Chinese Medicine teaches that living in alignment with the seasons is one of the most powerful ways to achieve health and longevity.
Winter is the most “yin” time of year, when stillness, darkness and cold prevail. As nature becomes quiet and dormant, we are also meant to slow down, simplify, and nourish ourselves with warm, hearty food. After the hustle of the Autumn harvest, this is the time to rest and replenish our resources.
Winter is associated with the element of Water, the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder. The Kidneys are considered the source of all energy (Qi) within the body, and they rule over our longevity, fertility and overall vitality, making winter one of the most important seasons for self-care. Our Kidney Qi is easily damaged by a hectic lifestyle, excessive activity, anxiety and stress.
Signs of weak Kidney Qi include:
lower back or knee pain
fatigue and weakness
shortness of breath
urinary problems, water retention
early signs of aging
infertility or hormonal imbalance
dark/puffy under eyes
lack of drive, will power or creativity
phobias or mistrust
In Winter, our focus turns to nourishing our Kidney Qi with proper nourishment, hydration and rest while still keeping our inner fire warm and bright through activity.
HERE ARE SOME SIMPLE SELF-CARE TIPS TO KEEP YOU HEALTHY THIS WINTER AND BEYOND:
Prioritize Rest and Sleep
Like nature, we’re not meant to be in a constant state of production and movement. You may find your body craving more rest and sleep this time of year. Energy-wise, this is the time to put more into our reserves than draw from them.
Listen to the natural urge to hibernate. Sleep, nap, find stillness in rest and meditation - and your body will repair, replenish and regenerate, giving it energy to get through more taxing times.
Slow Down and Simplify Life
Although different this year, winter is usually a time when we run ourselves ragged with end-of-year work, holiday parties, decorating, shopping, travel, and all the stress that goes along with them.
But as the natural world slows down, so should we. As best you can, take things off your plate. Be content with doing less and “just being” more.
Here are some ways you can embrace the slowness of the season:
pause to simply relax and breathe throughout the day
sip tea while watching the world through your window
take slow walks absorbing the stillness of nature
do pleasant creative activities
listen to calming music
cook and eat slowly and mindfully
cozy around a fire with your loved ones to tell stories, listen to music and play games
resist the urge to fill empty moments with social media
Chinese Medicine advises us to protect our inner fire “yang” energy by keeping warm and covered - especially around our feet, lower back, ears and neck, where the kidney and bladder meridians travel. Wear socks, slippers, hats and scarves. Put a heating pad on your lower back or a hot water bottle under your feet where the Kidney channel starts.
Walking outside is a great way to promote circulation and digestion, strengthen your immune system, boost your mood and clear your mind. Head outside on sunny days to absorb light and energy from the sun.
Taking a quiet bath is one of the best ways to connect with the water element and that place of deep stillness inside ourselves. Add some epsom salts and essential oils of lavender, vetiver and sandalwood to bring grounding, peace and serenity.
Practice Gentle Movement
One of the very best ways to support our Kidneys is through slow, gentle movement, such as restorative yoga, Qi Gong, dance or pilates.
See this blog post for the best exercises for Winter.
Eat a Winter Diet
As the weather cools and the body needs to preserve both its warmth and moisture, we’re given the following food suggestions:
Eat foods that are warm, hearty and nourishing - this includes soups, stews, lightly steamed and sautéed veggies, squashes, roots, beans, nuts and whole grains
To nourish the Kidneys, eat foods that are salty in flavor and black in color.
Black foods include black sesame seeds, chia seeds, black figs, black and aduki beans, and black rice.
Salty Foods include seaweed, miso, tamari sauce, fermented veggies and bone broth.
Eat watery foods like fish, seaweed, water chestnuts, citrus fruits, apples, pears, celery and zucchini.
Use water-based cooking methods such as boiling and steaming, while limiting dry-heat cooking methods such as baking and broiling. An exception is baking in a basting liquid or wrapping fish in parchment paper with some water and lemon.
Avoid or reduce summer fruits, refined sugar, cold/raw foods such as salads, smoothies, juices and dairy, and excessively hot and spicy foods, which can damage the stomach.
Drink lots of warm water and steaming cups of chai, ginger or cinnamon tea (coffee and green tea considered energetically cold, so limit those to once per day).
Warming spices like ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and cardamom are actually considered medicinal Chinese herbs perfect for keeping our inner fire burning smooth and bright.
A perfect winter meal could be a bowl of brown or black rice, black beans, roasted sweet potatoes or squash, seaweed, steamed greens, some fresh radish and drizzle tahini with lemon, olive oil and sea salt.
Here are two perfect winter-tonic recipes using many of the recommended black and salty foods.
They’re both delicious and super easy to make.
All of the ingredients should be found at your local health food store.
WARM HIJIKI SEAWEED SALAD
½ cup hijiki seaweed
1 Tsp sesame oil
1/3 cup shredded carrots
1 Tsp tamari (soy sauce)
2 Tsp tahini
Juice of ½ lemon
1 Tsp gomasio (Japanese blend of sesame seeds, seaweed salt)
Soak hijiki in bowl of cool water for 10 minutes. Heat sesame oil in a pan over medium heat, then add hijiki, carrots, and tamari. Saute for 3 minutes. In another bowl, stir tahini into lemon juice to blend. Combine all ingredients and sprinkle with gomasio.
ADZUKI BEAN AND VEGETABLE MISO SOUP
2 Tbsp coconut oil
2 large carrots, chopped
2 large celery stalks, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 oz cremini or shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 cups cauliflower florets, chopped
½ tsp ground cinnamon
6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
3 cups cooked adzuki beans (2 15-oz BPA-free cans, drained and rinsed)
2 Tbsp reduced-sodium tamari
3 Tbsp unpasteurized white miso
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
Sea salt, optional
Greek yogurt, optional
3 Tbsp roughly chopped cilantro, optional
In a large pot on medium, heat oil. Add carrots, celery, onion and garlic and sauté until onions are tender and translucent, about 6 minutes.
Add mushrooms, potato, cauliflower and cinnamon and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in broth and beans. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer; cook for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Stir in tamari. Remove pot from heat.
To a medium bowl, add miso. Remove a ladleful of broth and pour over miso. Whisk to dissolve miso and pour mixture back into pot. Stir to combine.
Add vinegar and salt (if using).
Transfer to bowls and, if using, top each serving with yogurt and cilantro.
If we follow nature’s lead in Winter with proper rest, activity and nourishment, we will emerge in spring with a sense of renewal, restored energy and a clear vision of the next steps on our path.