As we move farther and farther from the sun, there are fewer signs of life and a stillness in the air. For many, this is a difficult season, filled with long dark hours and barely lit days. Nevertheless, it's a very important season.
Most Chinese medicine therapists know of the "Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon," written around 250 B.C. The text is treated as the basis for Chinese medicine and Daoist theory. In the emperor's words, winter is a time, "to stop for a moment and meditate on the passage of time, to feel time moving inside you, it is to practice the value of the winter season…this cold and dark time is exactly when love between people passes most freely, with family visits, gift giving and acts of charity to the less advantaged."
These words highlight the reflective mood of the winter and remind us to appreciate every season in all its beauty.
Light exercise and deep breathing
While the organs of winter are the kidney and bladder, the element is water. Yin in winter is at its maximum, which is cold, dark, and dense, while the yang, chi energy, is at its lowest. In winter our chi is stored more internally. Our wei chi, or immune energy, is also concentrated internally, so we should try not to deplete it with excessive sweating.
In doing so, we would also deplete our kidney chi, which is the root of all our energies, including that of development, growth, structure, and reproduction. This energy supplies strength to our bones, teeth, and hair, as well as fertility.
It's important to breathe deep into your belly, sending chi down to the kidneys. Do this while taking long, slow walks in nature, especially if the sun is out, or while meditating or doing yoga.
Sleep long, eat warm
As the days of light are short, winter is a time to go to bed early and get up later. For most of us, our working hours don't change with the seasons, so the best we can do is try to go to bed earlier and therefore eat dinner earlier.
Foods should always be cooked in winter. Braising and slow-cooked stews are recommended, as well as soups. Fortunately, these can all be prepared in advance, making food preparation easier in the evening.
Soups are especially good at night as they are easier to digest. Important vegetables to eat in winter include dark leafy greens like kale, chard, and collards, as well as potatoes, pumpkin, cabbage, brussels sprouts, turnips, beets, and parsnips, to name a few.
As foods in winter need to reinforce the kidney energy, slow-cooked beef and lamb can also be beneficial. Spices are especially helpful, such as ginger, chili, cardamom, and cinnamon as they give warmth and help to stimulate digestion. These can be added to a tea, too, in addition to main meals.
Although salt is the flavor of the kidneys, it should be used with care. Other options, used in small amounts, are miso, tamari, and seaweed. Black beans, black sesame, and beluga lentils nourish the kidneys as black is the color of the kidneys.
Keep warm and drink warm
Make sure you are dressed for the season. A strong wei (immune) chi can protect you when you are forced to face the elements, but warm clothing is also essential.
The area most important is the neck, as this is where pathogens, viruses, and bacteria can easily enter the body, as well as the feet, as this is where the first point of the kidney meridian begins.
If cold enters through the feet, it has direct access to the bladder and kidney. The kidneys filter waste from the blood and regulate the body's pH level.
This can be a beneficial time to do a water fast or a kidney cleanse. Don't forget to drink water, preferably warm or at least room temperature, making sure you're getting 1 to 2 liters per day.
The Festive Season
How do you survive the festive season without coming out 10 pounds heavier, bloated, and uncomfortable? My lifesaver is enzymes and probiotics.
They will save you from digestive discomfort, but don't expect them to bring you a Christmas miracle; remember to be conscious and aware of everything you eat and drink.
Remember, this is a time to be with friends and family, not a food and drink frenzy. Enjoy your festive meal and an occasional drink, but try to avoid heavy sauces and constant snacking.
While winter can be tough, use this time to treat yourself! Nourish your body and mind, doing so mindfully.
Dolores Baretta is a licensed acupuncturist, nutritional therapist, and digestive specialist based in Zurich, Switzerland. She helps people achieve mind-body balance through acupuncture, micronutrients, and digestive support.
When not conducting personal sessions from her clinics in Switzerland, Baretta acts as an advisor and contributing expert to MicroNourish, supporting people in achieving their “best brain” through the brain-gut nutrient system and educational content about micronutrients, probiotics, prebiotics, and enzymes, for better focus, mood and inner calm.
Having studied in prestigious medical institutions in China, Switzerland and the UK, her programs incorporate body type assessments, micronutrient profiling, yin/yang diagnostics, and lifestyle considerations, to provide holistic bio-individual nutrition plans that nourish the body, mind and spirit for daily equilibrium.