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Embracing the Seasons



Brrrr it’s cold out there…


Winter has certainly made itself known in the last week, and I don’t know about you, but this year it has totally caught me off guard. For some reason, I feel like it was the start of the year a minute ago, and it’s made me think of how I loathed Winter when I was younger and how I craved the fast pace and excitement of the warmer months and spent the Winter counting down to the first day of Spring. I’m happy to say that since then, I’ve learned (thanks to Chinese medicine) that every season has a purpose and there are plenty of reasons we should embrace the changing seasons. Chinese medicine theory reminds us of the natural flows and rhythms in life and the harmony that can be achieved if we embrace these natural cycles and lean into them rather than resisting them.


These days I find myself embracing (accepting 😉) Winter and loving the fact that the cooler months give us the opportunity to slow down for a bit, snuggle up with a good book, enjoy yummy slow-cooked meals, soak up the toastiness of a crackling open fire and getting rugged up to enjoy the great outdoors. There really are so many things to love about Winter, and Chinese medicine reminds us there’s a lot more to it than the outside temps.


Chinese medicine and the seasons…


According to Chinese medicine, there are five natural elements that exist within us, as they do in nature. These elements are water, wood, fire, earth and metal. Each element corresponds to a season and also corresponds to an organ within the human body. All of these elements complement each other to form a cycle within nature. Water nourishes wood, wood fuels the fire, fire creates earth, earth produces metal, and metal produces water (via condensation). When we look at the cycles and patterns within nature, it gives us an insight into how we can support our own health and wellbeing, by adapting to the seasons. Chinese medicine encourages us to live in harmony with the seasons to help our bodies stay strong and balanced, ensuring good health and longevity.


Why we should embrace Winter…


In Chinese medicine, Winter is regarded as the Yin time of year, and it marks the end of all the seasons. It is associated with water, tranquillity and flow, circulation of the blood, perspiration, tears, the bladder, and the kidneys. It is thought that our kidneys hold the root energy of all our organs, the spark that ignites the energy for the entire body. It’s the time of year to bring our focus inward, a time to rest and recuperate after the exertions of the previous 3 seasons and to preserve our energy for the more energetic warmer months ahead. It’s a time to replenish body and soul, a time to reflect and incorporate some gentle, self-nurturing practices and rituals into our lives. It’s also a time to seek stillness, generate inner warmth and feel into the natural flow of the seasons. There are a few ways we can do this.


Living in harmony with the seasons…


Ever wondered why we naturally want to hibernate like bears during Winter? The cooler days and longer nights encourage our brains to seek rest and conserve energy and provide the perfect environment for sleeping longer and replenishing our resources and energy stores that we’ve depleted through the year. It’s essential that we slow down and mindfully accept and allow for each season.


When Chinese medicine theories were being developed, people were naturally a lot more in tune with nature and their natural environments than we are today. People would rise with the sun, eat the foods that were naturally plentiful at the time, engage in activities that were dependent on the weather, and go to sleep not long after sunset (no blue light disruption for them). As a result, people had stronger immune systems, stronger organ systems and were more capable of warding off sickness and disease than we are today.


Eating for Winter…


Each season we should try to eat the foods that are naturally grown during that time of year. During the Winter months, we should try to incorporate lots of root veggies, and we should be eating warming foods like hearty soups and broths, and drinking delicious steaming cups of ginger or cinnamon tea. Foods should be warming as well as nourishing and cooked for longer on lower heats (think slow-cooked lamb, beef, stews and curries…yum!) Steer clear of smoothies or raw foods during the cooler months.


Here’s a list of foods to increase during Winter:

Carrots

Potatoes

Turnips

Beetroot

Pumpkin

Cauliflower

Broccoli

Leek

Kale

Mushrooms

Spinach

Onions

Garlic

Brussel sprouts

Pears

Apples

Roasted nuts


Also incorporate foods that target and nourish the kidneys:

Lamb

Chicken

Black Beans

Kidney Beans

Black sesame seeds

Walnuts

Dark leafy greens

Cabbage

Blueberries – served warm as a compote or stewed with other fruits


Adapting our activities and the way we move:


Even though Winter is a great time to turn inward and reflect, we still need to move, but we should slow down and seek more gentle and fluid movement. Activities like yoga, qi gong, tai chi and dance are really beneficial during the Winter season as they support the kidney energy and help us connect to our inner selves all while helping to relax the mind and calm our emotions. Self-care rituals like meditating, going on nature walks to ground our bodies, taking a long, warm Epsom salt bath with your favourite essential oils, dry body brushing before a shower, and setting intentions while burning your favourite candles or incense are also perfect for this time of year. Napping can also be considered an activity here 😉)


Listening to our bodies…


According to traditional Chinese medicine, Winter is associated with the ears and the ability to hear refers to the health of our kidneys. The idea is that the stillness of Winter helps us listen to our bodies more clearly, which is why we must slow down from the crazy pace of our everyday lives during these months. Our bones are also associated with Winter, so it’s important to deal with any niggling orthopedic issues during the Winter months (a combo of acupuncture, cupping and moxibustion work wonders when it comes to orthopedic concerns). A little side note here: it’s important to keep our lower back and kidneys warm. Cropped tops or jackets, low-rise jeans/pants and thongs or Birks (unless you have toasty socks!) just don’t cut it – ok, now I sound ancient, but you know what I mean.


What happens when the balance is off…


When the elements are out of balance, the opposite effect can take place. The elements work against each other and an unbalanced cycle can ensue and our health can begin to suffer. However, when we can achieve balance and harmony in our everyday lives, we flourish.


Making the change...


When you’re armed with the knowledge of how you can embrace the seasons and start to make small changes to adapt, you’ll never look back. You'll slowly begin to notice the signs all around you. Making an effort to be in harmony with nature's cycles is the secret to better health and it doesn't take long to start reaping the rewards.


And with that, I hope I’ve convinced you that the colder months are not so bad, and maybe you’ll even like Winter just that little bit more.


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