Winter is my favorite season from a Chinese medicine viewpoint. It is the time of year to rebuild and strengthen the foundation of our health. This means it is the season to invest in ourselves. When we take the time to build our reserve of vitality during the winter, it ensures that we have all the umph, vigor, and vitality to run off of for the entire following year. That means we can play hard, work hard, tackle new endeavors and adventures with physical success in spring, summer, and autumn.
So how do we do this?
The wisdom of Chinese medicine teaches us to embrace the yin nature of winter. This means it is a time to slow down, to get cozy, eat warm food, and relax our pace of life for the season.
It teaches us to switch from intense, sweat drenching workouts like HIIT to doing exercises that tug on our bones and do not cause us to break out in a heavy sweat. The bones are the tissue structure of the Kidneys and Bladder, so exercises like weight training, pilates, yoga, and winter outdoor activities are restorative to these organs. Weight training that is vigorous, high intensity, and causes a heavy sweat is not the goal here. Think slow reps, maybe a higher weight or more slow, steady repetitions will get you to your winter health goals. For pilates or yoga, it is recommended to avoid the hot versions of these two modalities during the winter to avoid excessive sweating. Why? Excessive sweating in winter causes us to leak our essence during the very season that we are supposed to cultivate and build our essence.
Activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and snowboarding, are great as long as we dress appropriately. Try to avoid over dressing that would cause you to be drenched in sweat. A light sheen of sweat is fine. Getting outdoors in the winter will help improve your immunity.
Slow down the rest of your daily activities. Try to cultivate a time of rest from screens and the frantic pace of social media. See if you can create time for family board games, cozy nights reading a book while curled up in a blanket. Much like the popular theory of hygge—the Danish theory of creating a cozy, atmosphere in winter, — it improves our health to find joy in our winter lives through connection, coziness, and creating some calm in our busy lives. To learn more, this is a fun article about Hygge, What is Hygge? Please note that like many global concepts, hygge has become pretty commercialized in the US and the UK. But that is not the goal of hygge. Here’s a great quote from the article mentioned…”At its heart, hygge is more about creating a certain atmosphere than things, so buying lots of expensive stuff is the opposite of hygge…just remember to appreciate the simple things that bring joy to your life.”
Finally, make sure to eat warm foods in the winter. This is a big one to improve our digestive health, our immunity, and our foundation of health. It is a key time to avoid eating large amounts of raw foods, and switch to soups, stews, roasting, and simmering our foods. Try to avoid lots of juicing, smoothies, and salads in winter. We have a myth in our culture that raw fruits and veggies are superior to cooked ones. Chinese medicine teaches us that it is important to cook and prepare our food differently with each season of the year. Sometimes how we cook our food is just as important as what we choose to eat. Winter is the key time for cooked food.
Lindsey Thompson is an East Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. She loves growing vegetables, raising chickens, and striving to get the most out of life. Practicing medicine and help people find ways to improve their health at home is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her career.