Winter may be the coziest time of the year, but it can also be the hardest on your health. With shorter days and gloomier weather, the winter blues can set in, sapping your energy and motivation. Respiratory viruses like the dreaded flu start circulating everywhere. The dry, frigid air leaves your skin and hair bone dry. And end-of-year stressors can wear down even those with the hardiest of constitutions.
What is the prescription for winter wellness? Harness the power of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to boost your vitality and health during the coldest months of the year. The secret is using time-honored practices that help align your body with nature to deeply nourish the body, mind, and spirit.
Slow It Down
Winter is an ideal time to slow down. Just as nature slows down and hibernates during the winter months, you too can take extra time to nurture yourself, stay warm, and keep well-rested. This helps plant the seeds for regeneration in the spring.
Winter Meditation for Long-Term Health
The stillness of winter offers an ideal time for retrospection, meditation, and reflection. But to do this, we first need to slow down through mind-body practices, relaxation, or best of all, regular meditation. This slow-down process naturally gives rise to “stuff” that is often stuck under the surface: issues, thoughts, or patterns you may have been avoiding with chronic busyness. Allow these issues to arise, unfold, and slip away as you calm your mind with relaxation, meditation, and/or breathing practices.
Uncomplicated meditation practices have been shown in clinical studies to work as well or better than pharmaceutical medications for depression and anxiety.
Simple meditation instructions: One ancient method of meditation that is both simple and profound is called Shamatha, or “Calm Abiding.” Shamatha is a staple for both beginners and advanced practitioners of this style.
- Find a quiet place to sit and pick a small object such as a rock to place on the ground in front of you, where it is comfortable to set your gaze.
- Focus your eyes and breathing on the rock, and as thoughts inevitably arise, simply acknowledge and then release them, letting them slip away with each out-breath. When your mind wanders off, gently bring your attention back to your breathing and the rock, visualizing each inhalation and exhalation going to and from the rock.
- Even just 10 minutes a day of this style of meditation is shown to improve numerous markers of physical, mental, and emotional health. This type of mind/heart medicine is an integral part of healing.
Nourish Your Body’s Key “Winter” Organs
Winter correlates to the element of water and influences the health of the kidneys, bladder, adrenal glands, bones (including bone marrow), and teeth, according to TCM. The kidneys are the primary source of vitality, energy, and inner heat, and energy is drawn from this source during times of stress or when the body requires healing. During the cold seasons, it is vital to maintain healthy kidneys and adrenal glands through an unprocessed food diet and targeted supplementation, good hydration, and energetic practices such as yoga and Tai Chi. These efforts help keep your core warm and well nourished.
Winter is an inactive, cold, and damp season. In TCM, winter relates to feelings such as depression. In Western medicine, many people are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a particular form of depression/anxiety that occurs during the darker months, due to lack of sunshine and vitamin D3. Women often experience this condition more than men and it results in poor mood, lack of energy, and weight gain.
Vitamin D3: In addition to supplementing with vitamin D3, open your curtains during the day to allow any sunlight to come in and take brisk walks (in the sunshine if possible) to improve circulation.
Morning blue light treatment, which is thought to help enhance your body’s production of vitamin D, has been shown to help improve sleep complaints and symptom severity in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Morning sunlight boasts an added benefit: Getting just 30 seconds of morning light — between sunrise and 9 a.m. — can reduce cancer risk by as much as 80 percent, according to new research by Dr. Mohammad Muneeb Khan, a consultant clinical oncologist at Queen’s Centre for Oncology and Haematology at Castle Hill Hospital in the U.K.
Warm, Nourishing Foods
According to TCM, it is important to avoid too many raw foods during winter because they tend to cool the body and can deplete its digestive “fire” — aka the ability to assimilate food. Instead, emphasize “warming” foods, and cook them longer at lower temperatures. Some good options:
- Soups and stews
- Lamb and chicken
- Root vegetables
- Dark leafy greens
- Kidney and black beans
- Black sesame seeds
- Whole grains
These specific foods help to fortify your kidneys, lift mood, nourish your body, keep you warm, and help you to conserve energy. Dehydration is also an issue during the winter, since coldness draws away moisture — like freezer burn. Warm water is more hydrating than icy water — aim for 8–10 cups per day.
Essential Nutrients for Winter
Botanicals and nutrients that promote immune health during the winter are important for avoiding viral and other types of infections. *
One supplement in particular, Padma Basic®, is a unique Tibetan Herbal Formula with more than three decades of clinical research behind it. Padma Basic® has been shown to support healthy immune function, as well as cardiovascular and circulatory health — critical during the winter as we face colder weather and less physical activity.*
Other herbs emphasized by TCM in the winter include “tonifying” roots such as ginger and galangal for their warming, grounding, and strengthening properties.
Acupuncture, Qi Gong (precise exercises to enhance the flow of vital energy), specific dietary recommendations, and targeted herbal formulas all have immense value during the winter. They help to relieve stagnant energy caused by a lack of activity and the wintry weather, while supporting immunity and boosting vitality. Practitioners of TCM also advise sleeping as much as possible during the winter, which replenishes the kidneys and restores essential energy. Getting to bed early and rising after the sun will help preserve your warmth and vitality.
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 inspiration and intentions can develop internally before blossoming in the spring. Stay warm, hydrated, and nourished. Most of all, try to give yourself the extra time and space to slow down, rest and meditate in this beautiful season of stillness.