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The Wisdom of Wintering | Tips to Support Flow

In nature, winter is a season of hibernation. You may notice that all around you, nature is beginning to withdraw; embracing dormancy to reset and renew for the following spring and summer. The short days and long cold nights encourage us to contract inwards and go to ground, slowing down for a much needed rest. Today, I’m holding space for this change, and sharing The Wisdom of Wintering, to holistically support you throughout our most challenging season.

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The Wisdom of WIntering - aerial view of snowy beach meeting cold ocean waves, moody gray sky and mountains in distance

Please note that the suggestions listed in this post are for general education, and may or may not suit every person and constitution. Use your judgement, or for best results consult a trusted practitioner for guidance!

Winter Wisdom in Eastern Traditions

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter relates to the kidney (yin) and bladder (yang) meridians, the element water, and the colours blue and black.

The kidney system is associated with storing Jing (essence/vital energy), metabolism and endocrine function, sexual and reproductive functions. It produces marrow, which supports bones/teeth, brain and blood. It governs water in the body and its various uses, supports inspiration and energy via the lungs, and elimination via the colon. (See more about TCM 5 Element theory here).

The kidneys are also the seat of Zhi, which is the spiritual aspect of water. It drives willpower and ambition, and is nourished by wisdom. This system connects with the inner ear, low back and knees. It is most negatively affected by fear and shock as it relates to the nervous system (fear might be considered as the unnourished side of wisdom).

In Ayurveda, winter is a mainly Kapha season with Vata underlying. Kapha dosha is of the earth and water elements, and the word means “to embrace”. Kapha sits (and is stored in) the brain, joints, mouth, head, neck and throat, stomach, lymph, chest and lungs, heart, and fat. (See more about Dosha theory here). Winter is ruled by the water element (and also wind in some climates), with cold, heavy, slow, and damp attributes.

You will see some correlations between the two traditions, with water taking centre stage!

Balancing Act

Human bodies naturally weave in and out of balance, and we generally don’t need to do much to support this process. Other times, things start feeling more sticky – we get common colds or flu, we feel more fatigued than we’d like, or heavier acute or chronic conditions set in. We can provide ourselves varying degrees of support along all these layers, whether it’s preventatively or acutely.

Out of balance, winter may elicit feelings of fear, isolation and loneliness, or anxiety. We may experience the depressive symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Remember that our adrenals sit atop the kidneys – so nervous system issues are often linked with kidney system imbalance. Lack of self-love can lead us to suppress or avoid working through these negative emotions, keeping us stuck in unhelpful patterns and cycles.

In balance, we will likely feel calm, safe, supported and loved. Taking that a step further, having access to safety and support helps us experience more ease around working through any negative feelings that come up for us. Self-love and self-tending also helps us to be more emotionally resilient overall as we can resolve challenging emotions.

I encourage you to always seek out support if you are experiencing any mental, emotional, or spiritual challenges, whether through your personal or expanded community, or health professionals.

Finding Our Flow

For nutritional support, you might use bitter, astringent, and pungent foods to prevent damp phlegm and stimulate digestion. More moderately, use sweet, sour, and salty flavours to stay grounded, and nourishing oils to moisten if you are in a drier climate or experiencing higher Vata.

You may find your appetite is increased, as well as your need for sleep. Some studies are showing we may benefit from more sleep (specifically longer REM cycles) a night during the darker winter months.

You may also find yourself drawn to increased sexual activity during this time. Same goes for creativity, play, and other joyful activities – lean into it and nurture them this season!

Generally, we want to embrace the seasons and follow the rhythms nature lays out for us. In winter, this looks like slowing down, sleeping more, moving more gently, and eating heavier, warmer foods to stay warm. However, if you are imbalanced in any way, you will want to address this constitutionally first and foremost, before layering in the more general supports listed here. Another way to think of this is “constitution first, season second”.

Remember that moderation is key – any food, activity, or quality in excess will cause imbalances. You are welcome to book a consult with me for guidance!

Wisdom of wintering - side view of a beautiful teacup steaming with tea, hand overhead is dropping herbs and flowers into the cup, sun shining through from background

Supportive Foods for Winter

TCM Circadian Clock

On the TCM circadian clock, yang energy is always highest at noon. If you eat three meals per day, having your biggest meal at lunch will take advantage of that extra digestive fire. Bladder energy is highest between 3-5pm, and you may get a surge of energy at this time that will support work and creative process. Kidney energy is highest in the early evening (5-7pm), and a lighter warm meal may feel best during the winter. Eating after 7pm may cause sleep issues.

Choose warm and cooked foods as much as possible, moderating foods that are excessively cold, damp, sweet, heavy, or oily. Eating a wide variety of seasonal foods is always great to aim for!

The main taste attributes to focus on are bitter, astringent/drying, and pungent (spicy). Bitter is especially potent for addressing damp-heat conditions (look for signs such as red/wet rash along with edema).

Focus on inclusion of these flavours, rather than restriction of others for best results (and sanity!).

As you hibernate a little more, be mindful of salt and water intake – you may actually require a little less during this damp season. Watch for new signs such as edema or puffiness. However, if you are very active, live in a drier climate, or have a higher Vata constitution, you will likely need to continue to hydrate really well and include more salt in your diet. Watch for new signs such as headaches or intense cravings that may signal dehydration.

Either way, warm drinks will support you the most! I like to drink lots of mineral-rich and spicy herbal teas this season, such as nettle, tulsi, ginger, and chai.

Foods to Include

Vegetables: mushroom, squash, pumpkin, asparagus, celery, fennel, cooked greens (kale, spinach, chard), bitter greens (dandelion, chicory, radicchio, endive), leek, onion, garlic, roots (radish, daikon, horseradish, parsnip, turnip, yam, purple potato/sweet potato, beet, carrot), eggplant, seaweed/dulse, cruciferous (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprout)

Fruit: apple, crabapple, pear, citrus (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit – include peels!), blueberry, lingonberry, cranberry, elderberry, mulberry, blackcurrant, blackberry, dry black fig, cherry, pomegranate, black plum/prune, persimmon, black olive

Herbs + Spices: All!

Meat: shellfish, turkey, duck, lamb, venison, bison, beef, kidney, bone broth, bone marrow

Dairy: egg yolk, goat/sheep dairy (warm, spiced, and in moderation), ghee

Legumes: black bean, miso, lentils, dahl

Nuts + Seeds: flax seed, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, black sesame, chestnut, walnut, pecan, hazelnut

Grains: wild rice, buckwheat, rye

Other: molasses, honey, olive oil, sesame oil, tahini, salt (in moderation, unless dehydrated or adrenal function is depleted), dark chocolate

Drinks: warm water, apple cider, cider vinegar in warm water, herbal tea (nettle, echinacea, hawthorn, elderberry/flower, chamomile, rooibos, chai, ginger, dandelion/burdock root), golden (turmeric) milk, reishi, decaf coffee with cardamom and cream or coconut milk, mulled red wine, mead, dry cider

Scent + Body: scents that are dry, warm, and light are loveliest for balancing heavy winter damp. Try rose, bergamot, cedar, pine, cypress, geranium, eucalyptus, rosemary, citrus, ginger, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, ylang ylang, etc. Diffuse or use topically in a base of cocoa butter, sesame, jojoba, or rosehip oil.

If excess Vata (dry/light/mobile) avoid the pine scents as they are particularly drying. Also refer to my Autumn Evolution post for more Vata-appropriate suggestions!

More Wintering Tips

As always, it’s important to nourish ourselves with more than food! Living and supporting yourself from all angles (holistically) is a natural way to keep a balance or homeostasis. This in turn results in better resilience and ability to recentre when life inevitably goes sideways.

  • Stay physically warm and dry! Wear cozy socks, and keep your low back warm. This ensures you don’t lose vital kidney energy through these gateways. Using a heat pad on your low back is so lovely and tonifying for the kidneys in winter!
    • The back of the neck is also a common gateway that “wind” can enter in TCM. Wear a scarf to prevent the onset of colds from cold weather!
  • Winter is the perfect time to book in for that massage you’ve been dreaming of all year! Deep tissue work and energy work are especially wonderful for both physically and emotionally supporting the kidney system. Try deep tissue massage, acupuncture with cupping and moxa, reiki and craniosacral therapy.
  • Light therapy benefits many folks who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Blue light in the morning can support circadian rhythms – especially if you work in a windowless office all day! Always stick to amber light in the evening to ensure you can sleep at night.
  • Get outside! It may feel cold and look miserable most days, but getting outside, breathing fresh air, and moving your body is some of the best medicine there is 🙂
  • Keep moving, have fun, but also be mindful. Unless you love hitting the slopes, it’s easy to become more sedentary this season. Move in a way that nourishes you rather than burns you out. I love adding restorative Yin yoga to my movement practice in the winter (or anytime I’m depleted).
  • Joy and play are considered the healthful Yang expression of the kidney system in TCM. Get curious, release perfection, and just have fun!
  • Rest, rest, rest! I mean, deep, nourishing, beautiful rest. Not with scrolling, not with tv – REAL REST. Read a book, take a nap, knit something cozy, paint, write creatively or in your journal. Take a ramble in the hills or woods, take care in making your favourite meal and share it with a loved one… What leaves your soul feeling so nourished and restored that you’re practically tingly? Do more of that this winter.

Wherever you are this winter, I hope you are safe and warm. If you find any of these tips supportive, let me know in the comments, are share with a friend!

If you need some extra nutritional support this season, I would love to help you! You can book a consult here. I’m looking forward to connecting with you soon.

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