In Chinese Medicine one of the main ways of staying healthy is to align with the seasons, and conversely, one of the main causes of dis-ease is to go against the seasons. In this article we will explore at a basic level Chinese Medicine’s suggestions for Winter.
Chinese Medicine as a system of medicine is very old, no one knows for sure how old, but it has been around for at least 2,500 years. In ancient times, they didn’t have modern labs for experiments, instead they watched and recorded what they observed occurring in nature. Much of the terminology of Chinese Medicine is merely the codification of those observations of nature.
Theory of Yin & Yang (skip over if you just want the tips to staying Health in Winter)
Yin and Yang (pronounced ‘yong’) were two main terms that they created to describe what they saw in the natural world.
You may have seen the Yin Yang symbol (technically called the Taiji diagram), which codifies the movement of Yin and Yang, both in the seasons as well as the days. For example, the cold, dark stillness of winter gives way to the warm, bright and active Summer season. The day gives way to night, and in turn the night gives way to the day.
- The White areas represent Yang, while the Black areas represent Yin.
- Notice that if you go around the outside of the circle in a counter clockwise direction, starting at high noon 12’O Clock the White area starts small and grows bigger, the same with the Black area. This illustrates how day turns to night, night turns to day and seasonally Winter leads to Summer and Summer leads to Winter.
- Also note that within the White area there is a small dot of Black, and vise versa. This refers to idea that within Yang area there is a bit of Yin, and within the Yin area, there is a bit of Yang.
Suggested Activities in Winter
Activities in Winter are to be more Yin in nature which means that for most of us, it would be best to be more introspective, quieter, “resting up” by getting more sleep – going to bed earlier and getting up slightly later, this being more like bears hibernating in the winter. Now, remember that White dot of Yang within the Black area of yin? That means, that even though it is beneficial to get more sleep in the Winter we also need some activities, some exercise – so whether you are drawn to yoga inside or skiing on the Mountain, we do need some of the opposite.
Regardless of whether you are being active or inactive Chinese Medicine suggests that you stay warm and dry, and not excessively expose yourself to the elements, particularly your head, neck and feet, as these are places that the cold and dampness of the season can more easily penetrate into your body and cause problems, such as catching colds, flus or aggravating conditions such as arthritis.
What is NOT suggested in the Winter
Staying up late and night and burning the candle at both ends (all Yang). Having no regularity in regards to routines or meals. Only sleeping and resting all the time (all Yin). Staying inside all the time and not getting outside at all (all Yin).
Suggested Winter Foods
Are the foods that counter the cold and stagnating qualities inherent in Winter. Such foods promote warmth and movement within our bodies. This would include hearty soups and stews, roasted vegetables like winter squashes, potatoes, carrots, brussels sprouts, onions, garlic and dark leafy greens. Meats that are roasted or braised and cooked slowly with more moderate temperatures.
In Winter it good to use more warming spices such as ginger, cumin, cinnamon, and garlic. Examples of winter dishes are a hot bowel of Pho or Chicken noodle soup, roasted butternut squash with cinnamon on top, roasted chicken, braised beef short ribs or lamb shanks, as well as warming teas and other beverages.
What is Not Suggested to Eat in Winter
Food that is cold or raw makes the body work extra hard to stay warm, and so are not good in the Winter. Foods such as frozen yogurt, ice cream, iceberg salad, milk shakes or ice cold beverages. Also, super spicy foods are not generally recommended because it makes you sweat and lose your body heat. While avoiding very spicy food might not make sense at first, notice that traditionally in places such as Mexico, India and Thailand which are hot countries they eat hot, spicy foods to get rid of heat, not to cultivate warmth.
These are a few simple suggestions for aligning with the season of Winter.
May yours be warm and nourishing.
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