Winter is governed by Yin energy as darkness dominates. According to 5-Element Theory in Chinese Medicine (TCM), winter is associated with the Water element.
Water is a symbol of wisdom, fluidity, and femininity (or Yin energy); making winter the perfect time to rest and reflect, to 'go with the flow', and develop our inner wisdom.
As Springtime approaches, we are then ready to plant the seeds of growth and expansion. Below are 5 holistic tips to help you optimize the yin energy of the winter season and benefit from the coldest months of the year.
1. SLOW DOWN
As daylight hours shorten in the winter, this is a time for hibernation and retraction in the animal kingdom. Similarly, our energy also tends to become lower as the temperature dips and nights become longer. Winter is the ideal season to go to bed earlier and wake up later, with the intention of rest and reset.
While enjoying longer and deeper rest, we can also spend more time turning energy inwards for reflection and self-nurture (both in the physical and emotional sense). Winter marks the transition of death and rebirth in nature. In our own lives, what are the things that do not serve us anymore? What are the things we want to let go? What intentions do we want to set for the rebirth come Springtime?
As we slow down, this is also a good time to reduce intense physical exercise and instead, stick with lower impact workouts like yoga and Tai Chi to conserve energy and facilitate the process of self-reflection.
2. BUILD KIDNEY HEALTH
The winter season is associated with the water element, and manifested by the pair of meridians - the Kidney and Bladder meridians. In meridian theory, the Kidney meridian stores prenatal essence and is known as the ‘root of life”. It is responsible for key functions such as reproduction, autonomic nervous system, marrow, brain, and spinal health. Winter is hence the best time to tonify the kidneys. In general, kidney nourishing foods are generally color-coded black. By nourishing the kidney meridian, one can improve conditions such as: thinning hair, tinnitus, lower back weakness, low libido, fertility issues, and night sweats, to name a few. Some examples of black/ dark colored food that can be easily added to your diet are: black rice, black sesame seeds, black beans, lentils, blackberries, blueberries, oysters, woodear mushrooms, and seaweed.
3. STAY WARM
Cold and wind are considered two of the six main pathogenic factors in TCM that can cause diseases and imbalance. Winter season is mainly marked by cold, and transitioning into Spring, marked by wind. Being exposed to both cold and wind, can trigger symptoms of colds, coughs, hives, stiff and painful joints, spasms and various pain. It goes without saying that staying warm is crucial to maintaining good health during this time. This means bundling up when going outside; protecting your midriff, neck and head from being exposed to the wind and cold.
Do you have the experience of by warming up your feet, your whole body immediately warms up too? This is because our feet have lots of blood vessels and nerve endings, and play an essential role in temperature regulation. Similarly, the Kidney meridian begins on the bottom of your feet, so it’s vital to keep your feet warm to prevent cold from entering the body. At home, consider wearing socks or cozy slippers if you tend to get cold feet. Freezing? Try having a warm Epsom salt foot bath before going to bed. Soaking your feet will warm up your whole body in no time, improve the quality of your sleep, and guide any overactive energy from the head back to the source - the Kidney.
4. EAT SEASONAL & WARMING FOODS
Eating fresh and seasonal produce is a great way to support the body as it goes through cyclical changes with the seasons. In the winter season, Water element is associated with the salty flavor. In other words, eating salty flavored food can restore Bladder and Kidney meridian health by regulating fluid balance. I’m not talking about salty snacks per se, but naturally salty flavored food such as seaweed, miso and high-quality sea salt. On top of that, pungent flavor are associated with the Metal element, which is said to strengthen the Water element according to 5-Element Theory. The action of pungent flavored foods will strengthen the Lung meridian (Metal) and has an upward dispersing action to help get rid of wind-cold pathogens, and warm the meridians. We are more familiar with these pungent food used in the winter. Some examples are ginger, scallion, cinnamon, cloves, garlic and horseradish.
5. SUPPORT IMMUNE HEALTH, TREAT OLD INJURIES & PAIN
Winter is usually synonymous with the flu season. By receiving regular acupuncture tune-ups, we can align our energy with the season and support our immune health. Seasonal tune-up sessions can be used to benefit the Kidney and Bladder meridian for overall health. Moxibustion as instructed by your acupuncturist can also be used to raise the Yang energy of the body during the coldest months of the year.
With dipping temperature, winter is a typical time for old injuries, aches and pains to flare up. From a TCM perspective, the windy, cold, and damp weather can result in stiffness in the muscles and joints, increased swelling and edema, and slowed down blood circulation. Acupuncture is excellent at treating these bothersome muscoskeletal pain and joint stiffness. Treatments will reduce pain and inflammation, release muscle knots, promote blood circulation which will reduce swelling and speed up healing ability of the body.
As for self-care at home, it’s good to:
Stay active with low intensity exercise to keep the blood flowing. Take a long walk even though it might be cloudy outside!
Dress appropriately when exposed to the elements. This will minimize wind, cold and damp invasion to the body.
Use a heat pad for your stiff joints and tight muscles daily, but don’t go overboard. Limit to about 20 minutes at a time.
If you’d like to include acupuncture as part of your winter wellness routine, and/or treat any health concerns during the coldest month of the year, visit us at our Brooklyn or Manhattan office.
* A version of this article first appeared in MindBodyGreen
About Hima Acupuncture Williamsburg
Hima Acupuncture is a premier acupuncture service located in Flatiron, Manhattan and Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York City. Hima Acupuncture specializes in pain management, stress, digestive and women’s health concerns. As a whole-system medicine, we also offer herbs, cupping, Eastern nutrition, lifestyle tips as needed to supplement acupuncture treatments. Hima Acupuncture owner, Snow Xia, L.Ac has been recognized by Expertise.com as one of the best acupuncturists in NYC from 2019-2022. Snow frequently writes for MindBodyGreen and is an expert contributor to many health publications. It’s her passion to help busy New Yorkers take control of their own health while living ambitious lives.