Baby, it’s cold outside. Now that you have an ear worm to pester you for the day, let’s talk about keeping the core of the body warm.
The Asian cultures have a long tradition of dressing to protect the abdomen and the lower back and with good reason – the Kidneys and the abdomen. The Kidneys belong to the Winter season and the Water element. Called the “root of life” the Kidneys rule the lower back, hips, and all the bones. The region between the Kidney’s called the Ming Men or “Gate of Vitality.” Their energies and the regions that they cover are greatly protected in Asian traditions. Called the Hara in Japanese and the Dan Tian in Chinese this is your core, where the vital energy of the body is centered in the space located just behind the belly button to between the two kidneys. If you’ve ever done martial arts, this where you move from. This area is your core, and the storehouse of energy and we want to keep it warm.
The Kidneys are the “Root of Life” and “Sealed Storage”
Let me see if I can boil down a 6 hour lecture into a couple of simple paragraphs.
All organs have a Yin and Yang aspect, however, these two aspects take on a different meaning with the Kidneys. The Kidneys are the foundation for all Yin and Yang for all organs. One of the first channels to develop as a baby grows, Kidney Yin is the foundation or “root” for the Yin and the Yang organs alike, making it the basis for Fire (Yang) and Water (Yin) in the body. If the Kidney energy is strong, the baby will grow at a normal pace, be strong and have vitality. Kidney energy is required for all growth, maturation and reproduction, the bones, marrow, and spine. It also provides us our will power and drive for life. If the Kidneys are weak all systems will suffer.
The Kidneys also store our essence or Jing. We derive Jing from our parents, a combining of the Mother’s Yin and the Father’s Yang at the moment of conception and it’s based on their strength. This Jing remains dormant in the baby during gestation and becomes active at the moment of birth. If the parents essence was weak during conception, the child will also be weak. Jing deficiencies include failure to grow and thrive, weak bones, thin, hair, bad teeth, mental retardation, birth defects, bone diseases and any other “you were born with it” disorder.
Like a fine treasure, the body guards Jing, using little bits of it ( as Yuan Qi) as catalysts to start all processes in the body while storing the rest away as Jing in the Kidneys. When Jing is gone, we are ….done. How fast you burn through it depends on your how much mom and dad provided, as well as, how fast you burn through it. Excess life patterns like playing too hard, excess drinking, drugs, illness, excess childbirth, trauma and injury, and exercising like you are 20 when you are 50 (etc.) will burn through the Jing – and you can’t replace it. What you are born with is what you have.
Jing can be polished, like a rare gem, through appropriate practices of meditation, T’ai Chi, Yoga or Qigong. I say appropriate because there of plenty of forms of these arts that may be too aggressive for some individuals and actually depleting. Hot yoga may be okay for some, but it can rapidly deplete Jing in others. Most of the women that I treat are far to Yin deficient to be in hot yoga – it causes too much fluid loss, which is like swimming against the current if we are trying to build Yin and Fluids. Likewise, Kundalini yoga would be too Yang and aggressive for a client currently undergoing chemotherapy.
Besides protecting the Kidney and the Jing, keeping the core of the body warm means the other organs can (hopefully) do their job and the body can heal (if necessary). The Spleen will be able to transform food and drink into energies all organs need, the Liver will move harmoniously, and so on. When organ systems are lacking, they go knocking on Kidney’s door asking for Jing energy. It’s like robbing your savings account–except, you can’t redeposit back into this account. It is best to try not to dip into it in the first place.
Not convinced yet? Is your back cold or tight? Take hot towel out of the dryer or use a rice pillow and place it on your lower back – feel the difference? The warmth should radiate out from the center like a glowing star, spreading to the extremities and relaxing the muscles.
Tips to Keep the Core And Back Warm
Keep out the cold – The very nature of cold is to tighten, contract and slow down the movement of Qi, Blood and Fluids. It is particularly bothersome for women and girls during their menses when they become more vulnerable due to Blood’s movement or stagnation. Obstruction of cold in women can lead to cramping, painful cycles and infertility. Reynaud’s syndrome, is an example of extreme stagnation and obstruction caused by cold. It’s highly treatable, but you have keep the Blood warm and moving. For this reason, I heavily emphasize understanding the nature of cold and how to keep the body warm to younger women. Other cold conditions can include: the common cold, arthritic or aching bones and weak back; frequent urination, slow digestion with gas, bloating and loose stools, cold hands and feet, sensation of cold overall and the craving for warmth. Cold can be both an exterior invasion or and interior pattern. The difference being that exterior invasions are acute and come about usually due to exposure to climatic conditions. Interior patterns are chronic (long term) in nature a may arise from an exterior pattern that was never fully treated or from a deficiency of Yang (fire) in the body due to organ dysfunction. Any chronic or interior pathology can be triggered or exacerbated by exterior patterns. Find out more about interior and exterior patterns here.
Eat warm food – Earth Element rule #1–don’t chill the Spleen. The body requires Yang (fire) to transform food and drink into the Qi that will nourish the body. If you run cold, eating cold food and drink will make it worse. Trust me on this one. I’ve seen many a client who start to quickly bounce bounce back by just forgetting how to make ice and by eating warm cooked foods. In climates where the season shifts and it becomes cold, it is vitally important to eat warming foods. Love those soups and stews! Get out the crock pot and also enjoy baked or roasted foods which are very warming. Leave the raw for the warmer month. The smoothies that many so love and actually horrible for those who are cold, have slow digestion, low metabolism, adrenal fatigue or exhaustion, or thyroid deficiencies. Make a pot of stew or soup, and roast some vegetables.
Eat seasonally appropriate foods – Coconuts and coconut water are fabulous if you live in a climate where they grow. However, they don’t grow in Idaho and definitely not during the winter. All food that you eat create a post metabolic phenomenon in the body. They move the Qi in, up, down or out in the body. They may cool, heat, moisten, dry or clear obstruction. Coconuts are beautifully suited to clear the excess heat and moisten dryness that may come about in a tropical climate. Not ideal in a winter climate where you would want foods that warm, move the Qi inward and ground for the cold months–like roots, winter squash, lentils and legumes. Check out my Energetic Temperature of Foods Chart for more details.
Wear a haramaki – The Japanese wear haramakis to protect the low back and abdomen. Haramakis encircle the waist covering the umbilicus, low back and tops of the hips to retain heat and warmth. This helps the body create Qi, Blood flow and Yang–aiding all other bodily functions. It’s a simple wardrobe piece really, just a tube that can be made of stretchy material, knitted, crocheted or sewn.
Add in warming spices – Licorice, cinnamon, rosemary, nutmeg, paprika, ginger, fennel…oh my. Warming pungents (spices) in moderate doses will build and sustain bodily warmth. We use larger doses to bring on sweating when needed to drive out a cold or exterior invasion. I keep crystalized ginger for camping and travel to nibble on to drive out cold. Sip chai or cinnamon tea. Add pumpkin pie spice to your squash or eggnog. Want more spice? Spice It Up.
Wear appropriate clothing – “Where’s your coat?” “Meh, I get too hot.” Famous last words before this particular client succumbed to pneumonia due to exposure. Wear layers and peel if necessary, wear a lighter coat if you get too hot, but don’t start off by expecting your body to just keep up in sub-zero temperatures. We had a rapid weather change right before the Homecoming game this last fall. From 90 to 50 degrees with wind, was too swift of change for a bunch of kids out in the weather. A lot of kids were out with colds over the weekend.
Keep Kidney 1 warm – Located on the ball of the foot, Kidney 1, Gushing Spring, is where the Kidney energy rises into the body. If it’s cold, you will be. Wear warm socks, and give up the light shoes and flip flops until summer comes again. Toast the bottom of your feet in front of a fire or warm spot and you will warm up quickly. My mother and grandmother used to have me sit with my feet in front of the fireplace or oven until I warmed up after sledding or working outside.
Cover up after you’ve exercised – Working out is wonderful! Do appropriate for your age and health. You need to stay active to move Qi and Blood and build Yang. However, don’t dash out into the cold when all your pores are open and you’ve been sweating. Cold will quickly drive into the body, tightening up the muscles and slowing down all processes. Grandma wasn’t kidding about not running outside with a wet head in cold weather.
Don’t sit on cold surfaces – Cold cement, cold bleachers, cold bottoms beware. Cold can enter the lower orifices of the body causing cold pattern diarrhea or constipation, bladder weakness, pain, chills, cramping and clotting cycles and more. Cover up if you must be out in it. Sit on a blanket, and get your young athlete off the ground and into sweats between events.
Cover your head and ears – Kidneys open to the ears, and cold enters the ears easily. The overall head is a hot spot and can rapidly lose body warmth by being exposed to cold conditions.
Get out of drafts and cover up – Is your back against a cold wall, as you read this? Is there a draft at your ankles? Get out your bunny slippers, wrap up in a blanket, add layers–remember shawls?
Use heat packs or rice packs – Moxa heat packs are great if you are going out for games or hanging out in cold gyms. Microwaveable rice packs are an excellent use for microwaves. The Irish use hot water bottles that have fuzzy coverings on them – mmmm, toasty.
Don’t sweat it out – We want a lovely warm glow, so use your ginger and cinnamon and heat packs but not to the point that you open your pores and sweat. You will actually cool the core down doing this.
Here’s to a warmer core!