Winter is fast approaching. The weather outside is cold and blustery. The trees are bare, the plants have died. It's the time of year to sit by a fire, or snuggle up with a warm drink. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) this is the time of of year to rest and restore ourselves for months ahead. There are certain things we can do to keep ourselves healthy during this season and the seasons ahead.
TCM is one of the oldest medical treatments used in the world today. It includes acupuncture, herbal medicine, diet therapy, massage, and cultivation of your body’s vital energy or qi (“chee”). It began in China over 2000 years ago and has been used as a popular medical treatment ever since. One of the distinguishing characteristics of TCM is that it looks at the body as a whole, rather than focusing on individual systems. Ancient practitioners compared the body to cycles found in nature, one of these being the seasons. To remain healthy one must follow the natural circulation of energy through these cycles.
The season of winter is linked with the water element. Qualities associated with water include power, purification, source of life, and will to survive. Water is associated with depth and downward movement. This is the time of year when the plants have retreated back into the earth to lie dormant until their spring rebirth. Like the water element, the energy of winter moves downwards. The landscape is barren. The trees are bare, the plants and flowers have turned brown. They have gone back into the earth to rest and conserve energy for their resurgence in spring.
In our bodies the water element is linked to the kidney and bladder organs. The Bladder meridian runs from the outside of the small toe, up the back of the entire body, over the head, and ends at the inner corner of the eye. The Kidney meridian begins in the middle of the sole of the foot, travels up the inside of the leg and thigh and just lateral to the midline of the torso, and ends just under the shoulder blade next to the breast bone. On a physical level, this element is responsible for strong bones and teeth, the central nervous system function, water metabolism, and the ability to breathe deeply. It is also important for the reproductive function, including the sex hormones, libido, and ability to have a healthy baby. Non-physical functions include the will to survive, act and accomplish. The Kidneys also store our essence. This is passed down from our parents and gradually decreases as we age. If the essence is not healthy, then problems such as premature aging, infertility, and birth defects can occur.
To remain healthy during the winter season, we should encourage our energy to move downward. It is a time for rest, reflection, conservation, and storage. We should take time for ourselves to relax and rest our bodies. It is a natural time to reduce activity, but we have to be careful not to overindulge this time of year or it can lead to weight gain. It is a good time to do gentle activities such as yoga and meditation. We want to work to conserve our energy because it is easily depleted this time of year.
The kidneys and bladder are susceptible to damage by cold. It’s important to keep the low back and knees covered and warm. It is important to get enough sleep in the winter to restore your body. The days are shorter and we should go to bed earlier than we did in the summer time. This time of year root vegetables and legumes are good to consume. It is better to eat soups and cooked foods. Raw food is cold and can lead to imbalance this time of year. It is also good to add warming spices such as ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and cloves to your foods and drink. Most of all try not to stress around the holidays, just relax and enjoy the time with family and friends. That will give you a good foundation for the year ahead.