Though it doesn't really feel like that, but temperatures are lowering, the nights are getting cooler and the first rain is already behind us.
The ancient Chinese believed that human beings should live in harmony with the seasons and nature. They got up at sunrise, ate what grew in each season and lived with the natural environment as constant guide through their lifetime. Because of that the ancient Chinese where able to stay healthy and protect themselves from disease.
When observing winter leaves and flowers disappear from the trees, animals hibernate and daylight becomes shorter. All things in nature retract, wither, hide and enter a period of rest and reflection. What happens during these winter months lays the seed for the growth and expression of spring.
The modern health paradox
In our modern society notions of health are conducted by criteria that are inflicted by trends and hypes, like choosing a raw smoothy over a warm bowl of soup on cold winter days.
Our body is like an inner thermostat that is regulating the use of our energy and in winter is uses up to 80% of it. That is what ancient wisdom teaches us to go into state of energy consumption – slow down, rest, stay warm and consume warm food and drinks.
In Ayurveda, the traditional medical system in India, the primary cause of disease is called Prajnaparada, meaning “thinking which goes against wisdom”.
However in our fast paced modern world we hardly pay attention to our natural needs that comes with the different seasons. We are working late, sleeping less, hitting the bar, doing excessive workout and consume cold food and drinks. We are condtantly exposing ourselves to situations that affect our constitution and health and can result in disease.
We cannot always control the circumstances of our life but we can be conscious and observative about our choices we make and cultivate health and longevity.
Cold – The Pathogen of Pain
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In Chinese medicine Winter is related to the water element that again is associated with cold. In the body cold creates stagnation and lack of movement of flow of Qi (the vital life force), blood as well as body fluids.
Stay warm and keep the skin covered up and avoid exposure to the cold, especially the lower back and neck when outside.
In Chinese Medical tradition there is the saying “bu tong ze tong”, meaning “when there is no movement there is pain.” Therefore the therapeutical approach to eliminate pain is to create movement. Among the most common methods you can find acupuncture, massage (like Tunia) and exercise therapies (like Qi gong).
Eating and Drinking for Winter
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Our choices of what we put into our body in winter should focus on warming and strengthening nutrition so we can protect ourselves against cold.
First, we must take care to eat and drink food that is literally warm or hot. In contrary to Asian traditions to consume warming food and drinks, through modern western cultures people commonly drink iced beverages all year long. But even hot beverages however can have either a more cooling or a more warming effect on the body. Teas, for example, are not all equally warming even when taken hot. For example green teas have a cooling nature. Dark processed teas are more warming in nature, include Oolongs, black teas, and Pu Erh teas that is probably one of the best among them. He is not only warming but it also encourages the inward movement and storage of Qi that is desirable in winter.
Herbal teas are a good alternative that are caffeine-free. For winter, some of the best options are cinnamon or dried ginger. Both are warming herbs and are effective in treating conditions of pain since they warm and move the Qi internally.
Similar to drinking teas, winter is the time to nourish yourself with soups and stews, root vegetables and beans. Focus on warming and seasonal plant based foods such as yams, sweet potatoes, garlic, onions, pumpkin, and other squashes and root vegetables.
In general, all animal meats are warming, and can be consumed by people who have a cold and weak constitution.
Cooking methods that add more warmth to foods include roasting, baking or slow cooking, cooking on low heat infuses the food with heat that helps the body to keep warm.
Spices like pepper, nutmeg, cumin, and fennel seeds warm the digestive organs and improve digestion.
Patting or slapping repeatedly at acupuncture points or along merdians, a technique know as Pai Da an important method of health preservation and stimulation of blood flow in both Chinese medicine and Qigong circles. The main organs associated with the winter are the Kidneys and Bladder, and in particular the Bladder channel can be stimulated with patting during the cold seasons.
The Bladder channel is the longest channel running all the way from the inner corner of the eye, over the head, and down to the heel and then tip of the small toe. While it is difficult for an individual to pat along the entire channel, an effective alternative is to pat down the lower portion. Start with patting the buttocks and then slowly move down the back of the leg to the heel. Since the Bladder channel moves in this direction (from the buttocks down to the feet), patting in this direction helps stimulate the circulation of Qi. This technique is also appropriate for people with pain in the joints or along the pathway of the channel, anywhere from the back of the neck down to the legs.
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Another home remedy for winter is foot soaking. One of the most important acupuncture point is located on the bottom of the foot, the first point of the Kidney channel. Soaking the feet in hot water warms the Kidney channel, relaxes the body, and encourages mental calmness. Epsom salts can be added to the water as salt is the taste and mineral associated with the Kidney. An alternative to Epsom salts is to boil sliced ginger root in water and then, when cooled down a bit, used as a hot soak. Since ginger is warming and moving in quality, this ginger water soak is better for pain conditions.
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Moxibustion is a type of heat therapy applied to the body, commonly at acupuncture points. The source of heat is the burning of mugwort leaf that has been dried and processed into a soft fluffy material known as moxa floss.
There are many methods of moxibustion. One of them is taking small cones of moxa wool and burning them directly on the skin at acupuncture points what allows for a strong and effective stimulation of acupuncture. Another method of moxibustion is to burn large cones of moxa at the skin just until heat is felt, and then removing the cones before allowing them to burn to the skin.
Probably the most popular method of moxibustion today utilizes a moxa stick, also known as a moxa pole. A moxa stick looks like a cigar and is composed of moxa wool packed tightly and then wrapped in paper. One end is lit and then, while smoldering, is held over the skin to warm an area or an acupuncture point. Since the moxa pole should never touch the skin, this method is safer for home use.
Moxibustion has the dual effect of warming and strengthening the Qi of the internal organs. Since it has a warming effect, it also moves stagnant Qi in the channels when applied to areas of pain caused by cold. More importantly however applying moxibustion has played an important role in disease prevention, and today it is a major part of the Nourishing Life tradition of Chinese medicine.
As there is a risk of burns with any moxa application, please seek guidance from a professional licensed practitioner of acupuncture.
The best natural health comes from allying to the cyclical changes in nature around us. To live in harmony with the seasons, one must respond to the nature of the season.
In winter, we plant the seeds for your patterns of health and wellness over the following year. Its natural philosophy based on conservation and storage
If we adapt our lifestyle to nourish the flesh, preserve body heat, and promote rest, we can create a comfortable cocoon from which to enjoy winter's introspective mood while cultivating health and longevity.
Important to note that this essay is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for profession care by a qualified medical profession or doctor.
- The Dao of Longevity – Seasonal harmonization for Winter – Dr Herny McCann
- Chinese Medicine and Winter Season – Diane Joswick, L.Ac.,MSOM
- The Many benefits of acupuncture in Winter – Susan Cunningham
- The best way to optimize energy with 5 winter health tips – Dr. Jason Chong
- The art of living in Winter – Urban Healer