Winter is just one of the five seasons acknowledged by Traditional Chinese Medicine. The ancient Chinese followed the belief humans should live in harmony with the cycles of nature. During the winter months, the darkness and cold indicate we should slow down, take care of our health, conserve our strength and replenish our energy for the upcoming spring and summer months. This is observed in the animal kingdom and it should also be considered a good rule of thumb for human beings.
Each season has multiple associations that help us adjust our habits as things change, which makes it easier to keep the body and mind balanced. Winter is ruled by the water element. The water element is associated with the kidneys and urinary bladder. According to TCM philosophy, the kidneys are the source of all energy found within the body. This energy, frequently called Qi (pronounced “chee”), is what keeps us alive and allows our bodies to function properly. During the winter months, it is vital that we nourish and nurture our kidney Qi.
Winter is typically a time when we decrease our daily activities. Because of this, we should also decrease the amount of food we eat to avoid gaining excess weight. It is also recommended excessively cold and raw foods be avoided or at least countered with things like hot tea. Cold and raw foods can deplete the Qii over time. This can lead to problems with digestion, sleep and much more.
It is suggested during the winter months, we should emphasize foods warming to the body. This includes things like soups, stews, root vegetables, beans, garlic and ginger. Also foods like whole grains and roasted nuts can help keep the body’s core warm, while providing healthy nourishment.
Aside from eating according to the seasons, there are also other things we can do to keep ourselves in tune with our environment, which will ultimately keep us healthy. TCM is a non-invasive way to build the Qi and keep the body functioning properly throughout the winter, as well as the other seasons.
TCM incorporates quite a few different modalities. Acupuncture is probably the most commonly known of these modalities and it is a wonderful tool for boosting and replenishing kidney Qi. Moxibustion is another TCM modality that involves burning crushed mugwort on acupressure points to help increase the core body temperature and keep blood circulating throughout all parts of the body.
There is also another form of Qi known as Wei Qi (pronounced “way chee”) that is frequently compared to our immune system. Regular acupuncture treatments, proper sleep, a healthy diet and exercise are all ways to keep the Wei Qi strong.
One of the most important things anybody can do during the winter months to stay healthy is drink plenty of water. Winter, in most places, literally drains the moisture out of the body. It is recommended that we drink at least 64 ounces of water per day, even during the winter months. However, the thought of drinking cold water in cold weather is a concept that tends to keep a lot of people clinically dehydrated during the winter months. This is why warm water with lemon or hot tea are good substitutes. We are still ingesting water, while avoiding the cold that could potentially damage our core.
By following the guidelines set forth by nature, we can also remain in balance with the natural world around us. This is how our ancestors did it and it served them quite well. Perhaps there is something to be learned from the wisdom our elders pass down through the generations, aside from just some intriguing tales.