The next and last seasonal node this calendar year is Winter Solstice (dong zhi 冬至), beginning on December 22. The Chinese term for Winter Solstice literally means the “extreme of yin” as it is the longest night. Symbolically Winter Solstice is represented by Hexagram 24, the hexagram comprised of one Yang line at the bottom of 5 Yin lines. The name of this hexagram is Return – Fu (復). What is returning? The Yang and light are returning. One of the basic laws of Yin-Yang theory is that of mutual transformation. When something reaches an extreme, then it naturally reverts to the opposite. Now is when Yin has reached its extreme thereby giving birth to Yang. This is why Winter Solstice is the time of many important holidays about birth and renewal
For Winter Solstice, in Chinese there is a folk saying that says, “Dong zhi yang sheng you da dao, xia bing dong zhi shi miao zhao” (冬至養生有大道，夏病冬治是妙招) – “Nourishing life at Winter Solstice is a great Dao, treating summer’s disease in winter is very clever!” (Yes… It rhymes better in Chinese…) What should we do then to stay healthy during this time period? The first basic recommendation is taken from the Su Wen; “Zao shui, wan qi” (早睡晚起) – go to bed early and sleep late. Winter is the time of year that is most yin, and ideally we should be sort of hibernating, both physically and mentally. Finding more time for rest and reflection puts us into harmony with the Yin of Winter.
The second recommendation is “Chi xu yun dong” (持續運動) – persist in moving. Even though Winter is the time of yin quietude, as mentioned above the Winter Solstice marks the birth of yang. Since movement is Yang it is important for us to “persist in moving” during this time of year. Appropriate exercises include gentle movement such as Taiji, Qigong or Yoga.
Let patients know that this is the time of the year to eat more foods that help supplement the Kidney and Spleen, such as rice congees, lamb, beef, shan yao (nagaimo), and winter squash. It is also appropriate to eat a small amount of mildly acrid foods such as fresh ginger, scallions and black pepper (to help keep things moving and to birth yang). Try to avoid cold foods in general, or foods that are difficult to digest such as greasy, raw, or very spicy foods. This is especially so for those patients who tend towards Spleen and qi vacuity patterns.
To stay healthy this time of year there are also some things to avoid. First is to be cautious of weakening Yang Qi. Since Winter Solstice is the time of Yang Qi’s birth in the natural world, it is important to be sure that there is adequate Yang Qi in the body. For patients with Qi Vacuity cold it is especially important to avoid excess cold exposure. This is a time period where those patients in particular can apply moxibustion at home on points such as Qi Hai REN-6, Guan Yuan REN-4, or Zu San Li ST3-6. Alternately, they can do moxibustion on Tung’s point Huo Fu Hai 33.07.
The second thing to be cautious of during Winter Solstice is excessive “bedroom activity.” Since Winter is the time of storage, the traditional recommendation for the season is to guard our sexual vitality. Since Jing essence (the most stored and precious form of Yang Qi) is used up during sex, Chinese medicine suggests guarding against excessive sexual activity in Winter. However, we should be careful to not read this only literally. More broadly, sexual activity is a metaphor for expending our essence on all levels. This is why in many cultures around the world this time of the year is the time of reflection and planning for the next year to come. It is a time to step back and move inwards rather than to expend our vitality outwards.
My best wishes to all for a wonderful Winter Solstice!