The next and last seasonal node this calendar year, Winter Solstice (dong zhi 冬至), begins December 21. The Chinese term for Winter Solstice literally means the “extreme of yin” since Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. Symbolically this node is represented by Hexagram 24, which is comprised of one Yang line at the bottom of 5 Yin lines. Hexagram 24’s name is Return – Fu (復). What is returning? The Yang and the 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.
During Winter Solstice we should consider the Chinese folk saying, “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 can we do then to stay healthy during this time period? The first basic recommendation is taken from the Su Wen chapter 1: “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. That said, too much sleep is also not great. Sleep (which is Yin) when excessive damages the Yang, which is why the Su Wen says excessive sleep injures the Qi (久臥傷氣). The recommendation I typically give patients is that 7-8 hours of sleep is plenty for the average healthy person.
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. Because 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. We are starting regular Qigong classes this January in Northern New Jersey (click here for more information on Qigong classes).
To stay healthy this time of year there are also some things to avoid. First is to guard against weakening the Yang Qi. As 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 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, a traditional recommendation for the season is to guard our sexual vitality. Jing essence is the stored and most precious form of Yang Qi, and is stirred during sex. Hence 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.
In terms of diet, 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.
Here’s a traditional recipe for Winter Solstice:
Angelica and Ginger Lamb Soup 當歸生薑羊肉湯
- 1 lb. Lamb (deboned and cut into chunks)
- Dang Gui 15-30g
- Fresh ginger (peeled and sliced)
- Cooking oil
- Put lamb in a pot with about 8 cups water, bring to a boil and simmer for just about 2 minutes; strain out lamb and discard water
- Place lamb back into pot with sliced ginger and a small amount of cooking oil; heat up and cook for several minutes, until lamb is no longer bloody
- Add in another 8 cups of water and the Dang Gui; bring to a boil and them simmer on low heat for about 2 hours; add salt to taste and serve hot
This recipe warms the interior and builds blood, and strengthens the Spleen and Kidney. It is traditionally used to treat general fatigue, low back pain, impotence, and frequent urination.
I wish everyone health and happiness!