Living with the Seasons: Winter
Updated: Jan 3, 2018
The ancient Chinese created a system of medicine thousands of years ago that is still used to this day. Chinese medicine is only a part of a greater concept the ancient Chinese used to live their everyday lives...
By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
It is a branch that springs from a larger tree that encompasses all aspects of life. This is why the Doctor of Chinese medicine does not only deal with the body, or physical aspects of one's health, they are teachers educating patients on how to live a healthy and happy lifestyle, because this is how we attain health, and the Chinese knew it. It is deeply entrenched in their medicine.
Chinese medicine teaches to live in harmony with the seasons, and according to Chinese medicine theory, there are five seasons - winter, spring, summer, late summer, and fall. Each season has many associations which help us to change our habits as the seasons change so that we may create more balance between our bodies and the external environment.
When Chinese medicine was being developed thousands of years ago, people were living in a state of complete harmony with nature. They rose with the sun, ate what grew in each season, and were acutely aware of their natural environment as it had a direct effect on every aspect of their lives. The lives of the people had a flow that changed depending on the time of year. Things like what foods were eaten was dependent on what happened to be growing at that particular time and what was available. When to get up, how to dress, and what kinds of activities were engaged in were dependent on the important connection that people had to their environment. Because these simple steps were taken, people were able to stay healthy throughout the year and had the tools to keep their immune systems and their organs strong so that they could ward off disease.
Winter in Chinese Medicine
Winter represents the most Yin aspect in Chinese medicine. Yin is the dark, cold, slow, inward energy. This is compared to the Yang of summer whose energy represents light, hot, quick, expansive qualities. The summer weather is warm, the days are longer, and people are out being active. In TCM we believe that the diet and activities in winter should be adapted to enriching Yin and subduing Yang.
Winter, in TCM, is associated with the Kidneys which hold our body's most basic and fundamental energy. It is believed that by harmonizing oneself with the seasons you can stay healthier and prevent disease, so winter is a good time to strengthen the Kidneys. Rest is important for revitalizing the kidneys, which is why some animals hibernate in winter. It is also a good time to look inward, reflecting on ourselves with meditation, writing, or other inward practices such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong. These practices help us to connect to our inner selves and help to support Kidney energy. They are very helpful to relax the mind, calm our emotions, and raise the spirit.
The sense organ associated with the kidneys is the ears, and our ability to hear clearly is related to kidney health. The quiet and stillness of winter allow us to hear more of the world than the buzzing activities of summer. This forces us to slow down, rest and relax.
The body part associated with the kidneys are the bones, so it is important to pay close attention to the bones in the winter months making sure to tonify and heal any problems in this area. This is also why winter is a time when Chinese medicine prescribes bone broths as nutritional therapy, as they are warming, nourishing and especially good for the bones. Bone broths are also powerful Jing tonics, as Jing is produced by the Kidneys. Jing is depleted by activities such as extreme and prolonged stress, lack of sufficient sleep, working long hours, and excessive behaviors like too much drinking or drug use. Winter is the best time to supplement the body's Jing supply and bone broths are just what the doctor ordered.
Activities in Winter