How To Stay Healthy In Winter According to Chinese Medicine

My family just returned to a very cold house after a weekend away. Our goldfish are at the bottom of their tank – alive, but conserving energy. The rest of the family feels the same! Instead of going to a neighborhood holiday party, we watched a movie together.  Now we’re making a warm, yummy dinner and catching up on laundry.  We are aligning with the energy of the season according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) wisdom in everything we do.  

The cold of Winter is meant to slow us down. While waiting for our house to heat up I was thinking about how it must have been in older, more simple times.  In agrarian communities, they worked hard to prepare for Winter.  Short, cold days limited the amount of activities that could be done outside.  The amount of food available was limited too.

I think it’s still important to have these natural limitations in mind for Winter. Even though we have electricity, central heating, factory farms, and the ability to receive food from far-off countries – this ability to do more during Winter and eat whatever we want whenever we want – is not necessarily good for our health and well-being.  Want to learn how to stay healthy in Winter and all year long?  Read on to learn how from the TCM perspective.

Adapting To The Energy Of Winter

When talking about the changing energy of the seasons, I like to refer to the Yang energy of the Sun as a reference. Yang energy is hot, vibrant, mobilizing, and motivating, while the opposite yet complimentary concept of Yin is cool, dull, stable, and grounding.

At the Winter Solstice, the Yang energy is at it’s lowest and the Yin energy at it’s highest with the darkest days and coolest temperatures. To me, the energy of Winter feels like an emptiness, a void, and a well of possibilities for things to fill it. Like the end of our exhalation, it’s the pause that feels so complete, but there’s also an urgency to fill the space with the next breath.

From the Winter Solstice on, we are actually increasing Yang energy until it becomes equal with Yin at the Spring Equinox.  Then it continues to increase to it’s maximum at the Summer Solstice.

Some of us with a lot of Yang energy really feel this energy increase in late Winter.  We go to the beach when it’s 60°F weather in February, wear shorts as soon as the sun starts shining after days of rain, or may sometimes exercise too enthusiastically outside.  When this happens to me (as it inevitably does every year!) I come to my senses, but it’s usually the common cold that brings me out of denial that we’re still in Winter.  

That’s right – when we don’t stay aligned, we’re more likely to get sick.  Even though the energy in Winter is increasing, it is still a very Yin time of year. We should stay bundled up, restoring our energy, and adapting slowly – just like our ancestors and all the animals in nature around us.

Meditation is a natural way to dip into the stillness during Winter or anytime.  Check out my 3 Essential Meditations if you don’t have them already.  You’ll love them!

free audio meditation

The Water Element And Kidney Energy In Winter

Changing seasons are a big deal in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) because we embrace the Taoist philosophy that we are microcosms of nature. When the season changes, we need to change our approach to living in order to stay well.

Water is the element predominant in Winter according to TCM and governs the following in humans.  Therefore, Winter should feel like we’re going with the flow with grace and ease.  Here are other characteristics of the Water Element according to TCM:

  • Organs…Kidneys (Yin) and Urinary Bladder (Yang)
  • Sense organ…Ears
  • Tissue…Bones
  • Taste…Salty
  • Emotion when out of balance…Fear
  • Imbalance indicated in the…Hair
  • Adverse climate…Cold

According to TCM, the Kidneys hold our essence.  Kidney qi (energy) is responsible for our vitality, governs reproduction & development, and manufactures blood, marrow & brain tissue. Abundant Kidney qi gives us determination, strong willpower, and a good memory. The channel that runs through the Kidneys also links up with all the other channels, so the flow of qi and blood in this channel affects the circulation of qi & blood in the others.

Impressive, right?

The Kidney organ and its channel are extremely important in TCM! And tonifying this energy now in the Winter can keep you healthy in Spring and throughout the year.

Best Foods To Eat In Winter With TCM Dietetics

In the coming months we’ll explore the many ways to maintain balance and nourish our Kidney Energy with TCM and yoga. For now, we can get on track by focusing on an appropriate diet with an emphasis on well-cooked warming foods to keep our inner circulation and digestion strong.

When preparing meals think slow cooker soups and stews with meat from organic, grass-fed animals, legumes, rice, quinoa and vegetables. Kidney energy can be increased by including dark hued foods such as black beans, black sesame seeds, seaweed, and pepper.

Depending on your constitution and imbalances, you’ll want to be careful of the food “temperature”. Eg. for Kidney Yin deficiency which results in “hot” symptoms, you’ll avoid cinnamon, clove, lamb, etc. – which are all way too warming for you.

For those of you interested in a more thorough explanation of Kidney energy tonification through diet, I recommend this post from Acupuncture in Bellingham.

In general, vegetables and fruits we should be eating in Winter are those available at our local Farmer’s market.

Winter Renewal

By aligning your lifestyle with the Yin nature of Winter you are building a bank of energy and your potential for increased vitality. That’s the key when learning how to stay healthy in Winter.

Winter nourishment is not isolated to physical health though. Our time spent in close quarters with family, friends, and local community nourishes our relationships. Time spent inside reading, journaling, puzzling, meditating, and creating with our hands nourishes our mind and spirit.

I hope you can find peace in the stillness of this special time. You will have a greater capacity to fully appreciate the exciting things to come in the New Year!


Would you like help aligning with the season to stay healthy this Winter & into the New Year? I can help you both online and in-person to assess your health and make a plan to address imbalances. Learn more HERE

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Brandy Falcon L.Ac.

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