East Asian Medicine (EAM) teaches that humans should live in harmony with the seasons. According to EAM, there are five seasons – winter, spring, summer, late summer and fall. Each season has many associations that help us adjust our habits seasonally, allowing for a more balanced mind and body. When these systems were being developed, people were living in harmony with nature. People rose with the sun, ate what was available during the different seasons and they were much more aware of their natural environment. What to wear, when to wake up, when to go to sleep and what activities to engage in were all dependent on the weather and the environment. Because of this, people were capable of staying healthy throughout the year and their immune and organ systems were strong enough to ward off disease.
In this system, the season of winter is a time of repair and rejuvenation. Winter is associated with the kidneys, which hold the body’s fundamental energies. Harmonizing with the seasons will help the body stay healthy and prepped for each succeeding season. Rest is important for revitalizing the kidneys and this is why some animals hibernate during the winter months. So too should we spend more time resting during the winter months, to help prepare our bodies for the upcoming months ahead, when most people expend more energy.
Winter is also a really good time to turn inward and do some reflection. This is why practices like tai chi, qi gong and yoga can be very beneficial during the winter season. These practices help us connect to our inner selves, while supporting the kidney energy. These practices help relax the mind and calm our emotions. Things like journaling and meditation are other ways of reflecting during the winter months. Long term, these practices can be very helpful at extending a person’s life.
As the kidneys are closely associated and ruled by the water element, which is the element associated with winter, it is important to remember that water is essential. Drinking room temperature water is a vital step to keeping the kidney energy sufficient throughout the winter months. Also making sure that you’re drinking enough water is important. Most people tend to forget about water during the winter months because they are drinking more coffee, cocoa or tea. The body still needs straight up water to function optimally.
When it comes to foods that are most beneficial for the body during the winter months, there are many to choose from. These should also be the ones that naturally grow during this season. Items such as squash, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, root vegetables like beets, greens, carrots, mushrooms, apples, pears and cabbage. During the winter months, cold foods like salads and raw foods should be avoided as they will deplete the immune system. There are also foods that specifically target and nourish the kidneys. These include kidney beans, dark leafy greens, black beans, garlic, ginger, walnuts, quinoa, asparagus, celery, onion, fennel, scallions, cloves, watercress and turnips. Sea salt is also helpful, as salty is the taste associated with the kidneys. But as with anything, moderation is key.
East Asian Medicine utilizes numerous modalities and tools to help keep the body balanced and prepped for the seasonal changes. Acupuncture and moxibustion are two of the tools that are regularly used to boost the kidney energy. Moxibustion is a practice where dried mugwort is burned very near the skin to warm and boost the energy within the body. There are certain acupuncture points that are essential for boosting the kidneys. Most are located either on the lower abdomen, below the umbilicus or on the lower back above the hip bones, in the areas of the kidneys. Applying moxibustion to these areas is a wonderful way to boost the energy reserves of the kidneys.
When we align ourselves with the natural processes of life and the seasons, our bodies will adjust and perform optimally, just as they are intended to. This is how we are supposed to live and can quite possibly be why there is so much more disease now than in the past. So to be the healthiest you possible, learning to take cues from the seasons might just be the best suggestions ever.