According to Chinese medicine, the nature of winter is cold and yin. It is related to the water element and the Kidneys. During the winter, the energy of the body and the earth naturally goes inward. Aligning our diets and lifestyle habits choices with this movement, we can replenish our energy, improve our health, and move into the dynamic transitions of spring and summer with increased vigor.
This is a time to build Kidney energy (Jing / Essence). Too much activity, stress or lack of rest during the winter can easily deplete the Kidneys. The Kidneys are the root of our vitality and all the yin and yang qualities in our body, including reproduction and aging, as well as the source of warmth and strength throughout the body. When the Kidneys are weak, we become tired, have a decreased sex drive, hormonal imbalances, and age faster than we should. Therefore in Chinese medicine our Kidneys hold a very important place in the body.
To harmonize ourselves with the winter we should pay attention to our yin aspect, and the qualities of nourishment, reception, introspection, rest, and storage, and strengthen our Kidneys, especially our Kidney essence.
Seasonal acupuncture”tune-ups” can help align you with these changes, as well as reduce stress, boost your immune system, and treat colds and flu during the winter months.
It is no coincidence that foods that are naturally available during the winter benefit the Kidneys. Consider nourishing yourself with seasonal winter foods such as hearty soups, whole grains, roasted nuts, root vegetables, seaweeds, dried beans, and steamed winter greens. In general you will want to cook foods longer and at lower temperatures using less water. You want to store warmth internally through your foods and daily life.
However if you have a Kidney channel weakness. For example, if you are more Kidney yin deficient with signs of heat, you will want to be cautious with overall warming strategies. You can emphasize cooling foods, such as apples, peaches, pears, mulberries, fresh vegetables, most beans, soybeans, tofu, soy sprouts, and chrysanthemum flowers. You should limit or avoid spicy foods, smoking, alcohol, stress, and strong emotions.
If you are more Kidney yang deficient or cold you can emphasize warming foods such as chicken, lamb, scallions, sesame seeds, fish, baked tofu, walnuts, eggs, lentils, black beans, lotus seeds, ginger, and cinnamon. You should avoid cold foods, fruits and raw foods.
Winter is a time for quiet, meditative or spiritual practices rather than the more yang activities of summer. There are specific practices aimed at replenishing the Kidneys, such as restorative yoga or various qi gong practices.
Factors that deplete our Kidney essence (jing):
- Stress, fear, insecurity, and overwork
- Toxins in our food, water, and environment (e.g. pesticides and heavy metals), as well as intoxication with drugs
- Consumption of too many sweet foods
- Excessive semen loss for men, and women bearing “too many” children (for their constitution), or not rebuilding adequately after each birth.
Key foods and supplements to build Kidney essence (jing):
- Micro-algaes (such as chlorella, spirulina). Chlorella is also a great heavy metal detoxifier.
- Small amounts of meat, nuts, milk, & ghee (clarified butter), especially bone marrow soup
- Royal jelly and bee pollen
- Chinese herbs are the strongest, which in general requires a diagnosis and custom formula. However one can also cook with herbs such as, mountain potato, and black sesame seeds.