Acclimating to Winter
ęDeborah Barr --Reprint from Aromatherapy Thymes
Have you noticed the
relationship between the seasons and your personal health? Your
mental outlook, emotional state and physical health flow with
the cycles of nature. Learning to flow your energy as nature
does through the seasons can insure vibrant health and emotional
harmony. How well you transition through the seasons is a good
indicator of how balanced your health is.
Winter is the end of all seasons with wetter, shorter days, and
colder temperatures. Nature is hiding in her roots; its energy
is descending and contracting. Our awareness naturally follows
the same patterns of change within nature. We experience the
cyclical changes of nature internally within us. Even though
some climates experience less dramatic climactic changes, it is
still important to adopt nutritional and lifestyle patterns that
are in harmony with the season.
It’s time to shift to the quiet, inward, descending energy of
winter. It is the season of rest, storage and preparation, and
for protecting the reserves gathered in the harvest. Over the
winter months, we draw on those reserves to prepare for the
rapid growth of spring.
The Chinese health philosophy and its theory of the Five
Elements provide a good understanding of how nature and your
body mirror each other. According to this wisdom, each season
relates to specific organs in the body and corresponding
emotions. Smooth seasonal transitions are crucial to your
wellness and tend to be times when many experience more
intensity in chronic health conditions, greater stress, and
Winter is related to the water element. The TCM corresponding
organs to the winter season and those most affected are the
kidneys and their complementary organ, the bladder. According to
the Chinese Health Philosophy, the adrenal glands, which sit on
top of the kidneys, are controlled by the kidneys. Adrenals
contribute to the warmth, energy, and sexuality of the body.
The kidneys regulate water balance in the body. They are the
foundation of fluids, energy, and heat for all of the organs.
Any imbalance in blood chemistry has a strong effect on the
kidneys since one of their functions is the filtering of toxic
or potentially toxic substances for excretion. An
overconsumption of fluid taxes the capacity of the kidneys to
The kidneys govern the health of the bones, bone marrow, knees,
lower back, teeth, head hair, hearing, urinary tract, sexual
organs, and reproductive functions.
Common symptoms of Kidney and Water Element Imbalances include:
Low thyroid function
Certain types of arthritis pain
Head hair problems—hair loss, premature graying,
Urinary tract problems
Sexual and reproductive problems
Bone problems including osteoporosis
Lower back and knee problems
Fear, phobias, paranoia, insecurity, negativity
health disharmonies worsen during the winter months if you are
not eating and living in harmony with the season.
nutritional practices that improve the health of these organs
will help you experience more balance and harmony in the winter
The kidneys are especially vulnerable to abuse through
consumption of cold foods and drinks such as ice cream, cold
soda, and cold alcoholic beverages, especially when the cold
food has a high concentration of sugar. Use of raw food should
be minimized or eliminated, depending on one’s condition. Raw
foods are cooling and are best eaten to balance the heat of
Toxic diets, chemical additives, and heavy meat eating cause the
kidneys to become contracted. This results in faulty cleansing
by the kidneys which increases fluid in the body putting stress
on the heart. Excessive meat and food additives clog the
vascular system and contribute to high blood pressure and
weakening of the heart.
Cooking food helps to maintain digestive balance and provide
warmth. In winter it’s best to incorporate longer cooking times
at lower heat. Roasting, baking, pressure cooking, and broiling
create more heat in the food and are more suitable for the
diet should be warming and include more substantial foods such
as hearty soups and stews, baked root vegetables; and stews made
from good quality beef, poultry or fish. Kidney beans, mung
beans, black beans, and adzuki beans all benefit the kidneys and
related organs and should be eaten regularly in the winter.
Emphasize root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, carrots,
potatoes, yams, burdock, rutabaga, and onion. Winter squashes
such as butternut, acorn, and pumpkin are health-supportive
additions to the winter diet.
Use whole, unprocessed grains, especially oats, sweet brown
rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, barley and brown rice as
staples. They will provide you with consistent energy,
harmonious emotions, balanced blood sugars, and good colon
Warming cooking herbs and spices are beneficial during the
winter. Include ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon,
nutmeg, black pepper, horseradish, cloves, cardamom, mustard
seeds, rosemary and spearmint.
To improve immunity, use chlorophyll-rich foods including all
dark leafy green vegetables such as kale, bok choy, collard
greens, watercress, mustard greens and turnip greens. These
contain immune-enhancing, anti-inflammatory properties.
Incorporate medicinal mushrooms in your cooking. Dried shiitake
mushrooms increase resistance to infections caused by certain
bacteria, viruses and parasites, and improve immunity. Dried
Maitake mushrooms possess immune-boosting substances and retard
the progression and spread of tumors. Although these mushrooms
are available in supplement form, I prefer to use them in
cooking. The dried varieties are more concentrated in
therapeutic properties. You can use shiitake and/or maitake in
soups, stews, vegetable dishes, or cooked with whole grains.
Salt is the flavor of the season
The system of flavors, developed by traditional Chinese
healers, assigns specific flavors to organs and their related
season. The salty flavor is associated with the water element,
and enters the kidneys. Salt moves energy downward and inward
and attunes us to the colder seasons.
This important mineral is vital to human life. Too much of
it causes water retention, high blood pressure and kidney and
heart problems. According to Chinese Physiology, proper use of
salt will strengthen the health of the kidneys, urinary tract,
adrenals, bones, bone marrow, teeth, fluid metabolism, hair, and
Salt is grounding and centering in nature. The right
amount and quality can strengthen energy; build
healthy bones, improve digestion; moisten
dryness; detoxify poisons from poor quality foods; and enhance
your ability to focus more clearly. However, there is great
potential for its misuse. Poor quality salt and too much of it
creates the opposite effect.
Most commercial salt is the highly refined chemical variety that is
99.5% or more sodium chloride, with additions of anti-caking
chemicals, potassium iodide, and sugar to stabilize the
iodine. Common table salt is refined through heat processing,
bleached with chemicals to make it white, then aluminum stearate,
another chemical, is added so the salt doesn’t clump. Most salt
is denatured as are most foods in the modern diet..
Even common refined sea salt has been stripped of nearly all of its
sixty trace minerals. Salt labeled sea salt is typically the
refined pure white variety. You can buy good quality unrefined
sea salt in which sunshine alone has been used to extract
it. Check your local natural foods store.
Whole natural sea salt is in larger crystals, granules, or a
powder. Whole salt from the sea has a mineral profile similar to
that of your blood, and when used properly, helps to maintain
Eating small amounts of sea vegetables on a regular basis is a balanced
way to include the salty flavor in your diet. Sea Vegetables are
the most nutrient dense group of foods available. If you are not
accustomed to using them, start by adding a small piece of Kombu
to beans, soups, stews or grains. Wakame is another common
variety that goes well with vegetables and soups.
There are many varieties of sea vegetables, each with a distinctive
nutrient profile. Some general common properties they exhibit
include: detoxifying, diuretic, remove residues of radiation in
the body; act as lymphatic cleansers; alkalize the blood;
benefit the thyroid; improve water metabolism, moisten dryness,
and resolve phlegm.
Miso is an extremely nutritious and
health-supportive food and an effective way to include the salty
flavor in your diet. Miso is a fermented soybean paste made by
combining soybeans, a culture, salt and various grains, then
fermenting for 3 months to 3 years. It is most commonly used as
a seasoning in soup.
Miso contains lactic acid, bacteria and enzymes which aid digestion and
assimilation. It is rich in amino acids, B12, and minerals,
including calcium and iron. It helps protect the body against
radiation and heavy metal poisoning. Miso reduces the risk of
coronary heart disease; protects cells from free radicals and
aging. The lactobacillus fermentation increases the quantity,
availability, digestibility and assimilability of nutrients.
Miso breaks down and discharges cholesterol, reduces chronic pain,
neutralizes the effects of smoking and environmental pollution,
cleanses, strengthens, and alkalizes the blood; cleanses the
lymphatic system; prevents radiation sickness; and neutralizes
the effects of chemicals, medicines, and a poor diet. Miso
contains lactic acid bacteria and enzymes which aid digestion
and food assimilation. It is an excellent food for keeping the
kidneys and their related organs healthy, especially during the
Miso may be used instead of salt or soy sauce as a seasoning and it’s
best to buy unpasteurized miso. It is a live food and prolonged
cooking destroys the beneficial organisms. Add unpasteurized
miso to preparations just before removing from heat.
Emphasizing these foods will harmonize your blood quality and
correct health imbalances related to the water element and the
winter season. They will keep your immune system strong and
increase your resistance to disease. Of course, it’s equally
important to minimize fatty, heavy, congesting foods, and to
eliminate intoxicants and chemicals.
Lifting Winter Blues
Within the Five Transformation Cycle of TCM, certain
psychological and emotional tendencies result from imbalances in
the organs. The kidneys rule the emotions fear, insecurity, and
paranoia, and these emotions will dominate during the winter in
those with poor kidney health.
Do you experience phobias, anxiety about life, paranoia or
negativity in general? Are you always expecting the
worst and consumed by worry? Are you withdrawn or lacking in
confidence? Do you move from one problem, place or relationship
to the next without ever getting to the root issues? These are
all aspects of kidney imbalances resulting, in large part, from
under use or misuse of salt and other minerals, and from poor
quality, denatured foods and inappropriate foods for the season.
When the kidneys are overstressed or too cold, your emotions
will suffer the consequences.
When this element is strong and healthy, you feel confident,
stable, courageous, curious, adventurous, and optimistic. Your
will is strong, you experience right timing in life, a healthy
sex drive, are independent, and have a healthy imagination and
the ability to actualize what you imagine for you life. You can
accomplish a great deal without stress, are active, yet calm,
and understand the importance of balancing action with
All physical, mental and emotional problems are, to some extent,
rooted in the foods you consume. Balanced intake of good
quality salt and other minerals from food will improve kidney
health and related emotional disharmonies. What you eat directly
affects the way you think and perceive, and your emotional
state. Conversely, negative mental and emotional states weaken
physical health. Taking special care to nurture the kidneys will
help to resolve many emotional issues, including Seasonal
Winter encourages introspection, and it is a good time to
work on creating an emotionally safe foundation and a sense of
security from within. It may be helpful to embark on Attitudinal
Healing or other types of counseling with a professional.
Practices for Winter Radiance
Buoy your spirit with a meditation practice or
engaging in anything that uplifts and inspires you.
Find a personal, emotional and spiritual
Believe in yourself.
clearly defined projects which you know can be successfully
accomplish and pursue them to completion.
Cultivate friendships with those who are warm and
play at a creative project.
bed early and get plenty of sleep. You need more in the
massage or other therapies for releasing subconscious,
Slow down; relax and reflect.
Learn and practice deep,
Don’t let your exercise habits
hibernate. Yoga and Tai Chi are excellent forms of exercise
that encourage deep breathing.
Brisk walking is beneficial in every
season and helps circulation and joint health.
Balance giving and receiving; doing
Express your feelings, especially
love and its many aspects including compassion,
understanding and empathy.
body, mind, emotions and the environment are not separate and
are mimicking each other. Seasonal changes are an opportune time
to strengthen your whole health. When the dark days of winter
descend you don’t have to suffer. Take your cues from the
natural environment. When you adapt yourself to winter
transitions through an environmentally balanced diet and
lifestyle, you will maintain good health at every level.
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