In Asian medicine (Chinese medicine) Winter’s energetic nature is one of quiet, calm and stillness. It’s an ideal time for deep introspection, rest and restoration. It’s a fine season to spend quality time with friends and family in joy, yet we may often overdo it and find ourselves too busy and anxious. Here are a few tips to help you harmonize with the season and reap the rewards of winter.
Meditation is the activity that can best reconnect us to our deepest selves. It is truly the most profound way to create inner peace and harmony. It allows us to pull away from habituated emotions and thoughts and allows Qi to flow promoting healing. The benefits of meditation are innumerable and it is truly one of the most profound ways to help strengthen the Kidneys and overall well being. One of the common complaints I hear from clients about meditation is actually a fear of sitting still. Interesting–the emotion that damages the Kidneys is fear–however, sitting peacefully and breathing deeply isn’t something we should fear. If you’ve never learned to meditation you may want to seek out a class or teacher who can help you get started. My general recommendation for those starting, is to pick a time of day (preferably the same time everyday) where they can sit for 15 minutes. Just sit up straight, close your eyes, soften your breath and be still. Don’t worry about the emotions and thoughts that float in an out of your being. Consider them like the weather–you can notice them, but you need not act on them. Just sit. After a few weeks, bump it up by another 5-10 minutes. I recommend 30 minutes to an hour a day for meditation. Although 15 minutes can be a starting place, you need at least 30 to really pull out of duality and get into the depths of non-being. Being able to connect with the awe and enormity that is the creation will help you operate from a different place in your life.
The first branch of the 8 Branches of Asian Medicine has us looking deep within. It is the energy of the season—to look inward. Without knowing self, you cannot begin to tackle your relationship to the season. Or your relationship to anything for that matter. What do I like or hate? What do I avoid? Where do you put your precious energy and Qi? Does it create or do you use it frivolously? What is my direction in life? If you are unclear of what you want to do with the creative being that you are, it’s a great time to look within, clear out what you don’t need, then you can move forward with more fervor and energy in the spring.
Take the time to prepare food and to sit and enjoy it, whether by yourself or with others. Add in the foods that nourish the Winter organs–the Bladder and Kidneys. These include black and very dark foods foods like black beans, black rice, dark berries, cranberries, seaweeds and the salty flavor. Also eat the foods that were harvested in autumn and store well like roots, winter squashes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and berries. Foods should be warm as raw food’s nature is to cool the body’s core rather than to warm it. Read more about Winter Foods.
Guard your Jing and Kidney’s energy by dressing appropriately for the weather. Becoming too cold will damage the Kidneys and begin to deplete vital Yang and warming functions of the body. Cold slows the circulation, tightens the muscles and causes stasis in excess. Patterns might include menstrual cramps, or irregular menses, muscle tightness, aches and pains, slow digestion, general weakness. Keep you lower back and your feet warm. Enjoy the weather, but bundle up. Need some more ideas?
Resting isn’t “doing nothing” for those of you type A’s personalities–which I have a lot of in my clientele. It is productive, just not in the gross national product sense. We need rest to give the body time to recharge, replenish and heal. Think of Yin as oil that allows the Yang fire to burn. If you go (using Yang) constantly and never rest to refill the oil in the lamp…you will burn out. Try to get to bed a little earlier to rest well. Some people go constantly and never really take the time to give themselves a day to replenish. As I work with and and observe teenagers, I see this as an increasing problem. “PJ days” have become a common recommendation. If you’ve been going solid, even playing hard on your days off take a day of rest. Get up a little later, feed yourself, grab a book and curl up. Your batteries need a recharge…find a sun beam or a warm fire and take a cat nap. When Yang Collapses.
Get moderate exercise
If you like winter outdoor activity, enjoy it. However, be cautious to properly protect yourself from inclement weather. If you don’t regularly move and tend towards depression pick up some regular physical routine. Moving the body, moves stagnation that can lead to depression. T’ai Chi and Qigong are very appropriate for the season. Dance, walk, ski or take up yoga. Keep it appropriate for your health, age and needs. Appropriate exercise should leave you feeling worked out, open and energetic, not exhausted or wiped out.
Brighten your space
Whether or not you celebrate the holidays, refresh your home or workspace with cheerful colors or seasonal décor. Holly’s bright berries, pine’s uplifting scent and a few splashes of red (from the Fire element) will add warmth to your home and enliven your spirit. Add a few twinkly lights to help brighten a corner of your house or office.
Get Amma therapy
A little re-balancing can go along way.
Check your thoughts
If you are prone to sinking into gloom or depression put in place clues or reminders to help pull you out of negative thoughts. Get off social media and news for a while. Pick up daily gratitude journaling, exercise, or listening to uplifting music. If your habit has been to always view Winter in a negative light, try to consciously shift your thinking to view the beauty and the benefits the season offers. What do you find beautiful about the season?
Careful with the coffee
We love coffee…its dark, rich warm and sudden jolt of energy. The problem is coffee has a bad habit of draining the Kidneys, or more specifically, the adrenals that are ruled by the Kidneys in Chinese medicine. Coffee is very good at temporarily breaking through stagnation and stimulating a burst of strong Yang energy. This might not be a problem if you are someone who gets pretty good rest and has resources and energy to begin with, but if you are someone who is chronically tired and depleted, you are actually going to do more harm by drinking coffee. Think of it as raping and pillaging your adrenals and Jing. Coffee substitutes, however, have a similar dark, bitter taste but they replenish the Kidneys. Want to try some?
Be well and keep warm!