You asked for it and here it is! Your go-to guide for surviving the winter this year using the principles of Chinese medicine (and common sense).
So there’s no getting around it. Winter is officially here, which also means we are half way to summer again, so that’s a positive.
Everyone basically agrees that winter is pretty shitty right? Our vital Vitamin D levels plummet, it’s cold, it’s grey, it’s rainy and the opposite of a good time. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE cold rainy days where you can snuggle up on the couch with tea and a good book or a movie, but we can’t do that everyday, nor to we want to do it for months on end!
But if I can promise you one thing, it’s this, there is some special magic to be found in winter! For one, you can be anti-social with NO GUILT. Because who wants to do ANYTHING when it’s cold? No one. And I am A-Okay with that. Why? Because we need our old mate balance. And because gosh darn it we need some time to turn inwards and do less.
Recognising the seasonal changes is such an important part of Chinese medicine (TCM) theory. TCM is a huge advocate of keeping the body warm during winter to maintain the strength & Qi of our organs so we can be in optimum health all year round. In Chinese medicine, each season has an organ that is correlated with it where it’s functioning gets replenished and needs some extra TLC. For winter this is the Kidneys, and if there is one organ you should care about BY GOD let it be your Kidneys.
What’s that you say? A crash course in what the Kidneys mean in Chinese medicine? Entire books have been written on that very topic, but I’ll do by best to summarise in a few sentences.
In Chinese medicine, the Kidneys are the foundation of everything. They dictate our growth, development, reproduction and aging. New discoveries in embryology are also making these same connections. TCM says the Kidneys hold our base essence also known as our Jing. We come into the world with the Jing we inherited from our parents (kind of like our DNA/genetic makeup/health/predisposition to disease), it is said that we cannot change our Jing, only work with it and help protect it. Overwork, long term illness, chronic insomnia, poor diet, drug use etc. consume and deplete your Jing very quickly and can send you on the fast track to poor health and increase the potential for disease and illness.
Why is this important for a winter blog? Well, we can get away with WAY more activity and pull on our Kidney energy and Jing more during the rest of the year, especially summer. Our energy is naturally more abundant, the days are longer, and it is natural to want to do more, and your Kidneys can handle it. Winter it’s a different story. Winter is the most Yin time of year. Yin is soft, slow, feminine, cool, and it’s energy moves inwards. Just as nature does, we want to do the same. Our energy also naturally contracts, slows down and moves inwards, and fighting this is fighting a loosing battle. Surrender to the Yin time that is winter, indulge in it. Slow. Down. The alternative is pushing along as you would in summer and that is a recipe for BURN OUT. Give yourself the time to rest! Nourish the Jing!
The other main way to protect your Kidneys and Jing during winter is to focus on what you are eating. We want to be using the energy we gather from our food, drink and breath rather then drawing on the Kidney energy. So our food must be plentiful and nourishing. Now enters the Spleen!
In winter we also want to work on nourishing the energy of the Spleen. In TCM the Spleen and Stomach are the organs attributed to the Earth element. The Earth element is all about nourishment, assimilation and growth. The Spleen and Stomach process the food and drink we consume and transform and transport it around the body to be used as energy or Qi.
We can support this process by consuming warming, cooked, easy to digest foods. The Spleen HATES cold as it slows down the whole digestive process and creates weakness over time. A few signs the Spleen needs some extra love = fatigue, frequent loose stools, bloating, dizziness, anxiety, low mood, poor circulation, light/absent periods, pale tongue - I could go on.
This is something I see so commonly in clinic. Almost every woman I see for women’s health or fertility support has some degree of Spleen Qi deficiency. Which makes sense with it being a part of the Earth element; we must have beautiful rich fertile soil to allow life to grow!
Now that you have some background information, we can get onto the juicy stuff!
Here are my top 7 tips for keeping your body and Qi in working order this winter.
For the love of everything that is good - SAY GOODBYE TO COLD FOOD. I know, I’m sorry, but it has to happen. So this means no yoghurt, ice cream, cold smoothies, cold juices, cold raw salads, muesli with cold milk, cold water – you get the picture.
Eat lots of warming, cooked and easy to digest foods. Think lots of broths (bone broth is the PERFECT winter tonic and amazing for female health and fertility, organic and grass-fed bones of course), soups, congee,
slow cooked meals and roast veggies.
Go to town on warming herbal teas. This is a must! Herbs like ginger, cinnamon, fennel seeds, nutmeg, cardamon and star anise are warming herbs that help to warm the body up from the inside out, nourish the digestive system and also great for the immune system. Extra points if you home brew these teas with the raw herbs at home instead of a teabag = stronger and extra potency!
Drink warm or room temperature water – no icy cold water please! In Chinese medicine we recommend this all year round for optimum digestion however in winter is most important.
Keep your feet warm. This is your reminder to go buy some ugg boots ASAP and don’t take them off until winter ends. The Kidney, Spleen and Liver channels all begin at the feet and these three organ systems have a profound influence on the reproductive system, fertility, energy, digestion, vitality and stress levels. Cold is always contracting and will slow down the smooth flow of Qi. So cold tootsies means there is cold penetrating into those vital organ channels and creating stagnation. Avoid walking barefoot on cold tiles/floorboards. Socks and ugg boots all day every day. This also means avoiding wearing thongs/sandals out of the house at all costs too! Keep those feets warm. Regular walking is also a great way to keep the circulation in your feet in tiptop shape.
Slow down. Winter is the most Yin and inwards time of year. Make the most of this time! Use it to do spiritual AF stuff like meditation, journaling, working on your restorative yoga practise. Seriously. Think about the type of exercise you do. Is it feeling good for your body right now or do you feel depleted afterwards? Are you doing it because it’s just what you’ve always done and it’s a habit? Tune into your body and see what type of movement is making you feel the best during these months. This is the time to conserve and build our strength and energy for the more outgoing seasons ahead. Use this time to build so you to have the energy to do all the active stuff you love to do. Nature moves in cyclical patterns and so do we!
Keep your abdomen warm. This one is especially important if you have period pain, clotting, long cycles, short cycles or are trying to conceive. As mentioned before, cold always slows the flow of Qi and blood and too much cold will cause stagnation. Your abdomen in the last place we want any stagnation especially if you get any symptoms with your period and/or trying to fall pregnant. So layer up with lots of warm coats and jumpers and love your hot water bottle!
What are some of your favourite ways to stay healthy during the winter? I would love to hear!