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How To Keep Yourself Healthy In The Winter

     winter-wonderlandOn the Chinese calendar winter started on November seventh.    In Rego Park it does not seem much like winter though.  Usually by this time of year we are already in the 30’s.  We are nearing Christmas and it feels more like October.  This time of year is an easy time for people to get sick.  I would like to share some simple advice from Chinese medicine that will allow you to have a healthy and relaxed winter season.

     In Chinese cosmology the winter time corresponds to the water element.  In nature the water element is associated with stillness and a slowing down.  All the qi in nature is drawn inward.  In plants the qi is drawn from the periphery into the trunk and roots.  Animals conserve their food and their energy during this time.

     The visceral organ associated with the water element are the kidneys.  In Chinese medicine the kidneys are related to general vitality, sexuality, bone health,  physical development, and water metabolism.  Emotionally, the kidneys are related to a strong will.  Your Kidneys hold the energy that is received from your parents at conception.  In Chinese medicine this is referred to as prenatal essence.  This energy is very easy to use up and very difficult to strengthen.  Kidney weakness can manifest as back pain, knee pain, poor water metabolism, low vitality, infertility, weak sexual energy, weak bones and teeth, fear, apprehension and some types of depression.  This list does not include all symptoms of Kidney weakness.

We as humans should try to live in tune with our natural environment.  In the northeast at the farmers market you will see more root vegetables, squashes, and heartier greens like cabbage,.  All these foods will assist your body in drawing energy inside where it can be conserved.  These foods not only assist your body in conserving its energy but most of these foods are also energetically more warming to the body as well.  You would not want to eat foods that are grown in the summer at this time.  For example, watermelon is cooling to your body and will tend to drain your energy if eaten during the winter months.

    Boiling and steam cooking methods that are fit for most people’s bodies during this time.  It is acceptable to eat some baked foods during this time as well.  One of my favorite things to eat when in Beijing at this time of year are baked sweet potatoes.  Baked foods tend to add more warmth to food and is suitable for most people during the winter months.  Raw foods should be eaten much less during this time.  Raw foods and cold drinks tend to weaken the body’s digestive system and makes people more susceptible to getting sick in the winter time.  It is best to limit raw foods and cold foods  and drink boiled water.

Living with the seasons does not only mean what foods you should eat.  Proper habits of work and rest are very important for all times of the year but most especially during winter months.  Modern living tends to drain the kidney energy much faster than in the past.  Constant movement of the mind and excessive consumption of stimulants causes our bodies to burn thorough our prenatal essence more quickly.  We all need to slow down and learn how to live simpler and how to deal with stress more effectively.

     In regards to lifestyle it is best to get more sleep and go to bed earlier.  It is especially important to be asleep during the hours of 11pm and 1am.  This is the most important time for your body to replenish its energy; especially kidney energy. Exercise should not be very rigorous.  Meditation, standing qigong such as zhan zhuang, tai chi or other exercises that tend to slow the body down and draw qi inward rather than scatter it outward.

     Be sure to cover your neck, waist, abdomen and feet well during this time of year.  These are all places that cold and wind can enter your body and cause illness.  From a Chinese medicine perspective, cold and wind are responsible for most respiratory illnesses during this time of year.  Covering the waist and abdomen will protect you from digestive discomfort associated with cold.  This is also very important for women.  Exposure to cold tends to make gynecological problems worse over time.  Chinese medicine suggests that you keep your self well protected from the wind and cold especially during winter months.  Excess exposure to cold can lead to worsening menstrual pain and fertility issues.

Keeping yourself healthy through the winter and living with the rhythm of nature will help you enjoy good health into old age.

-Enjoy

Photo: ‘Winter Wonderland’ by
Anna Guðmundsdóttir Courtesy of Creative Commons http://bit.ly/1Brqg7M
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