Jan Wilson, L.Ac.
It is easy to become ill or get seasonal depression during the short, cold, dark days of the winter season. To counteract this, from an acupuncture perspective, harmonizing our bodies with the season promotes health and strength. Nurturing ourselves through the cold season will ensure that we emerge from winter rested, fit and ready for the explosion of activity inherent in spring season.
According to acupuncture theory, people will develop their greatest health if they live in harmony with nature. Chinese philosophers identified five elements to explain the interconnected relationships between natural phenomena and the human body. They are wood, fire, metal, earth, and water. The elements correspond to the seasons and are represented in the human body as emotions and organ channels. The element associated with winter is water. Here are some hints to allow the water element and its correspondences to guide us through a healthy season.
In winter the qualities of water are stillness and quiet. In our bodies, the water element pulls us to get in harmony with nature and to just slow down. It is the season to allow time for meditation and reflection. Take some breaks from rushing around and give yourself over to the sofa and snuggle up with a good book, not beach reading, and allow yourself to go deep. Get plenty of sleep, go to bed a bit earlier and get up a tad later if possible. Those extra minutes of sleep may help you harmonize with the season and to gather the still “water energy” for the spring renewal to come.
The organ system associated with winter season is the kidneys. In Chinese medicine the kidneys are the storehouse of our energy reserves and the home of our genetic inheritance. They are the powerhouse that drives all of our activities; mind, body and spirit. Running low on kidney energy leaves us with fatigue and a lack of vitality. The energy of the kidneys is similar to a savings account and requires deposits to be healthy. Substantial wintertime deposits can be made with rest, food and appropriate exercise.
Foods that nourish the kidneys tend to be salty in flavor. The nature of the salty flavor promotes a deep centering quality that increases our capacity for energy storage. But don’t overdo, since too much salt in the diet will weaken the kidney energy. Think whole foods, not chips. Salty foods to include in your diet this winter are miso, soy sauce, seaweeds, millet, and barley. The kidneys also benefit from chestnuts and walnuts, dark colored beans, lamb, duck and shrimp. Vegetables that help the kidney energy include potatoes, sweet potatoes, and turnips.
The contracting nature of the cold can cause aching joints and stiff muscles. Gentle exercises like Qi Gong, tai chi, or yoga can keep the spine and joints limber and nourished during this time of stillness. We want to be still but not stuck. Chinese medicine cautions us not to sweat too much in the winter months. If you do exercise vigorously, make sure you cover your body, especially your neck, when you go out into the cold to protect against contraction.
The temperature associated with the water element is cold. If you are a person whose body runs cold, you can add warmth to your foods by choosing longer cooking styles that instill heat in the food. For instance, roasting, stewing, and baking add warmth to the nature of each dish. Plants that take longer to grow (root vegetables, ginger) tend to be warmer than faster growing foods (lettuce, spinach) so the slow down philosophy even applies to cooking times and slow growing vegetables. Dried foods tend to be more warming than their fresh counterparts. Avoid raw foods during the winter months. Save those cooler salad type dinners for the warmer seasons. In winter, foods should be eaten warm or at room temperature. Cold foods like frozen desserts, ice water, and chilled lettuce put out the digestive fire and in winter especially, you sure don’t want to put out your inner fire.
The color associated with the water element is blue. If you are feeling blue this season reach out to the warmth of family and friends. In winter our will to survive gets tested. Seasonal blues and emotions like fear, depression and anxiety can indicate an imbalance in the water element.
So the moral of the story from an acupuncture point of view is: this winter go with the slowdown flow of the water element. Gently with draw your energy from the outer world and nourish the roots of your being. Take every opportunity to slow down and recharge your battery. Regenerate your vital energy in order to fight off getting ill or blue and to look and feel your best even in this challenging season. If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution or two, good for you, but please put then into action slowly for now, and address them vigorously once the natural expansive energy of the spring arrives.
Jan Wilson, L.Ac.
Chestnut Hill Family Acupuncture
7825 Germantown Avenue
Chestnut Hill, PA 19118