Health for All Seasons: Winter
Winter in Traditional Chinese Medicine is a time of stillness and introspection. Just as some animals hibernate to conserve resources and trees have taken to storing energy deep within their roots, we can also find it helpful to take this time to rest and nourish our deep energy reserves. In TCM we call these reserves Jing, the life essence that contributes to our entire life cycle of growing and aging. Jing is both something that you are born with (nature) and also how you feed or deplete your body in your daily life (nurture). During the winter season it is so important to really try to nourish and build up your Jing not just for the upcoming seasons of the year, but also to build up a healthier foundation to support you throughout the seasons of your life.
The organs that TCM associates with Winter are Kidney and Small Intestine. The Kidney is the organ most responsible for maintaining Jing in the body. When these organs are healthy and balanced you would expect to see:
Enough energy and stamina to get through demanding physical and mental tasks.
Strong bones, teeth, spine, mental focus and memory.
Strong immune system.
Deep and restful sleep.
Warm core, hands, and feet.
Healthy sexual function and desire.
Acceptance and even fortitude in times of of uncertainty and trying circumstances.
When the Kidney and Jing are weak or depleted, we would see some of the following:
Fatigue physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Easily catch colds or flu.
Hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, or not feeling restored after sleep.
Cold hands, feet, or just difficulty staying warm in general.
Low libido or sexual function.
Difficulty conceiving or carrying a pregnancy. Low sperm count or quality in men. Low egg reserves in women.
Premature signs of aging with grey hair, hair loss, wrinkles, muscle atrophy, pain or weakness in low back, knees,or other joints.
Excessive fear or fear response.
Now even if you are not experiencing any signs or symptoms of weakened Kidney Qi or Jing (but especially if you are!) the winter is still a great time to nourish these energies even more. You might find the following ideas helpful:
Acupuncture or Acupressure tune-up, please! This one is a given. :) But especially right before and right after the busy holiday season, I suggest acupuncture to help restore and replenish your reserves which are getting a bit of a work out with year-end work responsibilities, holiday parties, and over indulgences. The acupuncture point Kidney 1 can be used safely and effectively at home with acupressure. This point is on the midline of the sole of the foot right where the padding at the ball of the foot meets in what resembles the inward facing point on a heart. Press or knead this point slowly for about a minute on each foot. It is an especially useful point to help promote restful sleep, so the best time to use this point is right before bed.
Practice being quiet and still. This is the perfect time to make room in your schedule for quieter pursuits and inner reflection. Journaling, drawing, meditation, yoga, and Tai Qi or Qi Gong are all perfect activities to help care for your body and mind. Make sure you have plenty of time to recharge and to reflect instead of constantly go-go-going. A cup of herbal tea and cozy pajamas can go a long way here.
Eat seasonally appropriate for Winter. For the winter, your body will appreciate warm and warming foods. Choose stews, roasts, and braises with root vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Enough salt and water. Sweets and alcohol in moderation. You might find it helpful to limit your intake of cold smoothies and raw salads which can be harder for your body to digest in the colder months. If you must have salads, you can add walnuts, cooked lentils, wild rice, or roasted sweet potato as nourishing toppings. If you identify as "bone-broth curious", now is the time to start making your own healing and restorative stock at home. Here is a great recipe that can be made with any type of animal bone and can also be modified to be cooked in a slow cooker or Instant Pot.
Hopefully these ideas will help you to regain some balance this season and help your body to make the most of Winter's consolidating and restoring possibilities. Do what you can now to nourish and care for your body and mind to build a good foundation for the rest of the year.