According to 24 Solar Terms, November 7th marks "Beginning of Winter" (立冬 Li Dong). As mentioned in previous posts, in China seasons are tracked in relation to fluctuations of Yin and Yang dynamics in nature. Now Yin energy is in a growing trajectory as daylight hours are getting shorter and night is getting longer (e.g. we just fell backwards an hour), and therefore this time is considered beginning of “Yin” Winter Season.
During the Fall, the most valuable and vigorous part of plants are condensed into the fruits and roots and are stored in hibernation during Winter for future generations to sprout in Spring. Therefore, Winter is a "storing period”. Just like in nature, for the human body winter is a time to preserve essence in our “seeds”. The kidney is the main organ responsible for reproduction according to Chinese Medicine. The kidney stores essence (congenital/hereditary constitution) and that essence ultimately contains original Yin (female energy) and original Yang (male energy) of the entire body. The kidney is directly associated with ovaries, testicles and adrenals. In order to boost one’s fertility, the principle is always to warm and strengthen the kidneys. That is why Kidney corresponds to winter, black color, salty flavor, fear & will power in theory of five phases.
In my practice I often see patients with weak Kidney function. They always ask me how they can improve this imbalance. Unfortunately, Kidney deficiencies are hard to fix. I always refer to Kidney essence as savings account. One may have inherited it from parents; another worked for it their entire life. But once exhausted, it might take years (if ever) to replenish, just like the kidney.
There are only three factors that deplete Kidney essence:
1. Excessive sexual activity
In Chinese Medicine we believe that it is very important to moderate sex life as it has a much broader meaning in preserving one’s essence and keeping Kidneys warm. To know what is too much or too little, you should pay attention to how you feel after sex. If you are left feeling dizzy and tired then it might be too much relative to your constitution.
2. Lack of sleep
Night is the time of the day when energy goes into storage. Kidney is an organ responsible for storage and therefore mostly affected by the lack of sleep. In winter, we use more energy to keep ourselves warm. To stay healthy, it is important to get more hours of sleep during this season. It is advised to go to bed early and getting up later.
3. Short temper
Kidney emotion is will power. It is associated with downward and inward movement of Qi. Anger makes Qi rise upwards which is opposite of Kidney's direction. This counter-motion damages Kidneys and depletes the essence. In winter, it is recommended to maintain spirit quiet and reserved as if keeping secrets. One should restrict desires and behave as if all their expectations were satisfied.
Some people particularly young women can find themselves depressed during this time of year, feeling sluggish, dizzy and sleepy. In order to avoid feeling down, it is important to get enough sunlight and physical exercise. However, physical load should not be too intensive and it is especially important to warm up the muscles and tendons prior to physical activity to stay away from injuries as cold tends to cause contraction and tightness of soft tissues.
Prevention of diseases in Winter.
The cold is the biggest trigger of lots of diseases during the Winter. Cold can induce hypertension, aggravate heart diseases, cranial vascular diseases and other circulatory problems. Cold getting into the stomach can cause gastrointestinal spasms. Cold air is likely to make people catch cold and trigger asthma. Closed rooms with recycled air allow for easy spread of flu virus and upper respiratory infections. Coldness can cause coarseness and aging of the skin. The facial paralysis can also be induced in winter when wind-cold attacks head region. It is therefore very important to protect head and neck by wearing hat and a scarf especially for older or weaker constitution people for whom it is too hard to adapt to colder weather. It is also important to keep feet warm as “cold occurs from the feet”. Besides putting on socks, warm foot soaks are very helpful for sleep and protecting Yang Qi, as well as being a very inexpensive, effective way to overcome cold & flu.
Young people should cultivate resistance to cold. It should be done though gradual exposure to cold by wiping face and hands with cold towel, outdoor exercise, swimming in cold water and taking cold showers. Cold stimulates muscles to contract, raises heartbeat, promotes deeper breathing, increases metabolism and triggers heat accumulation inside the body.
Kidney’s flavor is salty and color is black, therefore black and salty foods support kidney and should be consumed during winter season. Black soybeans, black sesame seeds, brown rice and such can strengthen kidney essence and promote longevity. Salty flavor helps food and medicine to enter kidneys, but is not advisable to consume in high amounts. Warm diet should be maintained during cold season, which includes hot/warm natured food. Normally animal products are considered to be hot and need to be increased. Lamb, beef and chicken are respectively extremely hot, hot and warm in nature and can be eaten depending on one’s needs to generate Kidney Yang. Other examples of warming foods are dry ginger, cinnamon, hot pepper, walnuts, Chinese yam and sweet potato. People suffering from dryness can incorporate moderate amount of cow or goat milk, oil, butter and honey. Warming cooking methods should also be chosen like soups, stews and hot pot.