Winter is a time of rest and internal cultivation in Chinese medicine. In a previous post, I discussed why winter is an important time to rest and regenerate from the rest of the year. You can read more about that here: https://stickoutyourtongue.org/2013/12/11/winter-the-season-of-the-kidneys/
Rest does not mean a cessation of exercise. Physical movement is still a very important part of home health care. Chinese medicine does have some basic guidelines to proper exercise for the seasons and specifically for the time of day for your sweating pleasure. It all comes down to following the natural cycle of yin and yang throughout the day.
Most people are somewhat familiar with yin and yang. You probably have seen the symbol. A circle with two tear drops with eyes turning into each other. The symbol itself is meant to be a wheel in motion, yin rotating into yang, yang rotating into yin. It is never stationary. The eyes symbolize that yin always has a tiny seed of yang in it and vice versa.
How does this relate to exercise?
The Yellow Emperor’s Classic, a canon of Chinese medicine written either during the Warring States or early Han period, has an entire chapter on how and when to exercise properly throughout the year. The most important factor in the winter months is to avoid sweating after dark. Sweat is considered a yang fluid. Exercise is also a yang activity. In winter, the Neijing says that is is very important to avoid sweating or risk leaking yang energy during the yin time of day (ie-sun down), during the yin time of year. In general, the yin time of day-sunset to sunrise, is a time to rest and cultivate your body. Your body’s energy natural draws inward and should prepare for sleep, then sleep to work on regenerating itself.It is considered especially important to follow these practices during winter, the yin months.
And naturally, you have a little less window of opportunity in winter to exercise during daylight hours, since they are shorter. From sunrise to noon, your bodies yang is considered to be waking up, filling your muscles and digestive system and making all the stuff that should move and be strong, move and be strong. Yang is all about motility, either of lifting weights, and working hard in the fields, or moving your bowel movements along. You can still get away with exercising shortly after noon, while your yang is still strong, but its hold is lessening. If you look at the yin and yang symbol, noon is where the fat white part of the symbol has the tiny tail of the dark part growing. You still have until about 2-3pm depending on how close to the winter solstice you are, when yang is strong. But basically, you have until twilight to get your sweat on, if you want to follow the seasonal flow of yin and yang.
Why follow the advice of a 2000+ year old text? Protecting and cultivating your own yin and yang is what gives us health and longevity. The whole point of the Yellow Emperor’s Classic is to guide us to learn to use diet, lifestyle, control over our emotions, and living with our environment to both age gracefully and to maintain our health into old age. One major aspect of cultivating our individual health is living appropriately during each season. Exercising correctly during each season helps protect this health.