Chinese medicine for the four seasons: Winter

Get through the winter months with Chinese medicine.

“During the winter months all things in nature wither, hide, return home and enter a resting period, just as lakes and rivers freeze and snow falls. This is a time when yin dominates yang. Therefore one should refrain from overusing yang energy. Retire early and get up with the sunrise, which is later in winter. Desires and mental activity should be kept quiet and subdued. Stay warm, avoid the cold, and keep the pores closed. The winter is dominated by the storage of energy.” – The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di Nei Jing)

The winter months are for conservation and cultivation of energy. As the weather cools and the days shorten, go to sleep earlier and get up later. Take the opportunity to slow down. Sleep in on weekends and nourish yourself with warm and wholesome foods. A little weight gain in winter is normal, beneficial even, as a physical storage of energy to use through the colder months. Rich foods such as meat and stews are warm and tonifying, therefore may be eaten in larger amounts in winter. Take care however not to overindulge – this will put unnecessary strain on your system. To aid digestion in the colder months, foods should be cooked longer, at lower temperatures and with less fluid.

Winter is also flu season! Most of us shudder at the idea of getting stuck in bed with the dreaded influenza virus. Chinese medicine is very much concerned with preventative measures – strengthening up the Wei Qi or defensive energies (crucial in the Chinese medical understanding of the immune system) in order to naturally fend off flu and other viruses, as well as bacterial infections. The more balanced your system is, the better your defences are against contracting whatever you may be exposed to in the workplace or elsewhere. For a healthy seasonal change and to strengthen your Wei Qi, rest more but stay active enough to keep yang energy flowing by doing gentle exercise like walking, tai chi or yoga.

Protect yourself from rain, wind and cold with warm clothing, a scarf, beanie and gloves. Eat fresh and balanced meals and snacks, stay hydrated, get plenty of sleep, tune into your body and book in for an acupuncture and herbal medicine consultation as soon as you feel under the weather. Basic hygiene is absolutely important. Use antimicrobial hand wash, launder clothes and linen thoroughly and replace your toothbrush if you’ve been unwell. Please take the time to look after yourself and rest. It’s far better to have one day off and make time for a treatment, than to push through sickly for days, weeks or months before falling in a heap.

Apart from the flu, at this time of year it is common to experience discomforts including coughs and colds, aching joints or tummy upsets. The drop in temperature and increased rainfall may flare skin conditions, rheumatoid and autoimmune diseases. If you are overworked or run-down you might find the winter months more exhausting as yin dominates yang. Acupuncture and/or Chinese herbs can assist with these conditions.

Some foods and home remedies to nourish and protect in winter:

Hearty soups, stews, casseroles and other slow-cooked meals are extremely beneficial in winter to support both yin and yang. Try the following:

Grains – all whole grains are nourishing. Try porridges made from oats, millet, rice, quinoa or amaranth.

Vegetables – root vegetables including sweet potato, pumpkin, turnip, potato, parsnip, carrot and beetroot. Steamed dark green vegetables are also a good option.

In Chinese medicine, the kidney energy is seen as the ‘life force’ or root of all yin and yang in the body. Kidney tonics such as walnuts, red kidney beans, seaweeds and steamed winter greens are beneficial.

If you feel cold, try the following to nurture and warm kidney yang: cloves, fenugreek seeds, fennel, star anise, black peppercorn, ginger, cinnamon, walnuts, black beans, garlic, onions, chives, scallions, leeks, quinoa, chicken, lamb, trout and salmon.

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