Stay healthy through winter with ancient Chinese medicine wisdom
With its cooler temperatures and shorter days, winter is considered a time for turning inwards, to rest and replenish. As in many ancient cultures, the Chinese of old lived in harmony with the seasons. They rose early in spring and summer to sow the fields, and be active. As the seasons turned from the sunny and hot Yang energy of summer into autumn, a time of harvest and preparations for winter began. In winter they would go to bed early and wake late. Sleeping more hours of the day than in summer. In the modern world, we have heating and electricity, allowing us to live out of tune with the seasons. If we are striving for health and longevity, we would be wise to learn from the wisdom of old.
Living in Harmony
Firstly, make sure you dress appropriately for the weather as cold can invade the body, causing all sorts of problems from the common cold to joint pain.
Secondly, eating with the seasons does not just include focusing on what is grown locally at any given time. It also means swapping salads for some warm hearty meals such as soups and stews.
In Chinese medicine, each season is related to an organ and wintertime relates to the kidneys. The kidneys are the primal source of energy, the qi, and the life force given to us at birth. Therefore in winter, we should focus on nourishing and replenishing this vital source of energy by resting and reducing activities.
The flavour of the kidney is salty. Whilst overconsumption of salt can be a concern, the addition of salt in its natural and unprocessed state is rich in minerals. Sea salt or Himalayan salt can greatly enhance a wholesome stew. Salty foods including miso, soy sauce, and seaweeds and used in moderation can also provide a healthy addition to your winter cooking.
The colour of the kidneys is black and therefore black foods, such as black sesame seeds and beans are considered to be good for the kidneys. Their energy is that of the water element and the kidneys play a major role in water metabolism throughout the body.
Yin and Yang
While the Yin energy is more grounding and material, its opposite, the Yang energy, is more fire and energetic. The kidneys balance both, so as well as being cooling and grounding, also present a source of warmth for the body. When these energies are out of balance, symptoms of either Yin or Yang deficiency can arise. Someone with weak Yin often presents with:
- lower back pain
- weak legs
- spontaneous sweating
- dryness of the mouth and throat
Foods that are nurturing for Yin include millet, barley, tofu, most beans, blackberries and blueberries, seaweed, spirulina, chlorella, black sesame seeds and pork. Spirulina and chlorella can be cold and problematic if you have a weak digestion. So eat them with caution, in small amounts and for limited periods of time only.
Yang deficiency is a lack of warmth and active energy. Examples of this include:
- easily feeling cold
- pale complexion
- irregular menstrual cycles
- tendency towards inactivity
Moderate amounts of warming spices can help to gently nourish the kidney Yang energy. But caution is recommended as too much warmth added to food can create stagnated heat. Cloves, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorn, ginger, cinnamon and onion are good choices. Cinnamon, for example, can be added to a bowl of hot porridge in the morning. Also adding blackberries and blueberries will boost your Yin element. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
How Acupuncture and TCM can help you
Done in the right way, food can be a powerful medicine that can help to gently guide your body back to balance. As a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner, I can give you guidance on dietary choices and use Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to support you. You will emerge stronger on the other side, ready for the growth of Yang energy and all the activities that spring will bring.
Dr Jacqueline Barnett (BTCM) is an AHPRA registered Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbal practitioner with a particular passion for digging deeper into the mind-body connection. She holds a Bachelor of Traditional Chinese Medicine from Sydney Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is also a registered Arvigo® therapy practitioner.
Make an appointment today to see Jacqueline and discuss how she can help get you back to optimum health.