The ancient Chinese believed that human beings should live in harmony with the natural cycles of their environment. The cold and darkness of winter urges us to slow down. This is the time of year to reflect on our health, replenish our energy, and conserve our strength.
Winter is Yin in nature; it is inactive, cold, and damp. Remain introspective, restful, and consolidate your Qi through the season and prepare for the outburst of new life and energy in the spring.
"The wise nourish life by flowing with the four seasons and adapting to cold or heat, by harmonizing joy and anger in a tranquil dwelling, by balancing yin and yang, and what is hard and soft. So it is that dissolute evil cannot reach the man of wisdom, and he will be witness to a long life." - Huangdi Neijing Suwen
Organs: Kidney, Urinary Bladder, Adrenal Glands, Ears, and Hair
Emotion: Fear and Depression
Winter is ruled by the water element, which is associated with the kidneys, bladder, and adrenal glands.
According to the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys are considered the source of all energy (Qi) within the body.
They store all of the reserve Qi in the body so that it can be used in times of stress and change, or to heal, prevent illness, and age gracefully.
During the winter months it is important to nurture and nourish our kidney Qi. It is the time where this energy can be most easily depleted. Our bodies are instinctively expressing the fundamental principles of winter – rest, reflection, conservation, and storage.
Foods for Winter
Winter is a time when many people tend to reduce their activity. If that's true for you, it's wise to reduce the amount of food you eat, too, to avoid gaining weight unnecessarily. Avoid raw foods during the winter as much as possible, as these tend to cool the body. During winter you should emphasize warming foods:
Eating warm hearty soups, whole grains, and roasted nuts help to warm the body's core and to keep us nourished. Sleep early, rest well, stay warm, and expend a minimum quantity of energy.
- Soups and stews
- Root vegetables
- Miso and seaweed
- Garlic and ginger
Staying Healthy This Winter
Seasonal changes affect the body's environment. With the wind, rain, and snow comes the colds, flu, aches, and pains.
Here are a few tips to staying healthy this winter:
- Wash your hands regularly. Studies have shown that one of the main reasons that we catch colds and flu in the winter season is that we are indoors and in closer proximity to others in cold weather. Protect ourself by washing your hands regularly and try not to touch your face.
- Get plenty of sleep. The Nei Ching, an ancient Chinese classic, advised people to go to sleep early and rise late, after the sun's rays have warmed the atmosphere a bit. This preserves your own yang Qi for the task of warming in the face of cold.
- Reduce stress. Find a way to relax and release stress on a daily basis. Such methods may include yoga, meditation, biofeedback, simple relaxation therapy, or whatever method you use to release the stress and pressures of modern life.
According to TCM, stress, frustration, and unresolved anger can work together to throw your immune system off, allowing pathogens affect your body.
Build Up Your Protective Qi
Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can prevent colds and flu by building up the immune system with just a few needles inserted into key points along the body's energy pathways.
These points are known for strengthening the circulation of blood and energy and for consolidating the outer defense layers of the skin and muscle (wei Qi) so that germs and viruses cannot enter through them.
Seasonal acupuncture treatments just four times a year also serve to tonify the inner organ systems and can correct minor annoyances before they become serious problems. The ultra-thin needles don't hurt and are inserted just under the skin. The practitioner may twist or "stimulate" them once or twice, and they are removed within 10 to 20 minutes.
Acupuncture Point: Du 14
One particularly important point to attend to is Du 14. Located below the spinous process of the seventh cervical vertebrae, approximately at the level where the collar of a T-shirt sits on the neck.
Du 14 activates the circulation of blood and Qi to strengthen the outer defense layers of the skin and muscle (wei qi) so that germs and viruses cannot enter through them.
This point is often used to ward off, as well as shorten, the duration colds and flu.
This would be a great point to place an acupuncture needle, magnet or pellet before going on a flight. Ask your acupuncturist for more information.
Treat Those Colds – the TCM Way!
If you've already happened to catch that cold, acupuncture and herbal medicine can also help with the chills, sniffles, sore throat, or fever in a safe, non-toxic way that doesn't bombard your body with harmful antibiotics. Acupuncture does not interfere with Western medical treatment. On the contrary, it provides a welcome complement to it in most cases, and with its emphasis on treating the whole person, recovery time for illness is often shortened.
There is a 1,000-year-old Chinese herbal formula that forms a handy complement to these immune-boosting treatments: the Jade Windscreen Formula. It is made up of just three herbs: Radix astragalus, Atractylodis macrocephalae, and Radix ledebouriellae. These three powerful herbs combine together to tonify the immune system, strengthen the digestive system (so that we can be sure to gain the nutrients from our food), and fortify the exterior of the body so that we can fight off wind-borne viruses and bacteria.
This handy formula which comes in pill, capsule, or liquid form can be taken for a few days each month to stave off colds or flu or when there's been a challenging workload, or perhaps some loss of sleep.