Britta Van Dun
A Cozy Winter
On December 21st, the Sun's path will be at the tippity bottom of the Northern Hemisphere heralding the solstice of winter. The solstice brings with it the shortest day of the year, and reverses the gradual waning of daylight hours. To say, darker days will quietly shift back to light.
Beneath the cold shadow of winter we naturally turn toward an inner hearth: the activity of Life gentles to gather and rest. This is the perfect time for reflection - a season to conserve and replenish in advance of a Spring soon unfolding.
In Chinese Medicine, winter is deeply Yin - dark, cold, slow, inward, ruled by the Water element. Like a tide returning to its source, winter offers contemplation of the murky depths. There we may find otherwise benighted reservoirs of emotion, particularly fear - the emotion most associated with the season. Sometimes unsettling, fear can awaken uncomfortable sensations and reactions. In the same breath, fear also highlights our deepest desires and aversions – reminding us of what we most cherish and that which we wish to avoid. Fear offers clarifying inroads to authenticity, a higher purpose and reveals choices that help us align with that purpose.
To navigate the tricky waters of fear, it's helpful to realize that the emotion, while convincing, is not fact. Fears also nearly always stem from or are tethered to earlier programming. The beliefs underlying the emotions are somewhat subconscious and arise of their own accord. While we are powerless over the emergence of fear, we can become finely attuned to the sensations in our bodies when fear does arise. With relaxation and breathing techniques we can create the spaciousness to release the contracting patterns, which naturally invites the mind to quiet. In this slowing down and releasing, we cultivate the capacity to choose what we believe and how we feel. It's not an overnight process, but with daily attention, we come to find a deeper sense of serenity even in the face of Life's biggest challenges.
From a cosmological and physiological frame, East Asian medicines attribute the winter with the vital root organs of the Kidneys, Adrenal Glands and Urinary Bladder. Zhuang Yuanchen’s Inner Chapters from the Ming Dynasty state that “the kidney is the ocean of the human body . . . All the essences and fluids of the body's various pathways pour into the kidney.”
Located between the lower Kidneys at L2 L3, opposite the navel, is an energetic portal known as the Mingmen or Gate of Life. The Huangting Jing or Yellow Court Classic offers: 'The igniting spark between the kidneys is the origin of the various processes of human life, the base of the body's five (yin) and six (yang) organs, the root of the twelve channel pathways, the door of breath . . .' Commonly known as Ming Men, this portal supports the Kidneys to purify the blood, store the sexual and pranic essences, and stimulate the body's Qi when depleted. Ming Men is the center of Prenatal Qi - our essential life force.
Throughout the winter we naturally consume more energy (to stay warm) and our Kidney Qi is more easily depleted. To remain healthy and balanced, it’s essential to take extra care during these chilly months. Classic Chinese texts offer practices to strengthen our Kidney Qi and overall immunity. I've woven in a few, along with several other ideas:
Fall to sleep early and rise late - after the sun's rays have warmed the earth.
Enjoy cooked, warming meals. Hearty soups, whole grains, meats and roasted nuts help warm the body’s core and keep us nourished. Kidney beans, Walnuts and Beef are particularly recommended to strengthen Kidney Qi.
Partake in familial and communal gatherings – this time of year is marked by many festivals of light, which are common in most spiritual and religious traditions.
Take time for quiet and reflection.
Bundle up – be sure to keep warm, especially the lower back where the Kidneys are located, and the upper back, back of your neck and throat. These areas are most susceptible to wind, cold and other pathogenic influences. Consider extra layers and hot showers on chillier days
Qigong, Tai Chi, yoga, meditation or other simple relaxation/movement therapies can help you release stress and maintain a sense of balance and ease
Acupuncture, body work, essences, homeopathic remedies, herbs and other holistic medicines can help uplift and strengthen your inner reserves.
Support the immune system by massaging the ear lobes, below the occiput (base of your skull), along the neck and at the armpits (to promote lymph drainage).
Many health advocates recommend taking extra Vitamin D and C.
Food Tips for Winter
It's a tad precarious offering food recommendations blanket-style. We are all different and our needs are deeply personal. We also each have certain proclivities, sensitivities, and intolerances. So, as with all things you read here, please take this with a grain of salt - or not, low sodium is a great option too.
Like Autumn, Winter is all about warm, cooked foods. Out with the uncooked and cold (like raw vegetables, salads, fruits, iced drinks, smoothies and cereal), and in with with cooked oats and grain porridges, egg dishes, congees, soups and stews.
Baking, roasting, stewing seasonal foods like winter squashes, root vegetables, winter greens, mushrooms, and apples is a wonderful way to elevate our inner temp. It’s also a great time to enjoy the beans, grains and nuts that were harvested in fall.
Foods that specifically nourish and warm the Kidneys include black beans, kidney beans, bone broth, lamb, chicken, walnuts, chestnuts, black sesame seeds and dark leafy greens. A small pinch of unrefined sea salt in meals helps balance the kidneys. Seaweeds (in moderation) offer a salty taste when cooked in soups, grains and beans.
Warm, herbal teas throughout the day help keep us warm. If not contra-indicated, gently warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom are a great accompaniment, though very hot spicy herbs are not recommended in winter because they create sweating, which ultimately cools the body. A small amount of a hot spice can increase circulation, so a pinch of pepper to taste could offer a perfect balance.
If you’re feeling under the weather: Soups of vegetables, beans, garlic, ginger and other warming anti-pathogenic herbs like thyme and rosemary are perfect to boost the immune system and ward off colds and flus. A savory miso broth with root, green and sea vegetables as well as chicken soup are great revitalizers after an illness.
In Winter, we naturally crave fats. Satisfy the call by eating healthy fats instead of deep fried and packaged/processed ones. Organic pasture butter, ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado and salmon are all great sources. To better digest fats, room-temperature fermented vegetables are recommended. Bitter leafy greens also aid digestion of heavier foods. Please note: It’s natural to gain a bit of weight to conserve warmth in winter – no worries, you can shed in Spring. In the meantime, enjoy! : )
I'm not a doctor. These are ideas not recommendations : ) . Any questions or to schedule a session, please reach out to email@example.com or via phone or text 917.519.2432
Wishing you a very cozy, peaceful and happy winter xx