As many of you know I grew up in Colorado, where even on the coldest, snowiest winter days you can still expect some sunshine. Needless to say, the adjustment to Seattle’s winters always comes as a shock to me. Seattle, with its two hundred plus cloudy days yearly, can be a challenging environment especially in the winter, with our long nights and short rainy days. However, Seattle is also the perfect environment to embody the spirit of winter and nourish your body and spirit.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, the seasons are a beacon for directing our daily lives; they inform us what to eat and how to live throughout the year to maintain health. Humans and nature are intimately intertwined and this relationship directs us not only in maintaining our health and preventing illness, but also into cultivating our inner mindset and character. In Chinese medicine, winter is the season of the kidneys, which is the organ of our root essence and constitution. It directs who we are, how we think, our immune system, and ultimately how we age and develop. In many respects the kidneys are the principle organ we need to protect and nourish throughout our lives. To start nourishing your kidneys this winter, I have outlined some tips below:
- Rest: During winter, the cold drives our qi/energy deeper in order to conserve and store energy for the upcoming year. It is the time of year that we need to go to bed earlier and sleep in later. Seattle’s winters are perfect for this, as our lighting provides lots of natural cues for enabling plenty of sleep. Exhaustion at this time of year is more harmful than during any other season, and can impair the ability to fully function and be healthy the following summer. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, exhaustion at this time of year is a sign that you may have overdone it during the summer months, and now your body is having to work harder to recuperate the lost energy.
- Inner reflection: Winter is the time to reflect and deepen our sense of self. It is the time of the year that we look inward and start to reintegrate our experiences and learnings from the past year. Consider starting a journal or cultivating a meditation practice as ways to promote inner reflection, and avoid turning on the television.
- Pursue creative outlets: Find ways to prevent “cabin fever.” Read books and day dream, write poetry, paint, take dance lessons…the opportunities are endless in Seattle. As opposed to the summer when “yang” or the active energy in our lives peaks, winter is the peak time for “yin” energy, which is the imaginative and nursing aspect of our being. This is the time to let go of linear rigid ways of being and to invent or rediscover new possibilities.
- Exercise daily: While rest is essential in the winter, we also need to guard against lethargy and stagnate energy with daily exercise. Consider looking on livingsocial.com or groupon.com for deals on exercise classes.
- Diet: In the winter, cold air drives the body’s heat inward and food should be taken to support this. Spices likes cardamom, ginger, garlic, cumin, and cinnamon all help to support digestion and maintain body heat. On the other hand spicy foods, like curries and salsas, tend to be eaten in warmer climates to bring heat to the surface by inducing us to sweat and should be avoided. We also need to avoid cold foods (iced drinks, raw foods, salads, dairy, soy milk, juices), as they impair the digestive fires and create coldness in the body. A poor diet in winter creates extra work for the body by diverting energy to maintain the body’s warmth and ultimately can make us more susceptible to illness in the coming year. Think of thanksgiving dinner with its many warming foods (turkey, yams, stuffing, hot apple cider, etc); everything is cooked and spiced to help support the winter season. Also, consider salting food to taste and adding foods with higher mineral content to meals (seaweed, nettles), as salt is the flavor of winter and nourishes the adrenal glands.
- Dress warmly: Cover the back of your neck with a scarf, and wear a hat and warm socks.
By Dr. Chad Borys, ND, LAc