Are you looking for some winter health tips to get you through the cold months? Here I discuss 5 tips from Chinese medicine to help keep you in optimal health during winter.
Winter in Chinese medicine
The yearly cycle is an interplay of Yin and Yang, each moving from dominance to obeisance and back again. In winter, Yang energies internalize and Yin energies dominate.
Internal Yang warms you from the core and illuminates your internal world. This cold and dark climate is the time to focus inwards. Time to reflect on your health, conserving and nourishing your internal strength.
In winter everything huddles up and retracts to survive. Leaves and flowers disappear from trees, animals hibernate and daylight becomes shorter. The earth lies barren and deserted.
Nature enters an inward period of rest and reflection. This is in preparation for the outward growth and expression of spring. What happens during this period lays the seed for the following year.
The best natural health comes from adjusting to the cyclical changes in nature around us.
Winter and our body
In Chinese medicine, we associate winter with the Water element. This manifests in the organ systems of the Kidney and Bladder. These organ networks are the most likely to manifest disturbance during winter
Imbalances arising as the cold of winter sets in may manifest as:
- lower back or knee pain
- memory issues
- menstrual pain
- lowered libido
- poor circulation
- fearful emotions (anxiety and phobias)
- urinary disorders
To maintain health during winter, embrace and nourish the qualities of Water in your life. Use this time to focus inwards and allow internal nourishment.
For optimal winter health, we can focus on the following 5 areas
1. Slow down
Reducing your activity level is the first step towards seasonal living during winter. Intense exercise consumes energy that we should be conserving during winter
As the hours of daylight are shorter, head to bed early and wake up later. The intention here is to maximize rest and recuperation. This means you are more dormant in your lifestyle when the natural world around you is doing the same.
Rest is important for your winter health, hibernating bears know this instinctively.
2. Focus inwards
Important practices to nourish the Water energy for winter health include:
- listening to your body
- reflecting on who you are
- accepting yourself as you are
Drive and will belong to the Water element. This is a great time to develop and plant the seed of your intentions. This prepares the soil as you enter the growth energy of spring, where you bring
This is the time to nurture yourself and reflect on your inner ideas of what you desire for your life. Like still water reflects your face, reflect upon your goals.
Avoiding entertainment that is overly exciting helps your mind to rest and internalize. Instead, seek entertainment that stimulates reflection and contemplation. This is more suited to this time of year.
Meditation is a great way to slow your mental and emotional system. Focusing inwards reflects the seasonal inward movement of your Yang Qi. A fifteen minutes daily practice can have profound effects throughout your day. All it requires is finding a quiet space and concentrating on your breath.
3. Keep warm
Keeping warm is important, cover up and avoid exposure to the cold. In particular, covering up the lower back and neck area when outside. Scarves, beanies, gloves, jumpers and no midriff-baring tops are the way for winter.
Keep your feet warm as the sole of your foot is where the Kidney meridian begins. It is important to not walk barefoot on cold floors, to avoid cold entering into the body. Slippers and Ugg boots are not only
A hot water footbath before bed, with Epsom salt added, is great to help keep warm and nourish your Water energy. This draws heat away from your head and body. This helps to internalize your thoughts, contributing to a good nights sleep. It cools your body core, inducing melatonin production, which makes us feel sleepy.
4. Healthy winter meals
Healthy winter meals are core to optimising health at this time of year. This takes into consideration:
- Thermal nature of the food
- Cooking style
- Seasonal foods selected
Winter is a Yin time of the year. Excessive cold-natured food introduces an extra Yin energy that can be overwhelming. During winter your body needs more warmth to function in the presence of cold influences. The less you direct internal warmth to digest cold foods, the more available it is to support other body functions.
Minimizing the intake of foods straight from the fridge or with a cold nature is best during winter. Cold natured foods include foods that are in season during summer. These foods have the purpose of cooling us down to counter the heat of summer. This means reducing foods such as cucumbers, citrus, melons and tomatoes.
Foods with a lack of Yang Qi, or vital life force, are also considered cold natured. This means heavily processed foods are also best avoided.
This is the time of year to take more time in the preparation of food, eating stews, soups and casseroles. Slow cooking food allows ingredients to rest during the cooking process. This is in harmony with the seasonal energetics.
Marrow is fantastic to support your deepest energy reserve known as your Jing. We associate Jing with the Kidney, which is the organ we must nourish during winter. Slow cook organic meat with bones to allow this essence to be part of the diet.
The salty flavour has a resonance with the Water element, including some in your diet is important. Moderate amounts of salt are beneficial, but it must be high quality such as naturally dried sea salt. There are many minerals found in good quality salt which are essential for the function of your body.
Highly processed salt is detrimental to your health. Processing removes the healthy Yang vitality needed from our food. This can damage the healthy expression of Water energy in your body.
In classical herbal practice, we use the bitter flavour to strengthen the Water element. The nature of this flavour is to consolidation, reflecting winter’s inward nature.
Foods in season during winter are the most appropriate. In particular, foods that benefit the Water element in winter include:
- kidney or black beans
- dark green leafy vegetables
- nuts such as walnuts and chestnuts
- soy sauce
- millet and barley
- foods that are blue or black (the colour associated with the Water element)
For optimal winter health, also include warming spices in your cooking. This includes:
Drinking hot as opposed to cold drinks also is important. Hot ginger or cinnamon tea, or even better Chai, is great to reintroduce some warmth to your belly.
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5. Get treatment
Making adjustments to your lifestyle is of primary importance for your winter health. Chinese medicine treatment can complement and solidify these changes.
Acupuncture can assist your body in finding harmony with the natural Qi of this time of year. Using specific points and channels, the energy of the Water element in your body can be balanced.
Cold contracts by nature, which can cause congestion of our energy. Moxibustion and herbal medicines can help boost your Yang Qi. This helps to cope with the overwhelming influences of cold during winter.
If you fall ill with an infection, then
They will generally focus on warming the body. This is in opposition to the cold energetic action of vitamin C and antibiotics.
This is not to say that antibiotics are not useful, but they often have side effects. This is because they weaken not only pathogenic factors but also the body. Antibiotic overuse is also becoming an issue, their use should be for more extreme cases.
A herbal formula is a natural way to achieve recovery. This can reduce the risks of excessive antibiotic use.
When we begin to fall ill with colds and flu in winter, Vitamin C is a popular choice. Vitamin C from a Chinese medical perspective is cold in nature. This is especially an issue with concentrated forms such as powders and pills. It is better to ensure an adequate intake of this from fresh fruit and veg instead to keep you well.
It is best to only take herbs prescribed by a qualified Chinese herbalist. This ensures they are appropriate for your current presentation for the best results.
In winter, we plant the seeds for your patterns of health and wellness over the following year. Align yourself with the energy of the Water element, for the best health during winter, and year long.
What else would you like to know?
Thanks for reading this far. Have I missed your question? Was something unclear? Let me know in the comments below!
Acupuncturist. Herbalist. Educator.
Jason is the owner of and principal practitioner at Dantian Health. A nationally registered Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist, he is also an educator in Oriental Medicine at the Australian Shiatsu College.
Jason’s qualifications include a Bachelors degree in Health Science (Chinese Medicine) and Diploma in Chinese Remedial Massage (AnMo TuiNa) from Southern School of Natural Therapies, Diploma in Shiatsu and Oriental Therapies from Australian Shiatsu College and a Diplomate in Canonical Chinese Medicine from Institute of Classics in East Asian Medicine.