This year, 2015, the Asian calendar marked November 8th as the Beginning of Winter seasonal node. While in the west we consider Winter Solstice to be the start of Winter, in Asia the seasons are calculated by the balance of Yin and Yang in the natural environment as evidenced by the relative balance of day and night. Since Winter Solstice is the darkest time of year, it is considered to be the zenith of Yin, and hence mid-winter. Therefore, the early part of Novemeber is the beginning of Winter, the time of year that is darkest and most Yin.
Chapter 2 of the Huang Di Nei Jing says Winter is the time of “closing and storage” (閉藏). It is the season of hibernation and represents the death phase. However, this should not be construed as a bad thing. We need to enter the phase of ultimate silence and stillness, in other words the death phase, so that Yang (and Yang is life) can be reborn again. The organ associated with the Winter is the Kidney, and the phase is Water. Keeping this in mind will help us understand the basic health recommendations of this seasonal node.
The first suggestion for this seasonal node is to nourish and protect the Yang, or warmth of the body (養陽護陽). This is especially true for seniors, since as we age the body become less tolerant of temperature extremes. Be sure to dress appropriately for the cooler temperatures. Likewise, foods should be cooked or warmed when eating. This is not the time for copious amounts of raw vegetables, juices, or chilled foods and beverages. Soups and stews are winter foods! While in some seasons eating too many warming foods can trigger internal heat, this is less so in Winter. Why? For one, Winter is cold. Eating warming foods is necessary to counteract the exterior temperatures as they drop. Second, the natural Qi movement in Winter is inward and downward. As already mentioned, this is the time of “closing and storage.” Eating more warming foods in the Winter allows the body to secure and store that warm vitality, thereby strengthening the body for the seasons to come afterwards. So, eating more warming foods in Winter has fewer side effects than doing so in other seasons.
Another recommendation for Beginning of Winter is the consumption of tonics. These are Chinese herbal formulas, often in pill form, that have an overall strengthening effect on the body. The specific tonic should be determined based on individual need, but in general formulas such as Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan can be taken in small but regular doses.
Since Winter is the season of the Kidney, the third recommendation for Beginning of Winter is to safeguard the Kidney and the Jing-essence. According to Chinese medicine there are three things that really deplete the Kidney and the Jing: (1) excessive sex, (2) staying up late and getting too little sleep, and (3) losing one’s temper. Excessive sex is certainly something that varies greatly from person to person. The question to ask patients is does sexual activity leave one feeling refreshed, or tired and worn out. If the latter, then it may be excessive. Staying up late goes directly against the movement of Winter, which is the movement of hibernation; Su Wen chapter 2 tells us that in Winter we need to get to bed a little earlier and sleep a little later, waiting until well after sunrise to get out of bed (早臥晚起，必待日光). Lastly, losing temper or having a generally angry disposition harms the Kidney. In the 39th chapter of the Su Wen it says that anger causes the Qi to rise (怒則氣上). Since the movement of Kidney is a movement of downward storage, anger forcing the Qi to rise depletes Kidney (i.e., it is the opposite movement of Kidney) and impairs the storage of Qi that is the natural and essential movement of Winter.
Over the last week or so here in northern New Jersey we’ve been seeing a lot of simple colds and coughs. Allergies are still plaguing some as well. Winter is the time of year for these conditions, and in Chinese medicine this means that the exterior layers of the body, namely the Taiyang channel, is being challenged. A great basic acupressure to teach patients to help both expel and protect against wind evils is stimulation of Feng Chi GB-20. Massaging this point on a daily basis can help ward off colds and relax stiffness of the next and back that is a main characteristic of Taiyang patterns. If there is concurrent nasal congestions, they can also include acupressure on Ying Xiang LI-20. For this, have them hold Feng Chi on one side of the head while simultaneously pressing into Ying Xiang on the other (for example, their right hand presses right Feng Chi, while the left hand presses left Ying Xiang). Hold until there is a sensation of clearing in the sinuses, and then switch sides.
In the next post I’ll discuss a little about diet for Beginning of Winter and give a little folk tale about the great medical sage (and evidently gastronome) Zhang Zhong Jing!