This year winter begins with the solstice, which is the shortest day and longest night of the year. In East Asian Medicine (EAM), winter is the season associated with the water element and is yin in nature (dark, cold, moist and still). Just as nature is sleeping and resting in anticipation of warmer days, the season urges us to rest, conserve and replenish our energies until the coming spring. The change in season may bring about abundant allergies, while colds and flus take advantage of the stresses only the end of the year can bring. The emotion associated with the water element is fear and it contains the spirit of will power. An imbalanced water element may present as fearful, which depletes vital energies. Just as water provides fluidity for movement and lubricates every joint, the water element’s spirit guides us to smoothly overcome fear and difficulties.
By supporting positive qualities, the most stressful time of the year can be the most joyous time of the year. To make the most of this winter, enrich Kidney essence (jing) or constitution and maintain your immune system (wei qi) by following these lifestyle changes until spring.
1. Go to bed early and wake up later, stay warm and expend minimal amounts of energy.
2. Avoid raw or cold foods as they tend to cool the body further. Do consume warm foods such as soups, lamb, pork, chicken, peanuts, beans, walnuts (hu tao ren), Chinese dates (da zao), longan fruit (long yan rou), cinnamon (gui zhi), ginger (sheng jiang) and garlic (da suan).
3. Wear warmer clothing to protection your yin qi, but do not make your home or workplace so warm that your body does not adapt to the outside environment.
4. Continue to exercise to keep your pulse and qi strong, but do not exercise to the point of exhaustion.
5. As reinforcement of your lifestyle, acupuncture and Tuina relieve stress and improves digestion. Applied to specific areas such as the abdomen or Stomach 36 (Zu san li area on the lower leg), they also boost immunity by increasing white blood cell counts.
By adopting an EAM lifestyle, embracing the change of season and nostalgia for the year gone by, we can fuel the energies to create new memories in the coming year.
To see how athletes can optimize their success in winter, see Journey Inward for Outward Movement.