Nature's seasons are an interplay of Yin and Yang, the natural ebb and flow of life. In winter, we internalise the Yang energies as the Yin energies dominate our outside world.
Internal Yang warms you from the core and nurtures your internal world, which is especially important during the cold and dark months ahead. It is also the perfect time to focus inwards, reflecting on your health, conserving and nourishing your internal strength.
The best natural health comes from being able to live with nature’s cyclical rhythm, living in harmony with the seasons. During winter, nature enters an inward period of rest and reflection. Everything huddles up and retracts to survive. Leaves and flowers disappear from trees to nourish the earth, animals hibernate and daylight becomes shorter. The earth lies still and quiet. Indeed, this is vital preparation time for the outward growth and expression that spring brings. Moreover, it is the way we live during winter that plants the seed for the following year.
Winter and our body
In Qigong, we associate winter with the water element and the organ systems of the kidney and bladder. These organs also happen to be the most likely to manifest disturbance during winter. Imbalances arising as the cold of winter sets in may manifest as:
lower back or knee pain
fearful emotions (anxiety and phobias)
To maintain health during winter, embrace and nourish the qualities of water in your life. Use this time to focus inwards and allow internal nourishment.
The Four Ways of Winter
In winter, we plant the seeds for your patterns of health and wellness for the year ahead. Practising Qigong for gentle movement and meditation is the perfect partner to align yourself with the energy of the water element as well as nourishing your mind, body and soul as outlined in the next four points, below.
1. Slow Living
Reducing your activity level is the first step towards seasonal living during winter. Intense exercise consumes energy that we should be conserving.
Practice slower exercise routines that are less intensive and need a smaller expenditure of energy. During exercise, try not to break into a sweat as this will help you conserve your energy. Of course, I am no apologist for recommending Qigong as a perfect practice!
As the hours of daylight are shorter, if you can, go to bed earlier and wake up later. The intention here is to maximise rest and recuperation. This means you are more dormant in your lifestyle when the natural world around you is doing the same. Rest is important for your winter health, hibernating bears and tortoises know this instinctively.
2. Focus inwards
Important practices to nourish the water energy for winter health include:
listening (ting) to your body
reflecting on your year and how you are
accepting yourself as you are
setting intentions for the new year
Focus (Zhi) and will (Yi) belong to the water element. This is a great time to develop and plant the seed of your intentions. This prepares the soil as you enter the growth energy of spring, where you bring actions to your plans. Now is the time to nurture yourself and reflect on your inner ideas of what you desire for your life. Like still water reflects the moon, reflect upon your intentions.
Heading into a winter of unknown social interaction, we may be tempted to overexert ourselves if we are able to be with friends and loved ones. As tempting as this may be, try to remember not to overexcite yourself, this helps your mind to rest and internalise.
Instead, seek meaningful entertainment that stimulates reflection and contemplation. Listening to music, sitting down playing board games, watching the toasty fire dance and talking are pleasurable activities that invite much needed purposeful connection after such a year.
Meditation is a great way to slow your mental and emotional system. Focusing inwards reflects the seasonal inward movement of your Yang Qi. A fifteen-minute daily practice can have profound effects throughout your day. All it requires is finding a quiet space and concentrating on your breath.
3. Keep warm
Keeping warm is important, cover up and avoid exposure to the cold and wind. In particular, covering up the lower back, kidneys and neck area when outside. Scarves, hats, gloves, jumpers and kidney warmers (a scarf around the kidneys) are the best accessories for winter.
Keep your feet warm as the sole of your foot (Yonquan) is where the kidney meridian begins. It is important to not walk barefoot on cold floors, to avoid cold entering into the body.
Before bed, a hot water foot bath with Epsom salts is a great way to help keep warm and nourish your water energy. This draws heat away from your head and body, helping to internalise your thoughts, contributing to a good night's sleep. It cools your body’s core, inducing melatonin production, which makes us feel sleepy.
4. Healthy winter meals
Healthy winter meals are core to optimising health at this time of year. This takes into consideration:
the thermal nature of the food
seasonal foods selected
Winter is a Yin time of the year. Excessive cold-natured food introduces an extra Yin energy that can be overwhelming. During winter, your body needs more warmth to function in the presence of cold influences. The less you direct internal warmth to digest cold foods, the more available it is to support other body functions.
Minimising the intake of foods straight from the fridge or with a cold nature is best during winter. Cold natured foods include foods that are in season during summer. These foods have the purpose of cooling us down to counter the heat of summer. This means reducing foods such as cucumbers, citrus, melons and tomatoes. Foods with a lack of Yang Qi, or vital life force, are also considered cold natured. This means that heavily processed foods are also best avoided.
This is the time of year to take more time in the preparation of food, eating stews, soups and casseroles. Slow cooking food allows ingredients to rest during the cooking process. This is in harmony with the seasonal energetics.
Marrow is fantastic to support your deepest energy reserve known as your Jing. We associate Jing with the kidney, which is the organ we must nourish during winter. If you are a meat-eater, slow cook organic meat (on the bone) to allow this essence to be part of the diet.
The salty flavour has a resonance with the water element, so including some in your diet is important.
Moderate amounts of salt are beneficial, but it must be high quality such as naturally dried sea salt. There are many minerals found in good quality salt which are essential for the function of your body. Highly processed salt is detrimental to your health. Processing removes the healthy Yang vitality needed from our food. This can damage the healthy expression of water energy in your body.
Foods in season during winter are the most appropriate. In particular, foods that benefit the Water element in winter include:
kidney or black beans
dark green leafy vegetables
nuts such as walnuts and chestnuts
millet and barley
foods that are blue or black (the colour associated with the Water element)
For optimal winter health, also include warming spices in your cooking. This includes:
Here are a few recipes for you to try out:
Drinking hot as opposed to cold drinks also is important. Hot ginger or cinnamon tea, or even better, Chai, is great to reintroduce some warmth to your belly.
‘Reset Your Year’ Class - Join Me
On New Year's Eve, I will be hosting a special Reset Your Year class. Using a simple, but effective body-based process of reflection, prioritising and planning, this special end of year class will help you both complete the old year and clarify what is most important to you as you enter the new year.
Pre-registration is required; no experience is necessary. It is free to all my subscribed students as a 'thank you' from me for your ongoing support. If you are not a subscriber but would like to attend, you can either pay £10 for this one-off class or subscribe to Move Life Better and receive this class and gain access to all my ‘catch up’ classes for just £7.99 per month.