The Awakening ~ Winter into Spring
In my kitchen window hangs a prism twirled by a solar-powered motor. It hasn't budged an inch since about mid-Autumn. At least, that is, until a few days ago. We now find ourselves on the cusp between the seasons; Winter is turning into Spring. The sun is being reborn from the darkness of Winter, lighting the sky for more hours each day. Nature begins to awaken from its slumber.
In Chinese medicine philosophy, Winter is the season of quiet, of storage, and of stillness. The ground water has sunken down to the deepest soil, and frozen there. It’s as if Nature has been put on pause. The days are short, and the Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic tells us to wake late and retire early to match the season.
We lead busy lives. Luckily, Nature has built a period of the year when the days are short, gently suggesting we go to bed early and rest indoors to avoid the cold. If we do not honor this season of storage, we cannot experience rebirth in Spring. We need to find stillness to recharge in order to have the fuel for bursting forth like the buds and shoots of the currently slumbering plants all around us.
Winter is obviously the season of Cold. It is also the season of the Kidneys. We should eat with three things in mind to benefit the Kidneys and fend off the cold: emphasize gently warming spices (ginger and cinnamon, not cayenne and chili peppers), eat foods that nourish the Kidneys (beans, root vegetables, seaweeds, dark leafy greens, and walnuts), and eat foods that are very dark in color (black is the color of Winter in Chinese medicine), like black sesame seeds, blueberries, beets, and black beans. It is also the time to avoid cold or frozen foods in general. Check out my blog post about a mineral-rich, vegetarian alternative to bone broth to boost the Kidney energy and nourish the digestion.
Since Winter is a season of stillness, we should moderate our exercise habits for the time being. Instead of heavy sweating and intense exercise, try Tai Chi (Taiji) and Qi Gong, gentle yoga and walking meditation. In fact, all kinds of calm and centering meditation will be additionally beneficial in Winter. If you need to do heavier exercise than this, try Pilates or swimming as they focus on fluid movements that are less hard on the joints.
Winter’s Qi persists, but my kitchen prism has begun to spin. Spring is steadily approaching here in New York City. February 10th marked the first day of Spring on the Chinese calendar. This is the Lunar New Year, Chun Jie. The Yang, or motive force animating the entire Universe, continues to grow stronger. Life is waking up. There are already buds on the witch hazel tree near my home. Spring is imminent; the season of new beginnings is upon us.
After February 10th, start to make some lifestyle changes with Spring in mind. The resonances of Spring are the Wood element, Wind, the Liver, the green color of fresh shoots and grass, the tendons, the flavor sour and an upwards, bursting movement.
It is easy to notice the warmer weather and throw off our winter coats. According to Chinese medicine, we must continue to guard against the cold and the wind. Keep your scarf on! Continue your warming, nourishing, winter-chasing, immune boosting regimens even now.
Start to introduce pungent foods to benefit the Liver, but don’t abandon warming flavors. A touch of sour foods is good now, too. Enjoy a squirt of fresh lemon. Fresh ginger is also a good choice because it is warm and also pungent, or acrid as we sometimes call it in Chinese medicine materia medica-speak. This acridity helps to get the Qi moving in the body.
You can begin to do more active stretching to benefit the tendons. Like plants in spring, reach up to the heavens and see the Yang energy of your body rising from its deep winter slumber. Harness that rising energy to do your spring cleaning. Nothing bothers the Liver more than roadblocks, so make sure you clean out all the junk you can so when the Liver - the plan-maker in Chinese medicine - kicks into high gear, you’ll have nothing but open road ahead of you. It’s also a good time to do some big picture visioning and list making for this reason.
Here is one of my favorite traditional restorative winter tea recipes:
Spring Qi Tea Recipe
1 teaspoon for organic Dandelion (aerial parts and roots)
1/2 teaspoon organic Sweet Annie
1/4 teaspoon organic Licorice
1/4 teaspoon organic Barberry (roots and/or fruits)
3 buds of organic Red Clover
3 thin slices of fresh organic ginger
Bring herbs to a full boil in 1.5 cups water and then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes. Divide into 2 equal portions for morning and evening. This formula benefits Qi, generates fluids, and protects the Liver. A few days of this tea is all that is required to reap its benefits.
As stillness turns to action, let’s take these last few weeks of winter as an opportunity to rest, to meditate quietly and to prepare our bodies for the bursting energy of spring. Recharging our batteries in winter will bear fruit all year long.
Yours in health,
We’re excited to share a bit of the Chinese herbal medicine perspective from acupuncturist Dylan Stein. Dylan specializes in dermatology, men’s health, and pain management. In addition to acupuncture, he also passionately practices Chinese herbal medicine and will be joining us over the next few months to introduce us to this ancient healing practice!
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diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.