Winter is associated with the water element which is associated with the kidneys and the urinary bladder. It is thus these organ systems that need “tuning up” during the winter season.
As the most yin part of the year, winter is appropriately the time to go within to reconnect with the body’s natural winter spirit. Paying special attention to the internal aspects of one’s being naturally cultivates the yin energy of the body. This means becoming more quiet and reflective to connect with one’s inner nature. This may be especially challenging considering a busy lifestyle. The following are some helpful ideas for shifting into an inner receptive state:
During any activity search to find your “healer within”, give yourself the space and time to hear and feel what is going on inside of you. Figure out what it is you truly need and make a plan to systematically provide this to yourself. And at the same time stay active to keep your body supple, even though yin energy is dominant.
Cultivating, nourishing and balancing of the yin aspect of oneself in this way leads to an overall sense of inner calm, self-acceptance and a more carefree disposition.
Winter is a time of year also associated with the virtue of wisdom. The inner wisdom that develops from taking the time for one self is helpful to get through the long cold months of winter. A Chinese medicine “tune-up” provides additional support through balancing yin energy, thereby enhancing introspection – as it naturally becomes a time of retreat, characterized by energy conservation and strength building as preparation for the impending growth spurt of springtime.
This yin time of the year is also associated with fear, the emotion associated with the kidneys. Just as the kidneys are deeply rooted within the body, so is fear. A modest amount of fear is considered healthy; however excessive fear fosters insecurity and injures the kidney energy. Learning ways to manage fear constructively to reverse this tendency is important for health and longevity. Restoration of the kidney energy during winter tune-ups helps to release excessive fear and strengthen inner wisdom. The following is an easy Qigong exercise called “Kidney Rub for Life” that can be practiced on a daily basis:
According to Chinese medicine, the kidneys are touted as the “root energy of Qi”. They nourish the lower back, govern water metabolism, sustain hair on the head, and determine immunity. The kidneys also determine sexual energy, adrenal function, reproduction, and the aging process. Weak kidney Qi, therefore, leads to challenges for both men and women in terms of ability to create new life.
When kidney Qi is depleted one may feel exhausted, run down or weak. One may also catch more colds and/or flus and feel unusually sensitive to the cold weather. Other symptoms that signify weak kidneys are dark circles under the eyes, pale complexion, fearfulness, groan in the voice, low libido, frequent urination, loss of hair on the head, and difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. Boosting kidney energy is important to allay all of these symptoms which tend to get worst during the winter months. Be especially careful with the following behaviors and lifestyle habits as they deplete kidney Qi:
When, how and what you eat also has a profound effect on your health during the winter months. The joyous sounds of cooking and happy voices from the kitchen stimulate the appetite and fortify the kidneys. Cooked, warming foods such as hearty soups strengthen the kidney energy and are especially recommended during the winter months to counteract the cold, wet nature of this time of year. A small, regular amount of salty foods in the winter nurture deep inner experiences and preserve joy in the heart. Salty foods include: miso, soy sauce, seeweed, millet and barley.
Tofu, string beans, asparagus, dark colored beans, roasted nuts, dark fruits such as blackberry and blueberry, and animal products including fish, eggs, dairy products, duck and pork all nourish the kidney energy. Make sure to eat them cooked or dried.
The habit of eating at regular times nourishes kidney Qi, as does eating foods with high nutritional value. The following is a hearty black bean soup to fortify the kidneys:
It is essential to rest one’s body, promote inner reflection, and be vigilant to not deplete energy needlessly - but rather concentrate on cultivation, building and storage of energetic resources. According to Chinese medicine, when Qi of kidneys is gone, so is life. Taking advantage of this ancient system of health and healing to promote greater kidney balance and strength is paramount for increasing chances for a long healthy life.