Survive the winter with Chinese Medicine
According to Chinese cosmology the winter season has started on November 8th and seems like it is going to be an extreme one. During this challenging season it may be a good idea to take a look at nature itself to find some good advice, not only to keep us healthy and survive but also strengthen our body and mind even more.
Thousands of years old Chinese medical theory is strongly based on observations of nature. Seasonal changes, and changes in the states of plants and behavior of the animals according to the cycles of nature has inspired some of these medical theories. From this ancient perspective, winter belongs to the Water element and in a way it is the season of death and rebirth. Winter allows the old to perish and prepare the nature for the new beginning. During this cold and dark season the life force Qi, (pronounced chee) of all living things, sink to the root for protection; trees shed leafs, many animals hibernate and the rest limit their activities for survival. We should do the same. According to one of the oldest medical texts of Chinese medicine, Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon), during winter one should sleep early and rise late, so that we can take advantage of the long nights to replenish as much as possible while avoiding the harsh early morning temperature. Winter is the right season for more meditation, reflection and inner cultivation. It is the best time to conserve energy and strengthen the inner core by limiting work, sexual activity and exercise. I hear you, it is hard especially when it comes to work, but it can be possible to simplify and limit other activities as much as possible.
Food is an important part of winter maintenance, of course! Avoid raw foods as much as possible; not to mention cold drinks and foods like ice cream. In general choose foods that are brown and black in color. In Chinese food therapy colors are associated with seasons and organ systems. Winter is related to Kidney organ system and it’s color is black. Black mushrooms and black beans are highly beneficial. Root vegetables are great in general. Mutton, beef, bone marrow, duck and rabbit meat are recommended. Chinese yam, sesame (especially black sesame), dates, longan, mushrooms, leek and roasted nuts (especially walnuts) are part of the winter diet. Avoid salty food. In Chinese medicine salt is related to the Kidney organ system (Water element). Consuming salty foods can make the Water element to become excess and in return a hyperactive Kidney may inhibit the Heart (Fire element). In this case a person may experience heart palpitations, cardiac pain, cold limbs and fatigue. Reducing salty food and consuming more bitter flavors will create a healthy balance between Heart and Kidneys. Foods with bitter flavors are kale, apricots, asparagus, celery, tea, grapefruit, hops, lettuce, Chinese bitter melon, celery, radish leaves, vinegar, turnips and wine. Consuming excessive spicy and rich food may lead to skin rashes, sore throat and bronchitis.
Exercise is always healthy. However slow, repetitive movements with less exertion than usual must be preferred. Short walks and exercises to strengthen the lower part of the body (legs, hips, pelvis, low back) are the best choice. Physical exercises must always be balanced with energy work: guided energy meditations (internal alchemy), yoga that includes more than stretches. Qi Gong and Tai Qi Chuan are the ways to create that balance.
Pay more attention to keeping your feet and low back warm. Protect your neck and head from wind. Wind enters the body from the neck and cold enters from the feet. The damage wind and cold can create in the body is more than we give them credit for. It is essential to keep your immune system up and running. Food is the best way of doing it (see the recommendations above), but sometimes it may be necessary to get some extra help. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can work wonders. Seasonal acupuncture treatments may help your body to adapt to seasonal changes, regulate the imbalances and increase the vitality to be able to function properly. Chinese herbal formula, such as Jade Screen (Yu Ping Feng Tang) is one of the best general immune boosters. But it is best to let your East Asian Medicine Practitioner tailor one for you.
Nejat Kesler, DAOM, EAMP