Ease into Winter with Chinese Medicine

 by Kayla Benaburger

Winter solstice begins the time of year when cold and darkness pervades; where we are met with shorter days and longer nights. Whether you’re breaking out your warmest hats and gloves or burrowing inside, it’s official: winter is here.  

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the winter solstice has additional meaning. It brings along with it a time of increased change of ‘Wind’ diseases, or colds and flus that challenge our “Wei” qi (immunity) – they were named as such since it was believed that the diseases were carried by the wind. “Wei” qi is the energy involved in your first line of defense against disease and is one of many different types of “Qi” in the body.   Winter solstice, then, is a great time to boost our “Wei” qi and strengthen immunity.  

In addition to wind, winter also relates to the water element.  Water is extremely nourishing and therefore essential for all life, which is why rest and nourishment are so important during these winter months.  Water also relates to the kidney, which means this is a great time to nourish the kidneys. Too much work and not enough rest damages the kidneys, so winter is the time to focus on self-care where you take it a little bit easier and focus on rest and nourishing the body with good sleep, diet and habits.

According to TCM, yang is warm while yin is cool. Winter is the most yin time of the year, so we want to focus on nourishing the yin. We must also nourish the yang, in order to keep warm.  The best ways to nourish and recharge include eating warming foods – such as yams, garlic, clove, ginger, cinnamon bark, leeks, and onion – staying warm, getting as much sun as possible, and taking part in exercises such as aerobics, strength training, stretching and yoga.  Activities that are specifically great at nourishing the yang include acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.  These can help balance the body and charge the immune system.  Acupuncture points are specifically chosen to match individual “balance” needs, and often include wind points, such as GB20 and GB21.  Herbal teas and herbal medicines can also strengthen the immune system.  Rest is especially important, as is dressing for the weather – keeping the neck covered is essential, as there are lots of pathogens that enter the body at a point called DU 14, which lies right at the base of the neck.  Finally, incorporating stress management techniques such as meditation, qi gong and tai chi, can be extremely helpful.  

The holidays can be a stressful, rushed time for many.  It is important to take time to rest and recharge, and make sure that while the holidays may wreak havoc on your wallet, they do not wreak havoc on your body.  TCM can help, nourishing your energies and ensuring that balance is maintained.