Winter in Chinese Medicine
Winter represents the most Yin aspect in Chinese medicine. Yin is the dark, cold, slow, inward energy. This is compared to the Yang of summer whose energy represents light, hot, quick, expansive qualities. The summer weather is warm, the days are longer and people are out being active. In TCM we believe that the diet and activities in winter should be adapted to enriching yin and subduing yang.
Winter, in TCM, is associated with the Kidneys which hold our body’s most basic and fundamental energy. It is believed that by harmonizing oneself with the seasons you can stay healthier and prevent disease, so winter is a good time to strengthen the kidneys. Rest is important for revitalizing the kidneys, which is why some animals hibernate in winter. It is also a good time to look inward, reflecting on ourselves with meditation, writing, or other inward practices such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong. These practices help us to connect to our inner selves and help to support kidney energy. They are very helpful to relax the mind, calm our emotions and raise the spirit.
The sense organ associated with the kidneys is the ears, and our ability to hear clearly is related to kidney health. The quiet and stillness of winter allows us to hear more of the world than the buzzing activities of summer. This forces us to slow down, rest and relax.
The body part associated with the kidneys are the bones, so it is important to pay close attention to the bones in the winter months making sure to tonify and heal any problems in this area. This is also why winter is a time when Chinese medicine prescribes bone broths as nutritional therapy, as they are warming, nourishing and especially good for the bones. Bone broths are also powerful Jing tonics, as Jing is produced by the bones. Jing is depleted by activities such as extreme and prolonged stress, lack of sufficient sleep, working long hours, and excessive behaviours like too much drinking and drugs. Winter is the best time to supplement the body’s Jing supply and bone broths are just what the doctor ordered.
Activities in Winter
Activities should represent the season with a turn inwards, with more self-reflection, quiet time writing, meditating, reading and other soul-nourishing activities. Winter is a time to slow down and feed ourselves both physically and spiritually. Internal martial arts and meditative practices are particularly helpful at this time of year. One should go to bed earlier and sleep later to receive the full healing effects that sleep has to offer.
Many people love winter. They feel energized with the coming cold and love to be out snowboarding, skiing and going for walks in the snow. For others, winter causes them to retract, stay inside and can cause some to feel sad or even depressed because of the lack of light and reduced physical activity. The good news is that winter can be enjoyed by everyone if we live, eat and exercise according to the season and pay attention to our bodies preferences.