7 lessons we can learn from TCM about winter

One of the fundamental principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is to live in harmony with nature and the seasons. In fact, in TCM there are five seasons and not four: Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Autumn and Winter. Winter began with the Winter Solstice on 21 December 2014. So to survive what winter brings, take note of the lessons below.

1. Winter is now in full flow; the days are long of dark and short of daylight, the skies are clear and cold, there is little fire and heat around, so we feel the cold more. In TCM terms, winter is a time of rest, of letting things settle and lay dormant. It is the time for quiet, rest and regeneration. It is a time to be kind to ourselves and use whatever opportunities there are to nourish and nurture.

2. The ancient texts of Traditional Chinese Medicine talk about simple common-sense things such as keeping warm, resting, eating the right foods and protecting both our body and spirit so they can rest and recover undisturbed. According to TCM this is also important to help support and preserve our health for the coming year. Examples of eating well include warm comforting foods like stews, thick soups and casseroles, and having hot drinks throughout the day. It also means cooking food using heating generating methods like baking, braising and roasting, including warming herbs and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger as well as inflammatory ingredients like turmeric, coconut oil and garlic. Make bone broth to warm and nourish bones as the aches and pains in the joints have a tendency to become worse as the weather gets colder and damper.

3. Someone who burns energy in winter is, in actual fact, also burning some of their store of health for the entire next year. If a person does this every winter, they will burn energy in the long run of their life too, because they are not giving their body a chance to recover for the preceding year. Over time this can cause problems on deeper levels and create ripple-effects on our health that become more serious. Whilst this may be challenging for some people, burning the midnight oil isn’t going to help. 

4. In TCM terms winter is associated with the water element. The water element includes the functions and health of our kidneys, adrenals, urinary bladder and bones. In Chinese Medicine, the kidneys are the very root of our life, and winter is the best time to regenerate and heal them. The kidneys and water element link to long-term memory and the roots of yuan Qi, the bank of energy we are born with, and which should last our entire lifetime.

5. When it comes to emotions the water element covers fear and the incredibly important ability to savour and enjoy life – joie de vivre. When the kidney Qi is strong we are fearless, determined and powerful, when our kidney Qi is weak we can be anxious, fearful and withdrawn. It is important to take care of of our kidney strength in Winter.

6. The ancient texts describe winter as the season for ”shutting and storing”. Since the weather in winter is cold and damp with darker days and little sunlight, we should avoid the cold and move toward warmth. Layering our clothing so we insulate our bodies, wear sturdy shoes with warm socks to keep our feet warm, gloves to stop heat from leaving our hands and insulated hats to cover our head will stop our bodies from losing heat and having to work extra hard to generate heat so we function well.

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