Warm up with Chinese medicine

Take time for self-care this winter with nourishing foods, energising movement and deep reflection.

In the philosophy of Chinese medicine, winter is considered the most yin (cool, dark, still) time of year. During winter, it’s natural for yang (warm, light, active) to retreat inward, both to protect and to conserve.

The days are colder, but we also run cooler when yin predominates and yang retreats. Cold contracts, slows the system and can get stuck. As a result, we may feel tired, stiff and sickly more than usual in winter. Those of us who are prone to fatigue may find the colder months especially challenging.

Despite this, the stillness and quiet of winter is perfect for reflection, deep meditation and awareness. Winter can be the time of year it is easiest to be perceptive, and to listen to the signals from our body on how best to take care of ourselves. I like to consider this time as one of nourishment and conservation, enjoying more inward-focus than the active and bright summer months.

Here are some tips and strategies to warm and nourish so that we may enjoy a vibrant and healthy winter.

“Warming herbs for cooking and teas include cinnamon, cloves, fennel, ginger, black pepper, cardamom and anise.”

1. Limber up

Stretch, take a yin yoga class and rub menthol-based treatments into sore muscles and joints to keep the cold out of your bones. My favourites are Zheng Gu Shui, Wood Lock oil and Tiger Balm, which are available from most Asian grocers and all Chinese herbal dispensaries.

2. Keep the blood moving

Stay active with walking, cycling, jogging or dancing. It might be tempting to be more sedentary when the weather is cooler, but our bodies need the activity to stimulate Qi and healthy blood circulation. Do something daily to get the heart rate up and endorphins flowing. Be careful not to sweat too much as this may deplete yin and make us more susceptible to colds or flu.

3. Stay warm

Nourish and warm yourself from the feet up by taking a foot bath. In Chinese medicine we aim to keep the feet warm and the head cooler for balanced Qi flow. This is true across cultures – consider the idioms in English about being ‘hot-headed’ or getting ‘cold feet.’

The acupuncture point Yong Quan (Bubbling Spring) on the sole of each foot is useful for nourishing Kidney Qi, which is the foundation of yin and yang in the human body. It is more nourishing to soak the feet rather than have a very hot shower, which opens the pores and may invite invasion of cold from the external environment.

Pop a few drops of invigorating essential oils into a bowl of warm water and enjoy the time to rest. My favourite oils to stimulate circulation are eucalyptus, rosemary or black peppercorn.

“Stretch, take a yin yoga class and rub menthol-based treatments into sore muscles and joints to keep the cold out of your bones.”

4. Eat and drink for warmth and nourishment

  • Sip hot water with fresh ginger to keep the digestive fire strong.
  • Try to get your daily dose of vitamin C from food sources including capsicums, dark green leafy veggies and citrus fruits.
  • Warming herbs for cooking and teas include cinnamon, cloves, fennel, ginger, black pepper, cardamom and anise.
  • Energetically warm foods include garlic, leek, sweet potato, lamb, pine-nuts, chicken and coriander.
  • Try to have lots of soups, stews, broths and slow-cooked meals in winter.

5. Sleep

In the colder weather we require more rest, especially as the days are shorter and nights are longer. Taoists recommend changing sleep patterns to mimic the sun. If you can, aim for a 9 or 10 pm bedtime and sleep until the sun comes up. If this is a stretch, aim generally to go to bed earlier and wake up later in winter.

6. Look inward, breathe

Winter is the perfect time for deep reflection and soul level restoration. Rug up against cold, wind and rain, and enjoy some time to recuperate.

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