing to the kidneys. Some Chinese medical practitioners recommend herbal formulas. For those who are particularly susceptible to colds, consider the Chinese formula “Jade Windscreen.” It is widely available at health food stores and Asian markets, as well as our office. But check with your Chinese medical practitioner first to make sure it’s the right match for you .
Pay extra attention to keeping your back and feet warm. The low back is closely tied to the strength of the kidney Qi. Cold enters the body from the feet and wind enters from the neck, so protect these areas carefully. Build extra time into your schedule for rest and focus on sleep like its your new hobby. When at all possible, wake without an alarm. Stay warm by the fire and enjoy it. It’s what nature asks of you!