Weathering the Winter: Welcoming Warmth
As we enter into the winter season our body begins to acclimate to the cold. We dress warmer and begin to incorporate herbs and treatments that bolster yang energy. While this is a more obvious consideration, it is not only the body that is affected by the season of darkness. Rather, the mind and the emotions can also experience change, as we are of one integrated mind-body-spirit. This is known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as Jing-Qi-Shen. Rather than focusing on these aspects as individual parts, Chinese Medicine, based on ancient Daoism, demonstrates the holistic approach as being most beneficial for health. As we enter the winter season, there are some important aspects and associations to be mindful of, that can ease our way into winter and allow for the element of the season, water, to nourish us deeply in rejuvenation.
Resting in Essence
The water element exemplifies the essence of living. This is demonstrated when the trees are barren to the trunk, and only the solid foundation of roots remains. Winter allows us to convene deeply within ourselves to come to the true nature of our essence without embellishment. As we recede into quiet, we can gain insight into the depth of longings, found in the stillness between breaths. Rather than expending energy outwards under precepts of progress, winter allows us time to stop and even to step back. Sometimes by receding we are granted a new perspective that cannot come when we are on the go. Modern times have not created much space for stillness, so this is something that we must begin to cultivate both on the external and internal. Doing so can allow us to enjoy the gifts of winter which can come in unsuspecting packages.
During winter, meditation, concentration, and consideration become paramount. This is a time when we can fill the tank, so to speak. If we have expended all our energies, we may find ourselves exhausted, or in a state of burnout. If we haven’t run ourselves ragged, we may still find ourselves pulled to slow down and savor moments with friends and family. This season is all about the conservation of energy. With the sun setting earlier, it is a wise practice to change our sleep cycles so we can get better rest in the evening and rise with the late morning sun. Just as seeds must be sprouted before taking root, the winter is a time to prepare the soil, nourish the water, and conserve energy. Spring will come again soon enough, but for now, rest is best. As the message by Christine Caine so aptly reminds us, “Sometimes when you are in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but actually you have been planted”.
We can utilize the winter season to strengthen our willpower as resistance to feelings of fear. When our willpower is strong, we can make conscious and courageous decisions that align with our true nature. However, when willpower is lacking, we can succumb to fear. This could include fear of failure, fear of the future, or a generalized fear and anxiety that seems unshakeable. Fear can stop us in our tracks if we are not aware of its implications. Caring for ourselves can alleviate some of this fear and can set us up for greater success in changing seasons of life. The sound of groaning is associated with this season as well. This is a deep sound that is made when we have exhausted all our resources and are left running on empty. In Five Element Acupuncture, the sound of the voice is used as a diagnostic tool for determining which elements may be out of balance. People with a groaning voice can be nourished by treatments to the water element.
Supporting the Qi
The water element is associated with the organs of the kidneys and the bladder. Using the acupuncture meridians, we can support these organs and the water element within a healing modality. Kidney 3, Greater Mountain Stream, is one of the more popular points along the meridian and is located on the inner ankle. This point is categorized in TCM as an Earth, Shu Stream, and Yuan Source point. Yuan Source points nourish the essential energy and provide grounding and stability. According to the Spirit of the Points, Kidney 3 resolves sluggishness, washes away fears, increases life force and vitality, and moves stagnation. We can picture a stagnant pond that becomes murky versus a moving stream of fresh and pure water energy. This point helps to enrich the quality of water and allows a passage for the body’s Qi. This point can strengthen the low back and knees, which as also associated with the water element. There is also a focus on the lower jiao, or lower burner, which affects the uterus, bladder, and reproductive health. This point can promote health in the teeth, bones, and ears, as they relate to the marrow and the kidneys.
Suggestions for maintaining balance in the winter season:
- Get more rest. According to the TCM text the Nei Jing, people should retire early at night and rise with or after the sun. Taking naps can provide a quick reset during colder days. Creating a sense of stillness through meditation can also provide a connection to the source and bring peacefulness.
- Eat warm foods. Dietetics is an imperative part of TCM. Incorporating warming foods can make a big difference in how the body acclimates to the season. Bone broths, squash, whole grains, and root vegetables are all winter foods that can support digestion and warmth at this time. Incorporating warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and blends of chai can also warm the yang energy. Try to avoid cooling foods like green teas, melons, cucumber, and other “summer” foods.
- Connect with family and friends. Winter holidays offer a time to slow down and connect with loved ones in support of oneself and others. Creating and maintaining strong bonds within the community can change our outlook and provide much-needed reflection during darker days.