TCM & Winter
BY: DR. LISA J. LUNDY
As the warmth of Summer and Fall drift behind us we find ourselves in the depth of Winter; the darkness, the cold, the damp and the often sore aching backs, and bones, endless fatigue and sometimes heightened anxiety or insecurity. Welcome the Water Element in Chinese Medicine, and all that it brings! Fear not, it is also a time of peace, and quiet, and rest and inward reflection and an opportunity to acknowledge the harvest of your year, and count your blessings.
Our ability to enjoy this season is influenced by so many factors and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers some fabulous support to make the most of the season.
The Kidney and Adrenal system in our body are most influenced at this time of year as they fall under the classification of the Water Element. According to TCM principles, all of the energy or Qi for our body stems from the health of Kidney energy. The Kidneys are the root or pillar of strength that all the rest of our being draws upon, and they have the ability to lift us up or pull us down.
Many people are suffering a deep depletion of Kidney Qi as a result of overwork, stress, or excessive lifestyles physically and/or mentally. This depletion of energy is the equivalent of our gas tank running on empty or adrenal exhaustion. Common physical symptoms are often bone problems (especially in the back, knees or teeth), joint pain, depletion of hair quality, urinary, sexual and reproductive imbalances, premature aging, fatigue, depression, insecurity, and anxiety or insomnia. The Kidney channel is said to influence the bones and anchor the spirit. The inability to do this with proper resources, leads to compromise. As Winter comes upon us and our exposure to light and warmth is lessened, many of these symptoms can become more noticeable.
In addition to the many other health care modalities that can be used to help us get through the Winter season, TCM offers some unique and effective treatments to consider.
Acupuncture treatments have been shown to be very helpful in increasing energy and immunity as well as having a quick and significant influence on mood and well being.
Points are selected to strengthen and increase the circulation of Qi and Blood in the body and build back strength. A series of treatments during this season can do wonders to assist with recovery from burnout and exhaustion or reducing and healing back or bone pain. The retention of needles influences the release of many wonderful endorphins and other chemicals in the body to improve mood and aid in relaxation, which is of particular support when we are living with fewer hours of light. The result is that the body is able to switch out of chronic fight or flight mode, which allows the Kidney and Adrenal area to finally “catch a breath” and recharge, thereby restoring health, strength and balance.
Eating foods that are warm and cooked and containing a bitter and salty flavour are also very important tips to keep the body well nourished, balanced and strong. Chinese medicine is based on the principle of balance within our body, and balance with our environment. As we move into colder weather, it becomes more important to minimize excess intake of cold and raw foods and instead utilize the nourishment of foods such as root vegetables, grains, beans, sesame seeds and seaweeds combined with warming flavours such as ginger and cinnamon. These foods are considered to be more tonifying or energy building, and help keep our circulation strong and nourishing to the bone. The use of more bitter flavours ensures that the warmth and nourishment is spread throughout the entire body. Chinese herbs also have an extremely powerful influence over this regulation in the body and unique individualized formulas are often incorporated into treatments as well.
When Kidney energy is strong and healthy, it is able to be an anchor for our heart or spirit which helps to reduce symptoms of anxiety or insomnia and provides security for the psyche. We have all experienced that we are less able to cope when we are feeling tired and depleted. The more tired we are, the more tired we can become because our body is not able to anchor itself and so the mind is said to wander – it is not secure and grounded. When the Kidney-Adrenal complex is not renewed, it can be extremely difficult to overcome some of these mental/emotional struggles even if other support systems are in place. By making use of some of these therapeutic tools, individuals often find that they are better able to participate in the joys of Winter and to do so in good health.
So bundle up up in the cold, keep your body warm moving from the inside out, provide it with rest, relaxation and nourishment, and consider making use of some of the many ways to slow down, rebuild and reflect on all that your body has done for you.