It's about this time in the year when we tend to be worn out and exhausted. The cold weather encourages us to slow down. Nature is at rest under the fallen leaves and the snow. Animals are in hibernation; plants return nutrients to their roots. We benefit from living this season in a bit of a cocoon – early to bed, late to rise and basically catching our breath from all the year's activities. Our bodies need to restore and recuperate so we are ready to start a new cycle in spring.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the energy of winter is cold and the color is black/dark blue. Winter is the season of water and the kidneys and bladder are associated with this element. We need to take special care to harmonize their functions of controlling the body's water by regulating blood pressure, hormones, etc. and separating the impure from the pure, eventually making its way to elimination via the bladder. This means keeping our kidneys and lower back, head and feet warm. Dysfunctions can lead to problems like lumbago, knee, ear and teeth pains, as well as, bladder infections.
Try this warming tea for cold hands and feet: put 2 cinnamon sticks and 1 teaspoon cloves in 3 cups water, boil for 15 minutes, strain and drink 3 cups/day – one cup before bed to sleep well.
As part of a good prevention plan to avoid illness, winter is the time to slow down, and abandon our usual rhythms. Take some time for introspection and dreaming. Enjoy this period of hibernation- you'll be running again soon enough in a few months time. Take care to avoid physical and nervous extremes and fatigue. While exercise is still important, keep it moderate. Try stretching, aqua gym and/or yoga to keep fit during this period. Deep breathing in the kidney area is also beneficial to support the governing organ. This breathing technique is most easily done by sitting in a chair, leaning forward from the waist and placing your hands flat on your back covering your kidneys ( just above your bottom rib). Inhale slowly and feel your kidneys expand, almost as if you are trying to pop off a belt. Then exhale slowly until you come back to the original position. This breathing technique also helps build self-confidence and allows you to get more in touch with your intuition.
Winter is the season when our immune system is at a low. One way to help boost your immune system is to increase your intake of natural vitamin C. A good source is the Goji Berry which can be found at most bio stores. Just a handful a day of this powerful berry goes a long way (it is the fruit with the highest source of vitamin C– even higher than acerola – and also contains flavonoids which increase its effectiveness.) You can also try 10-day treatments of Echinacea. Take a liquid extract 3 times a day and this plant will help boost your immune system. A 10-day period is the maximum dose as the plant loses effectiveness if taken continuously for a longer time period.
Finally, the real enemy of our immune system is not all the germs and bacteria around, nor is it a nasty virus. The immune system's biggest enemy is sugar! Yes, sugar. Eating sugar, whether in candies, cakes, sodas, etc. causes our white blood cell count (our internal defense team when it comes to evil foreign invaders) to drop almost instantaneously and basically puts them to sleep so they can no longer perform their jobs of defending our body. So what does the enemy do when the prey is asleep? March on in and take over! And so, our body is out of balance and illness sets in. Sugar is also especially bad for the kidney as it loosens all our tissues and makes it more difficult for the kidney to filter, which in turn increases the levels of toxins in our system.
So instead of another piece of apple pie, choose a more copious hot meal that warms you from the inside out. When cooking, leave your meal simmering to blend flavors, favor salty tastes and winter vegetables like celery, green beans, mushrooms and potatoes. Root vegetables contain the energy of the season – a good choice for soup is carrots. You can also try celery root with coconut milk and a little coriander – delicious! Soups help increase our intake of liquids – which helps our kidneys. And don't forget fruits of the season like chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, apples, and dried fruits.
Buckwheat and rice are good cereal alternatives and hot oatmeal with some nuts and raisins is a great way to start the day in this cold weather. Happy holidays and enjoy winter!
This article was originally published in the December 2010 edition of the Sunbeams newsletter.