New Year, New Reason to Stay Inside
Happy Winter! With the Winter Solstice and the holidays behind us we officially enter a new season and therefore, a new approach to keeping ourselves healthy and happy. Winter is considered the most Yin time of year. You might be asking yourself… “What the heck does that mean?” Well, there’s a reason many animals hibernate during the winter and a reason why you also get overwhelming urges to curl up and nap most days.
Yin is mainly understood when in comparison to Yang. Words generally associated with Yin include dark, cold, slow and inward, as opposed to Yang which can include light, hot, quick and expansive. So now as we are in the peak time of Yin, it’s time to embrace all those cozy blankets, hot teas (or hot toddies) and take some time to rest and restore ourselves while the weather supports such behavior. By slowing down to rest during the winter and nourishing our Yin side, we are building up our Yang reserves for the long summer days when activity is at an all-time high.
Each season is associated with a certain organ system, with the winter being ruled by the Kidney. Your kidneys lie deep within your body, kind of similar to a seed lying deep within the ground during the cold months, waiting for its opportunity once things thaw out. According to Chinese Medicine, your kidneys are considered your “root of life”. They store the traits passed down to you from your parents and govern the basic vital processes of birth, growth, development and reproduction. Kidneys are also associated with the ears and the bones, two areas where the aging process can be easily seen with hearing and bone density loss. Think of them as your storage reserves which can be called upon when needed but also need to be protected.
Okay, so how do you help support your Kidneys each Winter?
The main way is to take advantage of these long nights and get plenty of rest. Don’t overexert and push yourself to do extra activities if you just don’t have the energy. That doesn’t mean if you’re into winter sports like skiing and snowboarding you shouldn’t have fun, just make sure to give yourself time to recover (I only partake in vacations to warmer places… but to each their own). Other activities such as meditation, journaling, yoga or Qi Gong that quiet the mind and direct it inward are also helpful. Light exercise is recommended but remember not to over exert yourself - starting Crossfit for the first time in January isn’t a great idea.
One main way to help support the kidneys and stay cozy all winter is with the foods you’re eating. As much as you might want to counteract the holiday indulgence, this is not the time to start eating only salads or do a juice cleanse. It’s cold outside… literally freezing (unless you’re in Florida, in which case I’m ignoring you out of jealousy) so the last thing your body needs is cold juice. Instead food should be cooked longer at low heat… like all those yummy stews and soups that look so amazing right now. Try to incorporate things in season like squash, potatoes, root veggies and winter greens. Also, the color associated with winter and the kidneys is black so foods like black beans, black rice, black sesame seeds, lentils, blackberries, etc are also great things to add in where possible. And finally, I know everyone’s sick of hearing about it… but bone broth is your friend. It’s super easy to both make and find ready to go. So get yourself a good recipe or a spot near you to pick some up and go to town. Use it as a base for some of those stews, sip on a chicken version with some miso if you’re feeling a cold come on, or even bathe in it if the mood strikes. (Maybe not the bathing as that would be both a waste of broth and a little strange, but you get the idea.)
The moral of winter is it’s completely acceptable to tell people you’re not leaving the house because it’s cold out, unless you’re on your way to an acupuncture treatment. So make some tea, heat up some soup, get under a blanket and read a book or binge some Law and Order: SVU and take a nap… you probably already know who did it anyway.
~Heather Bluemel MS, LAc, Dipl. OM