Winter Health

For Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the natural world holds an abundance of secrets that highlight what might be going on in our bodies. Because dissecting the body was considered taboo in ancient China the Traditional doctor relied on observation of the natural world for clues as to how our body functions internally. As in many traditions we were considered a microcosm of the earth.

It is not a stretch to assume we also are affected by the positioning of the sun just like the natural world. After all we are part of nature too! TCM theory includes 5 elements which follow the flow of seasons. So there is a season AND an organ system pertaining to each element. The Winter corresponds to the Water element. Water in TCM theory nourishes and regulates the Kidney and Bladder. Two organs responsible for filtering and storing. Now that we are into the heart of Winter the body’s energy or ‘Qi’ is at it’s deepest. Just as everything in the environment is hibernating, laying dormant or we might even say pausing due to the fact that the sun is farthest from us now, our physical bodies are doing the same. Energetically we are more still, more reflective. This is the time we store reserves for the busy active Spring and Summer to follow. We have longer nights for more sleep and shorter days for less activity. When we are in touch with the rhythms of the natural world an harmonious relationship develops. A relationship based on respect and intimate understanding. During Winter if we adjust our lifestyles with more down time our bodies rest internally. Keeping both the mind and body quiet during Winter allows time for us to digest ideas, store energy, or build Qi (life force). Physical vitality (jing) and mental clarity (shen) will be abundant, nutritive Qi (ying) and protective Qi (wei) will be strong. This is what the art of expelling disease and the art of longevity is all about. – Shuang Yuanchen Shujuzi: Inner Chapters. The Yellow Emperors Classic (a medical text dating back to 240 BC) stressed the importance of preventing illness:

“In the old days the sages treated disease by preventing illness before it began, just as a good government or emperor was able to take the necessary steps to avert war.If someone digs a well only when thirsty, or forges weapons only after becoming engaged in battle, one cannot help but ask: Aren’t these actions too late?”

Some simply strategies for living harmoniously with the natural world include:

  • Retire to bed earlier! When we get more sleep this time of year we foster good kidney energy.
  • Eat more root vegetables. This is not the time to indulge in too much cold raw food. Our bodies want warm cooked vegetables that are in season.
  • Stay warm, don”t sweat. Your mother was right when she said “keep your kidneys warm.” Sweating is expelling energy, we want to store and conserve energy.
  • Make time for reflection, meditation or prayer. Just as our bodies need to rejuvenate by doing less so to our minds benefit from stepping back from the busyness of over thinking.