health tips for winter
The winter solstice of Dec 22, 2011 ushered in the shortest day of the year. From then on, the days have grown progressively longer – meaning, these dark days are quietly shifting to light.
In the cold shadows of winter we naturally turn inwards: the course of life slowing to gather and rest. Winter is the perfect season for reflection – an intuitive time to conserve energy and replenish our vitality for the unfolding Spring to come.
Winter is Yin in nature – inactive, cold, and damp. In Chinese Medicine, winter is ruled by the Water element and is associated with salty flavors and the color dark blue or black. Like a tide returning to its source, winter offers contemplation of the murky depths of our deeper nature. Here we can easily touch into the core emotions of fear. Sometimes unsettling, fear can awaken tricky sensations, memories and associations. In the same breath, fear also reflects our deepest desires and aversions – reminding us of what we most want and don’t want in our lives, offering inroads to a higher purpose and the choices available to align with that purpose.
East Asian medicines also attribute the winter with the vital root organs of the Kidneys, Adrenal Glands and Urinary Bladder. Zhuang Yuanchen’s Inner Chapters from the Ming Dynasty state that “the kidney is the ocean of the human body . . . All the essences and fluids of the body’s various pathways pour into the kidney.”
Located just beneath the Kidneys, opposite the navel, is an energetic portal known as the Gate of Life – the essential fire between the yin energy of the two kidneys. The Huangting Jing states that ‘The igniting spark between the kidneys is the origin of the various processes of human life, the base of the body’s five (yin) and six (yang) organs, the root of the twelve channel pathways, the door of breath, and the source of the triple burner.’ Commonly known as Ming Men, this portal supports the Kidneys to purify the blood, store the sexual and pranic essences, and stimulate the body’s Qi when depleted. Ming Men is the center of Prenatal Qi or essential life force and might be considered one entrée into what yogis refer to as kundalini.
Throughout the winter we naturally consume more energy (to stay warm and vital) and our kidney qi is more easily depleted.
To remain healthy and balanced, it’s essential to take extra care during the winter months. Classic Chinese texts offer these practices to strengthen our Kidney qi and overall immunity:
- Fall to sleep early and rise late – after the sun’s rays have warmed the earth
- Limit superfluous sexual activity ☺
- Enjoy cooked, warming meals – hearty soups, whole grains, meats (if that’s your jam) and roasted nuts help warm the body’s core and keep us nourished. Kidney beans, Walnuts and Beef are particularly recommended to strengthen Kidney Qi. (It’s natural to gain a bit of weight to conserve warmth, so no worries, you’ll easily shed the extras in Spring)
- Build community and spend time with friends and family – it’s not surprising that this time of year is marked by festivals of light in most of the world’s religions
- Take time for quiet and reflection, ease up pressures to do: Be*
- Bundle up – be sure to keep the lower back (Kidneys) warm, and the upper back, back of your neck and throat protected – the areas most susceptible to wind, chill and other foreign invaders. Consider extra layers and hot showers on colder days
- Qigong, Tai Chi, yoga, meditation and other simple relaxation/movement therapies can help you release stress and maintain a sense of balance and ease
- Acupuncture, body work, essences, herbs and other holistic remedies can offer great support and reconnect you with other methods of self-care and vitality
- Support the immune system by massaging the ear lobes, below the occiput (base of your skull), along the neck and at the armpits (to promote lymph drainage)