Winter is the season when yin is at its peak or more accurately when it is most condensed. It is the season of death and decay when most things in nature reach the end of their cycle and return to the earth. It is a time for stillness and reflection.
Water is the element associated with this season and expresses yin in its ultimate forms: cold, blue/black, dense, heavy and moving downwards. Water is a formidable force; it has the power to destroy life but is essential to sustain it.
In an ideal world, during winter we would be in bed not long after sunset and wake at sunrise. Our working day would be short and slow paced and we would eat whatever nutritious foods we wanted, without counting calories.
In today’s fast-paced and demanding times, we barely even stop to take breath in the winter.
Winter is a necessary and important part of the yin-yang seasonal cycle. This is the time of year when the kidneys need most care. This is the time of year we need to accumulate enough yin for yang to burn in the spring and summer. Yin is the substance and structure that generates yang and allows it to function.
In TCM thinking the kidneys are vital to our function and existence. The kidneys hold the key to our ‘life force’ and the blueprint of who we are and will potentially become. At the time of our conception, through our parents, the heavens gifted us with ‘prenatal qi’ (chi) which is stored in our kidneys and is the source of our essence and original qi. In order to maintain our original qi and essence, we need to top it up with qi from the food we eat, the air we breathe and the way we live our lives. Qi serves us in its functions within the body to transform, transport, hold, raise, protect, and warm.
So, how do we conserve qi, build yin and support the kidneys in the hectic winters of today?
Here are some tips to survive the winter and stay healthy by following natural ‘laws’ as prescribed by the ancient Taoist philosophers. Not surprisingly, they also align rather well with other philosophers’ ideas, including those of Rudolf Steiner, and probably with your grandmother’s thinking too.
- Sleep – Go to bed early and get up later. If you get super organised the night before, you could end up with extra snooze time. Getting extra sleep time during dark hours is crucial for building your yin.
- Keep warm – The kidneys hate the cold and are most susceptible to it in the winter. Although the kidneys are organs of water, they are the source of fire (‘ming men’) in the body. This fire can be diminished when the body is invaded by cold, wind and damp, leading to symptoms of cold extremities, lower back pain, sore knees, lack of libido and fatigue. Wear a scarf and keep covered up especially in windy cold weather. Wind can drive cold into the bladder channel (which is one of the most superficial meridians) causing a stiff neck and can lead to cold invading the organs which leads to pain and disease. So snuggle up in your winter woollies, curl up in front of a fire and beat the cold.
- Be quiet – Meditate more frequently and for longer. Invest in some relaxation/ meditation CDs. Reflect on what is past, observe what is now and dream of what is to come. Inspiration and insight comes to us in still, quiet moments.
- Eat for the season – Root vegetables, slow-cooked stews and casseroles, soups, baked foods and roasts are all favourites for the winter, as are beans and lentils. Don’t worry about calories (although avoid using too much fat and sugar in your cooking). Focus instead on the nutritional content. It’s normal to gain up to 4kg in the winter. This makes up part of your yin for the yang months. So…double helping of lamb shanks and mash any one?
- Keep up your water intake – The kidneys govern and regulate the water in your body and maintain the electrolyte balance. The cold winter months often lead to a reduction of water intake resulting in dehydration. Keep a bottle of water with you throughout the day and take a sip every 15 minutes. Avoid drinking cold water. Drink warming herbal teas instead if you prefer.
- Exercise – Avoid long gruelling workouts. A brisk walk every day is all you need in the winter. Mindful practices such as winter chi ball, qi gong, tai chi, yoga, Pilates and Feldenkrais are also excellent for building and balancing yin and yang.
- Treat yourself to massage – Book yourself in to have a Chinese massage. This is the best way to get qi and blood moving without exertion. It helps balance and regulate qi and helps us to maintain good health. Reflexology is also excellent at this time of year because of the connection of the kidneys to the feet.
Originally from the English countryside of Derbyshire, Rebecca Quin gained a diploma in Health & Fitness during the 80s. A change in career path led her to Australia in 1994 were she is now settled with a family. In 2003 Rebecca discovered ChiBall® and there began her fascination with Traditional Chinese Medicine and healing through movement. Rebecca is currently studying for a degree in Chinese Medicine at the Southern School of Natural Therapies in Melbourne. She has been described as a gifted and inspirational teacher by her students and peers and is a Master Trainer and presenter for ChiBall® and is qualified in Group Fitness, Pilates, ChiBall®, Dance of the Dragon™, Feng Shui.
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