How To Nourish Your Body During Winter
Updated: Jan 31, 2022
The fundamentals of Chinese medicine are based upon the principles of yang and yin. Yang is daytime energy, physiological organ function, warmth and movement. Yin is nighttime energy, the repairing and restorative operations that occur while you are sleeping, cold & restfulness. Winter is a yin season. The cold and darkness of winter drive us to seek inner warmth. Therefore, winter months should include more introspection, resting, and storing of the body’s physical energy. This helps to align our bodies with the seasons. Below are some helpful winter wellness tips as we prepare to hunker down for the next few months.
One of the things that I love about acupuncture is that it can treat more than just pain. Acupuncture is a complete medicine that can be used to treat all systems of the body. What really makes acupuncture different from modern medicine is it can be used as preventative medicine. This means that you do not need to show an active sign or symptom to get acupuncture. Weekly acupuncture visits can boost your immune system, improve circulation, and regulate your nervous system for a healthy individual.
Eating for Winter
In Chinese medicine each organ is attached to a season. Winter is associated with the energy of the kidney. Some ways to nourish kidney energy in the winter include:
Eating warm soups with tons of root vegetables (carrots, turnips, rutabaga, potatoes, beets, onions, fennel, parsnip, celeriac). These are rich in fiber, antioxidants, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, as well as having anti inflammatory properties.
Incorporate bone broths into your diet. Since these broths are slow cooked for hours they provide tons of minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium that are then easily digested and absorbed. What slow cooking for hours does is it breaks down the cartilage and tendons from the bones which releases the compounds that are found in supplements for arthritis and joint pain. Broths have also been used to boost immunity during the winter months or to recover from illness. You can make your own or you can buy it from an organic brand. Use the broth as bases for soups, to cook grains with, or as a nourishing drink.
Cooking foods longer and at lower temperatures. Using a slow cooker or roasting food in the oven is great for this.
Salty and bitter flavors are appropriate for winter because they promote a sinking and centering quality of our energy which allows for more storage of your internal energy. It allows for more heat to be brought deeper where we need it the most during winter.
Always remember to eat local and seasonal whenever possible to increase the nutritional value of your food.
Vitamin D is involved in calcium regulation. It helps with calcium retention for our bone health. In addition to calcium regulation, research shows that Vitamin D can increase immune function by regulating immune system proteins which have anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. This is very important during the winter months when colds, flus, and now, the COVID-19 virus, wreak havoc on our bodies. Since Vitamin D is the lowest in the winter months due to less time outside and less natural sun, I always recommend patients to get their Vitamin D levels checked and to supplement if it’s deficient. Vitamin D3 with Vitamin K is the most beneficial way to supplement because Vitamin D helps increase calcium levels in the body and Vitamin K helps the body transport the calcium to the bone for absorption. Always consult with your physician before supplementing.
Exercise is important for many reasons, especially for those of us that sit at a desk for a large portion of the day. It’s beneficial for our physical health. It can increase energy levels, promote better sleep, strengthen your muscles and bones, and can improve overall health.
Exercise is also beneficial for your mental health. When you exercise, your body releases those feel good hormones such as endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. This can help decrease your levels of stress, anxiety or depression. I recommend doing some form of movement on a daily basis. Find what resonates with you. It can be walking, running, biking, swimming, weight training, yoga, or dance parties with friends or family. Use this movement as a form of medicine to nurture your body. Your body will thank you.
In Chinese Medicine there are different types of energies that are utilized and stored in the body. Qi (“chi”) is a type of energy that is used on a daily basis, allowing our organs to perform their physiological functions and how you mobilize your immune system. Jing is a type of energy that your body stores over time. This energy is stored in the kidneys and created from a combination of our genetics and from our lifestyles. It is the battery pack for our bodies. The essence of who you are as a human.
Unfortunately, our current way of living - being on the run, attached to a screen, or doing something constantly - is depleting our Jing energy. Other ways that can deplete your Jing energy is overthinking, too much anxiety or fear, overworking, heavy menstrual periods in women or excess release of semen in men. When your Jing energy is deficient, it will weaken your body over time.
So then how can you nourish your Jing energy? There are many ways, but in keeping with the season’s theme, I want to focus on the practice of stillness. Winter is a great time to try this because when the weather keeps you inside you have the opportunity to be with yourself. Stillness can look like a lot of things, so I encourage you to explore what works best for you. Some examples can be journaling, breathwork, meditation, pausing while drinking a cup of tea, or even taking a nap; anything that forces you to slow down and go inward to reflect on yourself. Start with 5 minutes a day of whatever it is you choose and see how you feel. It’s ok for it to feel uncomfortable at first, but if you give your body and nervous system some time to adapt to the change in energy the results will come naturally. You can gradually increase the amount of time as the 5 minutes gets easier for you.
Winter is the time when nature takes a rest. The beauty of Chinese medicine is its alignment with nature and the seasons for optimal health. I encourage you to give your body a rest this winter season. Get cozy with someone or yourself and take pause to reflect on your life. You might be surprised at what you find. If you have any questions or want to learn more about acupuncture and herbal medicine, please contact the office for more information. Be well!