Here in Daylesford the winter has established itself and the water element surrounds us with rain, fog, misty mornings, white blanket frosts, and drizzle – we are still waiting for the first snow. To balance the demands that this cold season places on our constitution, we need to stay warm by rugging up, and pay particular attention to our health and immunity.
In Chinese Medicine, winter is the season associated with nurturing the Kidneys and bones through the water element. We can understand this ancient idea by looking at nature and observing how the cold winter nights are condensing moisture from the air to gather water and dissolving the minerals from the dormant plants and fallen leaves into the soil. As water freezes in the cold night air, it concentrates these minerals further. (This is how in nature the Yin of the earth is nourished.) In the human body, a similar energetic concentration of minerals creates salts to be used by the body through the kidneys via the salt/water ratio. Minerals not excreted from the body but concentrated within the blood, can condense in the bone marrow to ultimately nourish the bones. And this is primarily the function of the season of Winter in the regeneration of the human being – a period of coldness with contraction of energy and rest, where an accumulation of minerals and energy is possible to nourish the Yin of our bodies in preparation for new activities.
So how do we do this?
The cold weather contracts our energy and encourages us to look inwards.
We need to move away from hard Yang style exercise such as interval training and prolonged cardio workouts or long fast walks. Instead we focus on Yin style Yoga, Tai Qi and Qi Gong to reinforce the internal quality of winter in the body. Our exercise needs to be more restorative and nurturing to harmonise us with the season. We can rug up and go for walks that include some short burst cardio to benefit our circulatory system and heart, but in balance with the season.
Winter is a time when meditation, reading and studying for pleasure will bring benefits to relax the mind, calm the spirit and support building our deep immunity.
During these cold months our body needs warm, strong food. If we prepare cold, icy or mostly raw food during these months, we will grow out of balance with the virtues of the season. Because fruits and greens are not as plentiful during this time, we eat predominantly root and ground vegetables and the dark leafy greens from the season, as well as pickles and fermented foods. This type of food has a sustaining energy. We can use a little more salt in our cooking as well as Tamari and fermented Miso paste to nourish the mineral content of our blood and benefit the Kidneys. But don’t overdo it – be moderate and take time to build this in.
The foods of this season that benefit the body:
Root vegetables, pumpkin, carrots, dark leafy winter greens such as kale, mizuna and cabbages, mushrooms and the apples and pears from the late autumn harvests.
Kidney beans, adzuki beans and black beans will provide the right legume nutrients to benefit the Kidneys.
Seasonal seeds and nuts of black and white sesame seeds, walnuts and chestnuts with their omega building qualities.
Oats are another beneficial food for winter seasonal eating that soothe the nervous system and cleanse the blood lipids.
Ginger can be used frequently to warm and disperse our energy. The warmth of ginger not only benefits our digestion but also circulates on the outside of the body to protect us from the cold element. Cinnamon, cloves and turmeric also have warming qualities and can be useful to strengthen our immunity via their medicinal qualities.
Winter is the time to use more oil in our cooking as we focus on food preparation styles that will keep the body warm. Use Olive oil as your staple and also Include toasted sesame oil and walnut oil to extend your plant nutrient omegas.
Rich stocks made from choice vegetables and herbs, or bone broths will have benefits for our bone health and connective tissues. Baking, some deep frying, long boiling and stewing will give us the right quality of energy to meet the season. By taking a longer time to slowly cook our food, we support the sustaining energy needed to get through the long Winter. We can cook on a fire that has a narrow, contracted centre that burns warmly for a long time to emulate what our energy needs to be doing.
We chop our vegetables into large chunky cuts or even use them whole, to keep the energy strong after the long slow cooking. We can roast the seasonal nuts of chestnut, walnut, hazelnut and almonds to garnish our baked foods or snack on.
In my medicine practice I place a focus on seasonal nutrition therapy because the food that we consume has a strong effect on our body and mind, and can often be part of the pattern of disharmony that lies beneath low vitality and immunity.
A balanced human being moves through their life with fluidity and the wisdom to regulate the flow of their energy. Winter is a challenge to us not just because it is cold, but because its energetic requirement to go within is the antithesis of corporate schedules, complex family arrangements, commitments and hectic social lives … Winter energy is contemplative, withdrawn, floating, harbouring or resting, to enable us to regenerate before the movement towards the more expansive Yang of spring. When we use the winter in this way we are replenishing our Kidney energy that is the foundation of our body that sustains us through the long hauls.
So use this winter as a time for contemplation and planning, rather than doing, and include regular self-nurture rituals that regenerate the Kidney Yin and Jing of the body.
- Magnesium and mineral salt bathing
- Establishing a regular meditation practice
- Early bedtimes
- Reducing screen time and replacing it with reading or lazing in front of the fireplace
- Restorative Yoga classes
When we establish self nurture in our weekly rhythm we begin to regulate ourselves away from the extreme activities of overworking, excess consumption of alcohol and drugs, skipping meals and erratic sleeping patterns. We become more aligned with the flowing water element that enables us to rejuvenate and feel more comfortable with stillness, contemplation and wisdom.
Yours in health,