Winter Nourishment

Can you feel the rhythm of winter- the slanted light, the darker night, the call to rest, settle, be quiet?

Some of us do, and welcome the slowness of this season of incubation.  But the rest of us, oh how we fight it!  We party on through the holiday season, only to be thrust back into new goals, new plans, or the same hectic pace of life we live 12 months out of the year.  Some of us continue to be plugged into half a dozen electronic devices and work until 11pm.  Some of us still eat frozen yogurt and watermelon, like it’s summertime. Most of us just don’t slow down and take the opportunity to deeply nourish ourselves in the winter.

Now, I am no Luddite; I really love my iPhone. Nor do I overly romanticize the candlelit days of old; I grew up in a 300-year-old New England farmhouse with no heat on the second floor…I am here today because of electric blankets.  I do, however, find it beneficial to take a cue from nature (and, really, human cultures throughout most of history), and adapt our lives a bit to the season.  Take a nap, turn off the computer, eat warmer, denser foods, and get curious about the darkness and quite in the air and inside ourselves.

In Chinese medicine, the winter is associated with the kidneys.  Like all of the organs in Chinese medicine, the kidneys encompass not only the structures and functions described by Western medicine, but also symbolize a collection of other physiological functions.  Thus the kidney system in Chinese medicine not only governs urinary function, water metabolism, and adrenal health, but also reproductive function and growth, bones and teeth, as well as the lower back, knees and ankles.  The kidneys can also be understood as housing the body’s deepest reserves of energy.  When they are overly taxed, through chronic disease, stress, lack of sleep, we may have problems with any of these areas, and will almost always feel a fatigue that seems to reach to our bones.

The winter is an excellent time to give your kidneys extra care.   Here are a few suggestions:

  • Sleep: a well-placed afternoon nap, or a slightly augmented sleep schedule can do wonders for the kidneys.  Hibernate a little.
  • Salty and Bitter Foods: These two flavors draw the body’s energy inward and down, thus keeping our core warm and nourished, according to Chinese medicine theory. Try incorporating more bitter foods like leafy greens, turnips, quinoa and oats and mineral-rich salty foods such as miso, seaweeds, and millet into your winter menus.
  • Kidney Foods: Delicious, kidney-boosting foods perfect for winter meals include walnuts, black beans, chicken and lamb.  Mmmm lamb stew.
  • Contemplative Practices:  The slower pace and internal focus of winter make it a great time to cultivate our inner listening and observation.  Meditation, yoga, tai qi and qi gong are a few ways to get there.  Some of my favorite resources in the Bay Area include: San Francisco Zen Center, Qi Dragon Healing, and The Yoga Loft
  • Acupuncture and Herbs: Been curious about trying a course of herbs to strengthen energy and immunity? Now may be a great time.

So, take break, wrap your self against the cold, and let the spirit of winter embrace you.

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