As winter approaches, caring for your body through the seasonal transition can alleviate the discomforts of change. The teachings of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)can guide the replenishment of our body's resources that have been used throughout the year. The element of winter is water, which flows through the body. The water’s yin organ is the kidney and the yang organ is the bladder. The focus on the kidney regulates how water processes through the body and the bladder houses the excess from the kidney’s process. As winter grows colder, the temperature tends to slow processes and bodily flow. We should treat winter as the time to slow down, rest up, and release hindrances of the past to prepare for abundance in the budding spring season.
Lilies are among the oldest cultivated plants in the world, used historically in herbal preparations and medicine for centuries. In TCM, the lily bulb or Bai He is known as a tonic herb, commonly used for patterns of deficiencies in the Four Treasures of Qi, blood, yin, and yang. Lily bulbs treat yin deficiencies, nourishing the kidneys and liver or moistening the lungs and stomach. Recent research found that lily bulbs contain proteins, starches, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and vitamins B1, B2, and C which promote healthy wellbeing.
The lotus root or Ou Jie falls under the category of herbs that stop bleeding. This root has hemostatic properties: activating blood, controlling bleeding, and regulating qi. It is especially known for its beneficial effects on our lungs, helping to dissolve mucus as a decongestant. This effect is boosted as it contains proteolytic enzymes that reduce the swelling of mucous membranes to facilitate breathing and expel mucus. Lotus root contains several essential vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, calcium, copper, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and iron.
The white wood ear or snow fungus is a type of mushroom with a distinct jelly-like appearance. Since 200 AD, snow fungus has long been treasured as a longevity tonic in the Chinese traditional medical text Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing. In the past, only royalty and wealthy families could afford to consume snow fungus. The white wood ear mushroom is used for healing dry coughs, hydrating skin, clearing lungs, and nourishing the body. Studies have shown that it also has anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor benefits, improving our overall immune systems.
The main actions of yams in TCM are to promote yang (fire energy) and nourish the spleen to improve and strengthen the body in general. In the winter, yam can aid in soothing the lungs and stomach. Chinese yam contains allantoin, a naturally occurring compound that can accelerate the growth of healthy tissue and reduction of healing time. Studies have shown that Chinese yam has antioxidant properties with amounts of zinc, manganese, copper, iron, and selenium for daily supplementation.
TCM Tips To Consider In the Seasonal Transition
According to TCM, winter is the time to prioritize stillness and rest. The natural cycle of the environment urges us to slow down with coldness and darkness, providing time for the conservation of strength and replenishment of energy. The Nei Ching, an ancient Chinese classic, advised people to sleep early and rise late after the run has warmed the atmosphere a bit. This practice is thought to preserve one’s own yang qi for the task of warming the body in colder weather.
Since the kidneys are especially sensitive and important during the winter in TCM, it is important to take care of them by eating kidney-nourishing foods. Try to aim for hearty, warm, nutritious meals like soups or rice porridge. Foods that aid the kidney include black beans, kidney beans, bone broth, dark leafy greens, walnuts, chestnuts, and cloves.
In TCM, winter is the height of yin energy - the black half of the yin and yang symbol reflects a slower, darker, inward energy. This peak energy can manifest as depression or loneliness but also can provide opportunities for deep reflection. Winter represents an opportunity to take advantage of the yin energy to look inward. During this transition, try taking time to meditate, journal your thoughts, and pay attention to yourself.
ConclusionThe body’s qi is one that ebbs and flows. The body’s constitutions can flexibly shift depending on the time of year because of environmental changes. These shifts can be better understood through transitions in food, lifestyle, and focus. In TCM, all aspects of life are seen to exist as essential to balancing yin and yang. Since winter exists as the peak of yin, we can recognize its existence in the transition of colder temperatures over warm; the darkness of night exceeding light; lower energy reserves increasing rest necessary; attention turned inwards rather than outward socializing.