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Winter and Chinese Medicine

Written by: Dr. Julianna Englund

An ancient Chinese medicine text called the Huang Di Nei Jing taught Masters for thousands of years that “Spring gives birth, Summer grows, Autumn harvests and Winter stores” (春生, 夏長, 秋收, 冬藏). Winter is the dark time of the year when “light” (Yang) is in storage. As is our surrounding nature, so is our inner nature.

Winter has begun and there is a great opportunity for generating awareness about inner barriers and transforming those disharmonies. 

With courage and attention to self-nourishment comes healing, ushering our internal Light from our depths. 

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Our busy days can consume our attention, shifting our awareness away from the changing and evolving landscape of our inner worlds.  However, the shorter days and colder temperatures incline us to focus inward and conserve our resources. Nature’s winter season is the time for reflection, emotional processing, self-nourishment and inward cultivation. If we take the time to follow the natural rhythm of our own nature and nourish ourselves, we will recharge our batteries for the whole year through. 

When we make space for inward practices like meditation, writing and reflection, we can become aware of where our energy leakages are. Like a sieve, we lose our vitality when we continue to react unconsciously to old triggers buried among ill memories and conditioning. Acknowledging and getting to know our shadows calls back the outcast pieces of our Whole Self. Disrupted energy comes back into harmony and feelings of inner freedom arise. 

We all have the capacity to find the Great Stillness within. 

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When was the last time that you felt rested and like all was well in your life? When was the last time you felt the expansive peace within and your mind quiet? Lightness and peace come with a willingness for Stopping, and Seeing, and Being. Inhabiting the Present takes practice in today’s society. You can maintain your sense of calm and wellbeing even amidst your outer-world if you can keep your focus. 

It all starts with one breath and some self-discipline.

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The Winter season naturally shifts the energy to the Water element in Five Phase Theory.  Now the focus of awareness and empowerment goes to the kidneys and urinary bladder organs and meridians.  Not only do physical imbalances in these organs stand to be uplifted, but the energy is also supportive for overcoming old memories of fear and transforming our own limiting feelings into wisdom for self-healing, self-nourishment and self-realization. I will dive deeper into specific recommendations in future articles and as the Winter unfolds.

In the meantime, here are some ways that you can foster kidney and urinary bladder health and increase your vitality during the Winter season...

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1. Move your body: Moving your body nourishes your yang and builds energy. Qigong, meditation and yoga are fantastic ways to nourish during the Winter.

2. Go to bed early and make time for plenty of sleep: Our bodies naturally want more rest during this dark time of year. Let your body follow its natural rhythm and it will repair and restore. 

3. Drink enough fluids: Dehydration damages the kidneys. Non-caffeinated fluids help the kidneys remove wastes from the blood in the form of urine. Drinking enough fluids also helps blood circulation, nourishing the kidneys and other organs with essential nutrients. 

4. Eat warm and nourishing foods: Over thousands of years, traditional Chinese medicine has advised us to eat warm foods during the winter season. Foods such as rice congees, lamb, grass-fed beef and winter squash are nourishing and warm in their energetics according to Chinese medicine. It is also appropriate to eat small amounts of mildly acrid foods such as fresh ginger, scallions and black pepper. Additionally, include plenty of warm-temperature foods such as soups, stews and warmed vegetables (steamed or roasted). Try to avoid raw vegetables as they are more difficult to digest. Cold foods and drinks also drain the body’s energy.

5. Keep blood sugar and blood pressure controlled: Both high blood sugar and blood pressure damage the kidneys.

6. Keep fizzy drinks, caffeine and alcohol to a minimum: Carbonated beverage consumption has been linked with diabetes, hypertension, and kidney stones (all risk factors for chronic kidney disease). Caffeine is not only linked to kidney stones, it can also strain the kidneys due to a resulting increased blood flow and blood pressure. And alcohol affects the kidneys’ ability to keep enough water in the body, thereby dehydrating and damaging the normal function of kidney and other organs’ cells. In addition, alcohol limits the kidneys’ abilities to filter your blood, allowing harmful and damaging substances to build up and further injure the kidneys (and the rest of the body). Not only are these substances damaging to the kidneys, all of these fluids are well-known bladder irritants. 

7. Don’t smoke: Smoking increases the risk for both kidney and bladder cancers.

8. As we go inward during the winter months, one great question we can ask ourselves is “what brings me peace? By bringing that awareness into your interactions with others and the activities that fill your days, you can use the power of Yin (inward) to fuel your Yang energy (outward)—the energy that connects you with the world and others. 

Use this time to set your foundation and spend time at the center of your Being.  Once you Know this place, you can always call it back, even in the busiest of times.

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