Does winter have you feeling a little less motivated, outgoing, or energized than usual? There’s nothing wrong with you; your body’s natural rhythm is simply kicking in, and right on time. In the past, we lived in harmony with nature, our daily life changing according to the season. Now, with globalization and modern technology, we’ve conveniently disregarded these cycles and live out of season without a second thought. The consequences? More and more we’re feeling off, we burn out quickly, and injuries occur more easily. Essentially, we’re not able to enjoy life as fully, and with presence.
To help you realign with nature we’ll be sharing season-specific guidance through the lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TMC); our favourite tips, recipes, rituals, and treatments will help you better understand and support your body’s needs.
Winter, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is considered a time for retreating and going within. It’s an opportunity for our bodies to recover from the more active, or Yang, energy of summer, by sleeping longer hours and spending more time in meditation or quiet reflection.
Think Hygge for your body.
During the winter months, we often hear patients say that activities that normally energize them have suddenly become a struggle. They feel guilty or lazy for no longer wanting to “crush it” at the gym, for example. While this Yang (active) mentality works well for us in the summertime to get things done, achieve goals, and cultivate our social lives, it can easily backfire in the winter when our mind and body naturally want to slow down. Those Yang (active) activities, such as HIIT and Crossfit, can put further strain on the body when it’s meant to be conserving energy for other important internal processes.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this season is represented by the kidneys, and bringing them back into balance with the rest of the organ systems in the body is meant to take priority.
Our kidneys are arguably the most important organs in TCM. They hold our Pre-natal Qi – the energy that is passed onto us from our parents and is essentially, our genetic code. Our kidneys provide us with the sustenance we need for life, the strength of our will and determination, the proper balance of our reproductive hormones, and the strength of our bones.
But, as we are born with a finite amount of this Qi energy, it is important that we don’t continually push ourselves into a constant state of depletion all year round.
Ignoring cues from the environment and seasons has a cumulative strain on our health and may present as:
These signs are merely indications for us to slow down, rest, and nourish not only our bodies but our minds and hearts.
During the winter season, the kidneys are the keys to wellbeing. Here’s how to keep yours fully nourished:
5pm to 7pm is the most vital time to nourish the kidneys, according to TCM. Signs of kidney imbalance typically show up daily around this time, if you haven’t been taking care. Feeling fatigued during the early evening – especially after the typical late-afternoon energy drop – might be an indication that you’re experiencing some adrenal fatigue.
Finding a way to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the workday is key. Take advantage of this time to wind down by lowering the lights, listening to soft music, slowly preparing dinner, journalling, or having a bath.
In the winter we should aim to sleep for 8-10 hours a night. It may not always be possible to get that length of rest, but at minimum we need to prioritize rest and relaxation so that our bodies can really benefit from and sync with the shift in seasons.
Mindful activities such as journal writing or meditation help to draw our energies inward so that we can process our past and become present. Historically, our western world hasn’t particularly valued these types of activities, but their benefits on our nervous systems, among other things, are important for life balance and mental health.
Whether it’s sitting alone in a quiet space, experiencing the vibrations of a sound bath, forest bathing (we are lucky to have so many to choose from in Vancouver), soaking in the tub… we all need time to unwind and breathe in stillness. It may take time to practice stillness and be comfortable while doing it, but you have all winter long to work on it!
Pack away those crop-tops until spring. In the winter, it’s especially important to keep out lower backs warm. Our lower backs house the kidneys and if we don’t take proper measures to stay warm during this season, they are highly vulnerable to wind and cold.
Slower moving activities like Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Yin yoga, walking, and stretching help to nourish the kidneys’ yin energy. Less intense than your typical workout, these exercises are not only an excellent way to relieve stress and practice presence, they gently guide fluids to move more deeply into our joints and muscle tissue, often resulting in decreased muscle pain and increased recovery.
As a general nutrition rule in TCM, anything dark blue or black in colour is nourishing for the kidneys. Think black beans, blackberries, blueberries, and black sesame seeds. Salty foods like miso and seaweed are tonifying for the kidneys. Sour foods such as lemon, vinegar, kimchi, and other fermented foods help to nourish the yin or fluid aspect of the body. Seeds in general are important for kidney health but especially flax, pumpkin, chestnuts, and walnuts.
Kidneys are a water organ. They like to stay hydrated in order to be in balance with the rest of the body. Incorporating nourishing teas such as nettle is one of our favourite ways to hydrate with the kidney in mind. A kidney tonic that is high in vitamin C and iron, Nettle tea also helps with bone and joint health.
Another heartier option is bone broth as it is thought to nourish the marrow, which, in TCM, is produced by the kidneys. The kidneys form not only the marrow in your bones and spinal cord, but in your brain as well. If the marrow is deficient, you might feel dizzy or experience tinnitus, or feel fatigued or wanting to lie down all the time.
Vegetarian or vegan? Try a Kombu and mushroom broth.
Massage your feet. The kidney meridian begins in your feet, and when these pressure points are activated it activates energy that might not be moving well. A reflexology treatment is a fantastic way to support your kidney.
Rub your ears. It’s easy to add this simple act to your morning and night routines after brushing your teeth. Massage your ears in a circular motion until your they feel warm; that’s all that is needed to give your kidney Qi a boost! It will help to calm an already taxed nervous system by producing endorphins – your body’s natural feel good hormones.
We hope you enjoy incorporating some of these lifestyle habits into your daily routine this winter. And, whenever you feel that little tug to “keep up” with the world, remember that allowing your body to rest during the winter season will allow you to emerge refreshed come spring, full of vigor (and ready to start “crushing it” at the gym once again).
For more ways to support your wellbeing this winter, peruse the full series of our winter-related articles and recipes:
How to Find Peace & Comfort Through Meditation
Nourishing Your Body with Vitamin Injections
Elderberry Recipes to Boost Your Immune System
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