Tips for Winter Health (Traditional Chinese Medicine)

Tips for Winter Health (Traditional Chinese Medicine)

Living in Harmony with the Seasons

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) states that people should live in harmony with their environment. During winter, this means slowing down in the colder months, deeply nourishing yourself, and keeping warm and well rested in order to plant the seeds for renewed vitality in the new year. As nature slows down and hibernates during the winter, the process of new growth and regeneration for the spring has already begun internally.

Winter Meditation

Wintertime is an excellent time for retrospection, meditation and exploration of deeper issues. To do this, we need to slow down. In fact, we are usually so busy that we are not even aware of how neurotic our thoughts and actions are. When we slow down through meditation, relaxation, or simply taking some time off, we may be overwhelmed by the recognition of how fast and full our lives really are. If we can take the time to truly relax and slow down, the winter season can provide a profound opportunity for internal insight and deep introspection. This process may naturally give rise to “stuff” that is stuck under the surface of our mundane activities; issues, thoughts or patterns we may have been avoiding with our ongoing busyness. Simply allow these issues to arise, unfold and slip away as you calm your mind with simple meditation and breathing practices. Allowing this process to unfold during the winter season can have a much different quality than the peeling process that we engage in during our spring and fall cleanse. The end result may be similar but different organ systems, emotions and patterns are involved. This level of mind/heart medicine is an integral part of true integrative health and the winter season is an excellent time to experience meditation’s holistic benefits. For more in-depth discussion on meditation for beginners, click here.

Winter Elements

According to the principles of TCM, winter is associated with the element of water and influences the health of the kidneys, bladder, adrenal glands, bones (including bone marrow) and teeth. In TCM, the kidneys are the primary source of vitality, energy and heat as well as vital essence. Energy is drawn from this source during times of stress and anxiety or when the body requires healing. During the coldness of winter, it is critical to maintain healthy kidneys and adrenal glands through proper diet and supplementation, good hydration, as well as energetic practices such as yoga and Tai Chi, which help keep your core warm and well nourished.

Emotions in the Winter

According to TCM, winter is inactive, cold and damp in nature, relating to feelings such as fear and depression which tend to exert more influence during this season. In Western medicine, many people are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a particular form of depression/anxiety that occurs during the darker months primarily due to lack of sunshine exposure. Women often experience this condition more than men and it results in poor mood, lack of energy, irritability, and weight gain due to overeating and fatigue. In addition to supplementing with Vitamin D-3, I recommend opening your curtains during the day to allow any sunlight to come in and taking brisk walks (in the sunshine if possible) to improve circulation and blood flow. Meditation practices that help to calm the mind and heart are also extremely valuable during the winter season.

Warm, Nourishing Foods

In icy winter months, people tend to exercise less, remain more sedentary and crave calorie-dense comfort foods. It’s important, however, to pay close attention to the amount and type of food you eat during this time in order to avoid unhealthy weight gain. According to TCM, it is also important to avoid too many raw foods during winter because they tend to cool the body and can deplete our digestive “fire” which is the ability to assimilate food efficiently. I recommend eating warming foods, while cooking them longer and at lower temperatures with less water. Emphasize soups and stews, root vegetables, plenty of dark leafy greens, kidney and black beans, walnuts, black sesame seeds, whole grains, and seaweeds. These specific foods help to fortify the kidneys, uplift the emotions, nourish the body, keep you warm and help you to conserve energy.

Winter Supplementation

Botanicals and nutrients which promote immune health during the winter are important adjuncts for surviving cold and flu season. High quality medicinal mushrooms are potent immune modulators, along with vitamin C, zinc and vitamin D-3. Other powerful immune supplements include Modified Citrus Pectin and a Tibetan Herbal Formula with over 3 decades of clinical research. Purified Honokiol (magnolia bark extract) can help with mood support and a comprehensive digestive formula with botanicals and enzymes, can keep digestion strong and support nutrient absorption for optimal nourishment. Other herbs emphasized by TCM in the winter include tonifying root herbs for their warming, grounding and strengthening properties.

Healing Practices

People are more susceptible to colds and flu during the winter season, as the cold weather challenges the immune system. The main treatment modalities in TCM are acupuncture and moxabustion (the burning of Moxa herb, mugwort, around specific acupuncture points), Qi Gong (precise exercises to enhance the flow of vital energy), specific dietary recommendations, as well an extensive pharmacopeia of herbal medicine. All of these therapies have great value during the winter, as they help to relieve stagnant energy caused by a lack of activity and the cold weather. Practitioners of TCM also advise resting as much as possible during the winter, which helps replenish the kidneys and restore essential energy. Getting to bed early and rising after the sun has risen will help you preserve your warmth and vitality.

Big Picture

Traditional Chinese Medicine reflects an innate connection to nature with each season presenting opportunities for transformation, healing and growth. The winter season allows for deeper introspection and nourishment, so that our seeds and intentions can develop internally before they blossom into the spring. So stay warm, hydrated and nourished, and try to give yourself the extra time and space to slow down, rest and meditate in this profound season of stillness.

There are 9 comments for this article
  1. ed jamieson at 10:54 am

    Can i take modified pectin with flaseed or does it have to be taken alone?

  2. Shellie Rice at 12:37 pm

    As always, your words say the right thing at the right time for us….Our never-ending thanks for all that you do. You are appreciated by more people than you know…Eternally grateful, Charlie & Shellie Rice

  3. Eric Leber at 8:20 am

    Dear Whoever reads this,
    A deep thanks for this article, a VERY helpful reminder to care for this thing labeled “I”. A long-time practitioner of T’ai Chi Ch’uan I can say, with enormous gratitude, IT WORKS! eric

  4. Staff at 9:35 am

    Hi Ed,
    Generally it’s best if you take it on its own, about 30 minutes away from other supplements or food. Because of MCP’s binding capabilities, it has the potential to bind to other things in the digestive system before getting absorbed into the bloodstream, which could potentially reduce its effectiveness.

  5. Paula Young, LMFT at 10:46 am

    Thank you for the reminder to just look outside! Notice what time of year we are in. I find that actually most of us are doing the opposite of what you recommend here. It’s as if, since it’s the beginning of the year (calendar), we must start up all kinds of new things! What you are suggesting is opposite to that and so much more in turn with our innate, natural selves. In fact, it made me feel good, just reading it…
    I recently wrote an entire post on the subject you devoted a section to, S.A.D. Some people really suffer from this and, as you touched upon, there ARE things that can be done to alleviate it.

  6. Kimie Ranken at 5:23 pm

    I am interested in checking on the proper amounts of D3 to supplement with…I’ve read that 2,000 isn’t too much in the wintertime…but then a friend told me she knew a friend who developed kidney issues when she was taking only 1500 iu. Was this trouble really linked to her D3 supplements (they live in “dreary” Erie, PA where there is little sun in the winter and it is too darn cold to go out for long when the sun does shine!)?

  7. Patricia Hudak at 11:24 pm

    I would love to receive your information. I have many friends who need direction and I would like to share your information with them, I also can use help from you myself. I am not sure that this is something I experience but it happens every year. I call it the “house blues” jokingly.I am interested in learning about S.A.D. and how it affects people like myself.I will share your information and your address for them to contact you. Thank you for this consideration. Pat Hudak

  8. Patricia Hudak at 11:29 pm

    I am prone to the “winter fever” as I call it. Our winters are long and cold. I hate the cold and love the warmth of summer, spring and fall. It is not a terrible thing but as a retired teacher after 37 years of active teaching, I find myself bored in the winter cold. I keep myself busy, reading, cleaning and doing things that we enjoy. Cooking, baking and reading help me survive being enclosed, I’d be an ideal resident of Florida but I love our home and my husband loves the change of seasons here. We’re staying….