Winter is a time for seeking a comforting, warming and positive environment. Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us the importance of living in harmony with the seasons so we may create a better balance between our bodies and the external environment. These modifications can include physical aspects such as diet and exercise, but also includes support and inner positivity of our emotions and spiritual needs. As it’s no secret that TCM encompasses a holistic outlook, it brings us to examine the fundamental internal and external changes we can make to aid us in getting the most out of ourselves in each season.
In TCM they believe that the diet and activities in winter should be adapted to enriching yin and subduing yang; as the rhythm of winter is far more internal, dark and cold in comparison to the warm, external and yang rhythm of summer. The organ associated with winter in TCM is the kidneys, they hold your Jing, also known as Qi, Dharma or life force in other cultures. Depletion of Jing can lead to a lot of other more serious physical and emotional issues within the body and so its preservation is paramount. The emotion that inhibits the function of this organ is fear. Excess and especially prolonged emotional states of fear can not only damage your kidneys but also accelerate the aging process. Here’s to getting older quicker! (Said nobody, ever.) So lets all prepare ourselves by being more informed of how to treat our bodies with the utmost respect, to limit the damage.
When Chinese Medicine originated, people were already living in a complete state of harmony with the seasons. They harvested and ate whatever was naturally abundant at that time of year and were acutely aware of their natural surroundings, as it directly affected them. Today we have the modern luxuries of insulated houses, abundant choice of clothing, heating and air conditioning to support our physical comfort in extreme weather conditions. I like to refer to it as a buffer from the elements. We have fruit and vegetables available all year round, whether they are in season in Australia or not. It is easy to see how by increasing our living standard and variety of choice, we have decreased our connection with the natural rhythm of the seasons. Now, I’m not suggesting you neglect your heater all winter so you can really feel the icy breath of frost inside your home, but rather to be mindful of the areas in our lives where our connection to nature is altered by consumerism and the not-so-necessary comforts of modern living. So, I wanted to create this blog post as a basic resource point, for even further personal research if you wish, into ways that through seasonally altering our diet and exercise we can restore and maintain vitality so everyone’s a happy chappy this winter.
In Australia, we are simply blessed with some stunning winter sunrises that light the sky on fire with flashes of intense red and brilliant orange. There is often a sense of peacefulness and quiet in the air, so why not make the most of a beautiful chilly morning by rugging up and heading down to your local organic market on the weekend.
Francesca and I adore the Northey Street Markets in Brisbane on a frosty Sunday morning. Some of the produce is grown at the Northey Street City farm, directly located next to the market itself. Seeing where your food has grown when you are purchasing it is such a surreal experience, but really it’s what our ancestors have done for thousand of years. There is a beautiful sense of community at this market. The people, the location and the vibe are nothing short of heart warming. We always leave with a big grin on our face and an overwhelming sense of calm. Let’s be honest Franny, it’s our happy place. If you’re not familiar with what grows in each season, you can’t really go wrong with purchasing at Northey Street Markets, because they simply wont have anything that isn’t naturally in season. It is very reasonably priced and with the friendly, helpful stallholders there is little to no trouble finding exactly what you need. If you’re local to Brisbane we highly recommend making the trip one Sunday morning, they are open from 6-11am every week.
Fruits and vegetables that are seasonal to Australia in winter include: apples, bananas, avocados, coconuts, dates, grapefruits, kiwi fruits, lemons, mandarins, oranges, bean sprouts, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, fennel, peas, potatoes, silver beet and spinach. Foods should be cooked for longer and on a lower temperature, to ensure the best nutrients of the plants are coaxed out and not boiled away. If you eat a predominantly raw food diet, it can be helpful to integrate some cooked foods into your meal plans during winter to eliminate unnecessary dampness, which can lead to illness. Hearty soups, broths and steamed winter greens all help kidney function. They will aid in warming your body and nourishing your soul, so take extra time to prepare your food this season and your body will thank you for it. The time of the kidneys in TCM is 5pm-7pm, so a perfect time to lovingly prepare and eat a seasonal dinner for yourself and loved ones.
We are lucky in Australia that we still have some warmth and sunshine throughout the winter months, however, the drive to go outside and exercise can be hard to muster. Not to mention potentially draining instead of energising if you are already fatigued by the cold. Physical activities that practice inward focus of energy such as Tai Chi and Qi gong are perfect for winter. If you like something a little more fast-paced Pilates, Yoga or acroyoga can also be done indoors. My personal favourite is hula hooping in winter (well…all year round, who am I kidding?). For those of you who know me personally, when living abroad in the UK I struggled to even leave the front door in anything less than 7 layers, sometimes this was even in summer. I became depressed from a lack of physical activity. A friend recommended I try hula hooping. Initially for fun, this practice became a daily ritual for me and soon my mood and energy levels improved as I had a physical outlet for my pent up energies. It is also a beautiful form of self-expression when combined with hoop dance, and has been documented to decrease stress, anxiety and promote self-confidence in a lot of people and makes an excellent winter activity. Whatever you are into, finding an indoor exercise routine for winter that not only entertains and inspires you but also gets your endorphins going is essential to beat away those winter blues. It’s not called SAD for nothing.
Journaling, mindfulness exercises and meditation are equally important to physical movement in winter. It is the yin cycle – this season is made for internalising and working to gain understanding of yourself on a deep personal level. We all need to be our own best friends in winter. In TCM, winter is referred to as the embryo, and so special care must be taken as all things on earth are fragile in this season. Excess consumption of drugs and alcohol due to destructive thought patterns can have a severe affect in winter. Jing is already in jeopardy; overuse of substances can lead to loss of life force and reoccurring adrenal fatigue. As our thoughts are prone to be less positive in winter it can be a time where we crave a rush from external substances as our Jing is in conservation mode, however, it is important to remember that we don’t have to be performing at peak external condition all year round, it is a time to honour the softer and gentler side of ourselves. Buy a colouring in book, spend time on pinterest learning different ways to propagate plants in the spring, sketch your favourite tree, rug up and go for a brisk walk, make a pot of tea, read a book, cuddle up to that special someone and don’t for one second feel guilty about lacking social contact - you’ll have more energy for yourself if you direct it inwards. PUT YOURSELF FIRST THIS WINTER!
All my warmest cuddles filled with love,