7 winter wellness tips from traditional Chinese medicine
One of the central philosophies of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is that maintaining optimal health and wellbeing requires adjusting your daily lifestyle throughout the year. By responding to your environment as it moves through the seasons, you’ll not only stay in harmony with nature but will also retain your own internal state of balance.
Read on to learn more about the TCM understanding of what it means to live in accordance with winter.
Winter: When Yin dominates Yang
In TCM, all aspects of life are seen to exist in an ever-changing balance of Yin and Yang. From this perspective, winter is when the world is at its most Yin. For example:
- Cold temperatures (Yin) are more dominant than warmth (Yang)
- The darkness of night (Yin) exceeds the daylight hours (Yang)
- We tend to have low energy reserves and an increased need for rest (Yin) rather than being full of beans with a burning desire to be active (Yang)
- The yearning to stay at home and turn our attention inwards (Yin) is more compelling than the desire to be out and about socialising (Yang)
Here are our seven top tips for incorporating these ancient insights from TCM into your modern lifestyle.
1. Keep warm to prevent and relieve ‘cold’ symptoms
Above all else, the key to keeping well during winter according to TCM is to stay warm!
This is important because in TCM, winter is when we’re most likely to be affected by symptoms considered ‘cold’ in nature, which can include:
- Common colds
- Fatigue and reduced stamina
- Reduced metabolism and a tendency to put on weight over winter
- Reduced blood flow, which causes poor circulation, for example, cold hands and feet
- Decreased digestive power (which in TCM is believed to require Yang’s heating energy in order to function), sometimes resulting in stomach aches
- Tight, contracted muscles and joints, resulting in aches and pains, for instance a stiff or aching lower back
- Lowered sexual desire and function
All of these are often regarded as being due to an excess of cold or a lack of Yang’s warmth in the body in TCM, so make sure to rug up and maintain a warm body temperature throughout winter. Grab your favourite ugg boots, your fluffiest jumper and your toastiest blanket, and prepare to get cosy and comfortable!
TIP: Take particular care to keep your feet, neck, shoulders and lower back warm, especially when you’re outdoors in cold or windy weather.
2. Stay home and get lots of rest
Ever felt self-indulgent for wanting to hibernate over winter? Well get over your guilt, because according to TCM, that’s exactly what you should do!
This is the time to slow down, conserve your energy, and prioritise stillness and quiet.
Allow yourself as much sleep as you need too. In a textbook called the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, written about 2000 years ago, ancient Chinese medicine practitioners advise that in winter you should “Go to rest early and rise late. You must wait for the sun to shine.”
So there you have it: just the excuse you need to spend your evenings at home with a cup of tea and a good book, and your mornings under the doona!
3. Turn your attention inward
Being a home body doesn’t mean you need to be a complete hermit though – winter is a great time for intimate get-togethers at home with your loved ones - especially if doing that gives you the opportunity to explore your innermost feelings and engage in heart-warming conversations.
Other ways you can harness this internal focus over winter include making time for journaling, meditation and similarly contemplative activities.
4. What to eat in winter
The kidneys are considered especially sensitive during winter in TCM, and since they’re also the source of all the body’s Yin and Yang, this is an extra important time to take care of them by eating plenty of kidney-nourishing foods.
Front and centre of your diet should be meals that are hearty, warm and nutritious, particularly those that are cooked slowly and have warming properties, like stews, soups, casseroles and congee (rice porridge).
Choose from ingredients like those below to nourish your kidneys, Yin and Yang:
- Small quantities of animal-foods like lamb, beef, pork and shellfish
- Whole grains like brown rice, barley and millet
- Nuts and seeds, including black sesame seeds and chestnuts
- Root vegetables such as beetroot, sweet potato, parsnip and carrots
- Legumes, including kidney beans, mung beans and adzuki beans
- Pungent vegetables such as ginger, onion, garlic and leeks
- Warming herbs and spices like ginger, cinnamon and cloves (head here to try our warming chai recipe containing all these and more)
- Black-coloured foods, like dates, wood-ear mushroom and eggplant are also traditionally considered supportive of the kidneys in TCM
At the same time, reduce your intake of refrigerated drinks and cold foods like ice cream, salads and raw vegetables, as they can damage Yang energy and promote coldness in the body.
5. Goji berries: traditionally used to balance Yin and Yang in TCM
When Yin is at its strongest, Yang is at its lowest point. Since Yang helps to energise and activate the body and its functions, this helps explain why you may experience fatigue or reduced sexual interest over winter.
Consider taking goji berries, which are traditionally used to nourish and replenish both Yin and Yang in TCM, restoring them to balance.
Other traditional uses of goji berries in TCM include to support kidney health, relieve fatigue, and promote a healthy libido.
Find goji berries in Fusion Kidney Tonic.
6. Choose gentle, flowing forms of exercise
Winter is associated with the water element in TCM, so when it comes to exercise, think about ways you can incorporate the water element into your movement.
Since it’s important that you stay warm, that doesn’t mean we’re suggesting that you force yourself to take a brisk dip in the ocean! Instead, if you live near the beach, a gentle stroll on a sunny day will do just fine.
Think about forms of movement that have some fluidity too, like qigong, yoga, tai chi and dancing.
And if you’re heading to the mountains, snow is a form of water too, so skiing, snowboarding or ice skating could be just the ticket – as long as you’re well rugged up against the cold and wind.
7. Immune system support
We tend to be more susceptible to common colds during winter, so this is an important time to take steps to support your immune system.
From the perspective of TCM, a healthy lifestyle lays the foundation for healthy defences against illness, so start by following all the tips above to ensure you’re eating well, getting regular appropriate exercise and are enjoying restful sleep.
Also consider taking astragalus, which is traditionally used in TCM to improve immunity and help reduce the frequency of common colds. (Learn more about why astragalus is considered one of the most important herbs in TCM here).
Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, worsen or change unexpectedly, talk to your health professional.