Now that the fun and hectic pace of the holidays are over, we enter the heart of winter.
I know in Chicago, it’s super cold and it always causes its own set of health issues.
In Chinese Medicine, winter is Kidney time.
The kidney organ and meridian is responsible for reproduction, development, and ageing. It’s one of the ‘key stones’ of the body that is responsible for every other system that comes after it. It’s in charge of housing a person’s essence (jing), bones, knees and low back especially, hair, ears and hearing, and obviously working with the bladder to control urination.
In addition, it helps the lungs grasp air, which correlates with western physiology, it helps set your metabolism by working with the Triple Burner to transform qi and move water, and it cradles the ‘pilot light’ of the body, the Ming Men Huo, between the right and left kidney. It also has an association with an individual’s will, determination and memory. Needless to say, it’s in charge of some pretty important functions in the body!
So how do we protect ourselves and nourish our kidney system in the winter?
There are some basic common sense things to do, just like your mother always told you. These include wearing a hat and scarf, don’t go outside with a wet head, keep your feet warm and dry, etc. Which is all great advice! But let’s dive a little deeper.
My number one item to survive winter is a humidifier in the bedroom, hands down.
And if you have come in for a treatment in the last couple of months, you have already heard this a million times. This will help you sleep and not dry out like a prune while your heater is bumping. By helping to keep the lungs moist, we help the kidneys because they have a special relationship with each other. If you can, add an air purifier, which can be an investment, but really beneficial to those with allergies.
Sleep is so important, but even more so in the winter because your body naturally wants to slow down.
If you can add an extra hour each night, you will be sick less often during the season and have more emotional resilience. Think of it as prepping for spring, by getting deep restorative sleep, just like the plants and critters.
Along the same lines, cut the caffeine.
Coffee and caffeine containing drinks tax your kidney yin. Like withdrawing all of your savings, so there’s nothing left for the future. The caffeine will also interfere with your extra sleep as well as dehydrate you, when you need that moisture. By all means drink hot drinks (please, no ice!), but stick to herbal teas or just hot water and lemon. I love chamomile, which also aids digestion. It’s a win-win. However, I am a recovering coffee junkie, so when I need a fix I use a substitute called Dandy Blend that’s surprisingly delicious.
Meal planning can be a big deal in the winter because almost everybody is trying to stick to their resolutions.
From a Chinese Medicine and nutrition perspective, soups and stews are perfect for this time of year. Use a lot of veggies, a little dash of meat, and use natural salts. Salt is the flavor of the kidney and you may find yourself craving it a little more in the winter. But don’t eat a bag of potato chips, instead add nori or other seaweed to your soups and use natural sea salt or pink Himalayan salt.
In addition to salt, use spices and herbs to keep your body warm when it’s below freezing. One of my favorite herbs is used all over the world and it’s actually a fruit. Fennel seed (xiao hui xiang) is a very versatile flavor and it’s often used in Italian cooking or Herbs de Provence spice mix.
In the Chinese Materia Medica it is classified as a warm the interior, expel cold herb and excels at treating abdominal pain and pain in general, as well as help nausea and vomiting. The West uses it for asthma, antibacterial, anti ulcer, relaxant and expectorant among other things. I like it because its readily available and pretty well known, so there’s less hesitation to experiment.
You can crush them in a mortar and pestle or get it ground. Add it to any savory dish you like. Its commonly found in Italian sausage, tomato sauces, paired with meats, European style breads, and soups and chilis. The possibilities are endless and your tummy will be warm and happy.
Happy Lunar New Year! We welcome in the year of the Yin Fire Rooster, which bodes well for healing and self care, on January 28th. You can find a link with a full breakdown from the Lotus Institute on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/jenfocklerlac/
Stay warm and in good health!