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the depths of winter

Posted on February 2, 2016 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (9542)

Winter and the Kidneys

How we can use the wisdom of Chinese medicine to stay well during these cold months.


Chinese medicine views the function of the Kidneys differently from western medicine. Within the framework of Chinese medicine, the Kidneys (capitalized in order to accentuate this difference) are seen as the inner core and foundation of our body. They influence our reproductive functions, affect our hormones, govern our metabolism, and relate to our ears and bones. They are connected to the emotion of fear, to the salty flavor, and the season of winter.


So what does this mean and how does it relate to your life? The ancient Chinese healers paid close attention to the fluctuations of the seasons and, therefore, understood how to keep the body healthy and in harmony throughout the year. Winter is the coldest season, a time when our energies migrate downward and deeper into our bodies. Because they saw the Kidneys as our deepest, most foundational organ, they related the Kidneys to the winter season. They saw the winter as a time to nourish our body's core, seek inner warmth, and strengthen our Kidneys.


Symptoms of Kidney imbalance may include urinary and reproductive difficulties, menstrual complaints, menopausal symptoms, hearing loss, bone problems (especially of the knees and low back), and excessive fear and insecurity.


If any of these symptoms pertain to encouraged! The winter is the best time to nourish and strengthen your Kidneys.


In keeping with the harmony of the winter, take time to become more introspective, quiet, and still. Gaining a little weight can also add to your reserves. It is also important to go to bed earlier and get more rest. Resting can relax our nervous system and help to alleviate the feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. Fear can occur when our nervous system is agitated and our reserves are depleted.


Warm hearty soups and whole grains are especially helpful during this season. Dried foods, walnuts, dark beans (especially black), and steamed winter greens are strengthening. Salty foods such as miso, tamari, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, seaweeds, and sea salt are also recommended. Animal products such as eggs, fish, chicken, and wild game are also particularly useful. Spices that benefit the Kidneys are warming seasonings such as clove, fennel, black peppercorn, ginger, and cinnamon. Avoid raw foods (salads), cold foods (ice water), and frozen foods (ice cream). These chilly foods harm the Kidneys during a season when they are seeking inner warmth.


Even though the winter is a time for stillness and reflection, be sure to get outdoors and have fun: walk, skate, ski, snowshoe, and sled (or have a snowball fight when there is snow!).  This keeps our energies circulated and our knees and low back limber and strong. Keep yourself warm, especially your low back and abdomen.


While indoors, cultivate friendships with those who warm our hearts. The winter is a time for quiet and contemplation, a chance to build our reserves and store our energies. Taking this time will strengthen your Kidneys and vitalize your health, allowing you to move forward in the spring with renewed energy and enthusiasm.


Special thanks to the Huang Di Nei Jing, the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic, for teaching us about these correspondences and instructing us on how to stay well through the seasons.