During the winter months we are afforded the opportunity to rest and take time for introspection. The balance between activity and rest is most important during the winter months. Winter is in the yin phase, time for reflection. Winter is the season to slow down and gather our energy, but it is also important to get some time outside especially on sunny winter days and be active. A brisk walk, skiing, snowshoeing are all excellent activities during winter months.
Foods For Winter Months
Winter relates to the Kidney and Urinary Bladder. In TCM the kidneys are the storehouse for “Jing,” or Essence. This relates to the genes we were born with and that which continues to nourish us during our lifetime. Jing is something we would want to work to preserve in our body and not squander. It is not replaced, but can be nourished. This also includes our bones, teeth, joints, brain, ears and marrow. The kidneys are also connected to the adrenals and nervous system. Signs of kidney imbalance are, adrenal exhaustion, inflammation, autoimmune disorders, anxiety and fear.
Foods that will nourish us during this time of year are seasonal foods including root vegetables, nuts and seeds, bone broths, and beans such as kidney bean. We want to focus on warm cooked foods avoiding raw, cold foods during the winter months. In addition, we want to add in warming spices such as:
This is an excellent time to make bone broth and add this to other recipes you are preparing. Why is bone broth so great?
Winter is also an excellent time for adding in adaptogen herbs which help the body modulate stress and build immunity. Some of my favorite adaptogenic herbs in winter are
Ashwagandha is a premier herb for modulating stress and reducing the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In studies it has been found to significantly reduce anxiety. Ashwagandha may also help with depression. Seasonal effective disorder effects over 10 million Americans. It also has been found to reduce inflammation in the body by reducing C-reactive protein.
Oatstraw - Oatstraw is as a restorative tonic used to reboot the body and nervous system after prolonged stress, exhaustion, illness or burnout. Oatstraw also contains calcium and magnesium, which are essential for sleep. The silica, calcium, and other minerals in oatstraw are essential for healthy hair and nails, in addition oatstraw contains an easily assimilated form of calcium which nourishes bones and teeth. Oatstraw is an excellent decoction in the winter months. Use a mason jar fill with 1/3 full of dried oatstraw add boiling water and let sit for few hours. Sip throughout the day.
Astragalus, (huang qi), is a classic tonic herb used to boost the immune system which is especially important during winter months. What I love about huang qi is its versatile nature. Huang qi is easily added to a soup, it can be taken in tincture, capsule form or used in a decoction (which is a strong tea). Huang Qi is often paired with other herbs in a formula which work synergistically. It is often paired with herbs such as, dang gui, gou qi zi and tai zi shen (American Ginseng).
American Ginseng (Tai ZI Shen) is one of my favorite varieties is Ginseng. American Ginseng grows throughout North America and Canada. It is as an excellent adaptogenic herbs. Although this variety of ginseng is strong, it is also very nourishing and more moderating in effect. Studies show that the ginsenosides found in Tai Zi Shen may help to stimulate the immune system, lower blood sugar and slow growth of cancer cells. These same ginsenosides may also help to fight fatigue in the body especially due to chronic illness. American Ginseng also has antiviral properties which make it useful in fighting against viral respiratory illnesses.
Meditation, Breathwork and Journaling
Winter is in the Water Phase which is the most yin in the 5 phases of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. Winter is the time to go within and reflect on self nurturing. Meditation is a great way to to listen and be still. To make it a ritual routine, the best time to do this is either first thing in the morning when you wake or right before bed to calm you to sleep.
There are several ways to meditate. A simple method is sitting up straight, in a comfortable position. Take a moments to be conscious of your breath inhaling through the nose and slowing down your exhalation making a “S” sound out your mouth. This slow exhalation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system bringing your body into a more relaxed state. You can envision a bright light coming through the top of your head and flowing through your body like a waterfall into the earth below clearing away anything that does not serve you. In this grounded position bring to mind a question or intention for the day. Trust your subconscious and allow it to reveal to you what you need in that moment. Take the time you need or set a 20 min alarm to warn you that it's time bring it to a close.
Take a few moments to journal what came to you in these meditations. Record what you saw or heard and any action steps. Trust your intuition, journaling is important here because action steps are easily forgotten if not written down. Sometimes journaling a little before you meditate can help release some things or bring clarity for when you are ready to take the moment to be still. Meditation can enhance self awareness and have more control over an overactive mind. Try committing to 20 minutes a day and see how much it improves your mood and sleep.
K- 3 Taxi (Supreme Stream) This is a source point for the Kidneys which connects directly to our core Jing essence. This nourishes kidney yin and tonifies kidney yang to bring balance and harmony. On the medial aspect of your foot this point is directly behind the ankle in an indentation. Press with pressure and you'll find it.
Sp 6 - Sanyinjiao (Three Yin Intersection) This is the meeting point of three different Yin channels, Spleen, Liver and Kidneys. It’s the main hub station to tonify yin and invigorate blood. This point is contraindicated in pregnancy as it can induce labor. It’s a great point for regulating menstruation. This point is found on the medial side of the leg. Use your four fingers just above the ankle as a measurement, and the point if just behind the back edge of the tibia bone.
To stimulate the points just press on them and rotate 9 times clockwise then 9 times counterclockwise to get a good balance. If you have moxibustion, you can also heat the points by hovering over them for about 3 sets of 9 seconds for each point.
Self care is essential and healing. Adapting with the rhythms of the seasons and nature we can tune into our internal world that is a microcosm reflecting our outer world. Listening, slowing down, and being willing to commit to yourself will maximize your winter.