According to Chinese medical theory, to remain in good health, we need to live in harmony with nature. A big part of this is tuning ourselves into seasonal changes.
During the colder months of winter we naturally start to slow down. The days are shorter, encouraging us to sleep longer. Our energy is lower. Many other mammals hibernate or make provisions for surviving in a harsher climate. As human beings, however, we are able to carry on with business as usual and embrace Christmas - for many, the most lively and social festival of the year. We are able to manage this because we have warm houses, electricity and 'seasonal food' such as clementines and dates that are largely imported from far away lands where the sun is still shining. I noted that during the run up to Christmas we were able to buy strawberries imported from Ethiopia!!
Although we have the sophistication and means to live life to the full during the darker months, few of us truly thrive by doing this. Indeed, many of the people who visit my acupuncture clinic feel that they get ill more frequently and their energy drops. Many hope that acupuncture will throw them back into the full energetic highs of summer. The fact of the matter is that we are meant to feel like this in winter.
Chinese Medicine and Winter
Winter corresponds to the Water element. Water corresponds to absolute yin, or a state of dark, cool dormancy; hence our need for extra rest and hibernation in the winter. However, according to the theory of yin and yang, everything in nature is part of a transformation. So, whilst Water is a state of stillness and rest, it is also preparation for the gigantic energetic push that happens in spring.
Think of planting a seed or a bulb. In winter we see nothing happening on the surface, yet nature requires this passive and dormant state in order to push the first shoots through the soil in the spring. In the same way, our bodies should respect our need for rest in the winter, to ensure good health in the spring.
In acupuncture, Water corresponds to the Kidney and Bladder meridians; its emotion is fear (think of the Kidneys' link with the adrenal glands) and its climate is cold. Both the Bladder and Kidney meridians meet on the feet; so keeping your feet and lower back (where the Kidneys reside) warm during the winter months is an excellent way to maintain good health.
An imbalance in the Water element may manifest in insomnia, night sweats, anxiety / depression, achy lower back and knees or a feeling of heat in palms and soles of the feet. These are common complaints that many acupuncturists will observe at this time of the year.
Water imbalances are very rewarding to treat, particularly in the winter, as there is almost always an element of a person not resting enough, and therefore failing to nourish the yin aspect of themselves. Acupuncture is wonderful at putting people back in touch with themselves. After an acupuncture treatment many people will feel more chilled out and able to listen to what their body is telling them. Often, people will report better sleep and less extremes of temperature. Also, acupuncture, by its very nature, requires a person to be passive; so nothing more is required, other than to lie back and enjoy the treatment.
What to Eat in the Winter
Winter food should be larger, heartier and cooked for longer periods of time.
Chinese Medicine takes into account the amount of heat and energy put into food during the cooking process; therefore winter food should be cooked for longer and summer food briefly, if at all. Stews, soups and roasted meats, adding seasonal vegetables such as winter squashes and greens, will ensure good health during the months when food is naturally less abundant.
The ideal flavours for the season are sweet and salty, as they descend energy in the body, allowing it to better deal with cold conditions (1).
1) Reichstein, Gail; Wood Becomes Water, Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life
Jane practices Traditional Five Element Acupuncture at several clinics across Bristol. For more information or an informal chat, please contact Jane on 07515 128248 or email firstname.lastname@example.org