WINTER: THE ESSENTIALS
Just as water falls with the pull of gravity, the energy of Winter reaches downwards. Following the inward contraction of Autumn, Winter energy connects our deep inner energy with that of the planet: it grounds us. In so doing, it enables us to look within and recharge at an essential level. A successful Winter program delivers profound foundational support so that we feel confident in the world and are able to move forward with ease and motivation.
Grounding, foundations, structure, balance,
motivation, action, “can do”,
WINTER SPIRIT & EMOTIONS
The Winter season marks the end of the TCM year. It also represents peak YIN. It is cold and the nights are long and dark. Also, we seem to have less energy and need more rest.
A well balanced water element allows you to feel calm and comfortable with who you are.
You are not afraid to just lie down and recuperate, ask yourself difficult questions about your purpose and actions. Your courage is based on deep confidence in your motivations and in your ability to get things done in an appropriate manner. Your rest is untroubled and you wake up ready and steady to take on the day at a tempo appropriate to your current energetic state. You use your energy productively to keep yourself warm, healthy and bright inside.
A healthy, Water Element gives us self-knowledge and self-confidence
It allows us to DO THINGS as we see fit
It supports us in moving forward towards our chosen goals
The less happy flip side of this is the ease with which we can slip into anxiety and negativity when the days are short and shivery. The colour of Winter is dark blue – black even – and it is easy to fall into self-doubt, fear and paralysis.
Courage, stability, confidence,
fear, anxiety, doubt, “winter blues”
WINTER MERIDIANS: the Reservoir and the River
We all want to make the most of the season we find ourselves in and as Winter takes hold it’s a good idea to find out more about the Water Element. As a point of departure, THIS POST maps out where the Winter meridians run through the body. See how they interact, what they influence and how they perform their various functions.
- The Bladder (YANG meridian) governs our ability to BE – upright and balanced with strong personal foundations and a grand reservoir of energy
- Kidney (YIN meridian) connects with our ability to DO – when energy flows freely, like a river, to support our actions in the world
More specifically, it’s also worth getting in touch with the current state of your Water Element and its meridians. Try this ZEN EXERCISE FOR WATER to “explore & tonify” the energy of your Winter meridians . It is one of a sequence of six exercises known as the MAKKO HO. Each exercise is specific to a YIN/YANG Element pair of meridians. Together they can be used to release, tonify and balance your energy system.
Videos of the full Makko Ho sequence are now available on my
The one for the Water Element was posted on June 2, 2020
Winter is the season for introspection and stabilization. It is an exceptional time of year for looking after yourself in ways that make best sense when the temperature is low. It is a time to be pro-active about nurturing your Water Element by:
- going out of your way to put extra energy into your system and
- acknowledging, conserving and building your fundamental resources – energetic, material, emotional & spiritual
If you need more encouragement, consider also that this can be a really nice thing to do.
WINTER WARMERS: putting extra energy into your system
Number one on the easy list is to treat yourself to a GINGER FOOTBATH (or full bath if you prefer). You might also like to throw a golf ball or a large marble in there and give the soles of your feet a pressure workout.
Another great Winter warmer is to put some MOXA into your system. Anywhere around the feet and ankles will do. However, KIDNEY #1, one on the sole of each foot, is probably your optimal TCM acu-point. If moxa is a foreign concept to you, ask me about it next time you’re in my clinic.
Speaking of KIDNEY #1,Yongquan or “Bubbling Spring” … you don’t need moxa to build energy in this remarkably important pair of acu-points. Gentle – or even strong – massage over the sole of the foot will really warm up your Kidney #1. Deeper penetration with thumbs or the knuckle of your index finger will open the points and charge them up beautifully.
This will allow them to do their job as MAJOR ENERGY PORTALS FOR YOUR SYSTEM, connecting you to the greater energy of your environment.
Putting heat into your system builds your energy reservoir so that, when you are active yourself, the river can flow freely
EAT_SLEEP_MOVE: build from within to beat the winter blues
Just as we need to turn on the heater inside the house, it is imperative to keep your core fires burning and build from within. Three simple strategies should see you through: eat, sleep and move in a manner that is appropriate to the season.
This is the time for long, slow cooking. Soups, stews, casseroles, congees and slow bakes build the energy capital of the dish and break down the component foods. At your end, this means more heat and nutrition in and less digestive energy out. This is the food you need to keep you being and doing.
Why spend energy on digestion when you could be saving it for keeping yourself warm?
For the transition out of Autumn, baking is terrific. Try this amazing WHOLE BAKED CAULIFLOWER recipe. If you are not a fan of cauliflower, I can recommend this FENNEL POTATO & MUSTARD dish that calls itself a casserole but is clearly a bake.
For more baking ideas have a look at this multi-recipe post on TRANSITION FOODS.
Beans, vegetables and whole grains always combine well. The result tastes even better if you sprinkle some SEA SALT & SESAME GOMASIO on top. This high mineral content condiment is a super support for your Water element: building teeth, bones, hair and – very importantly – the nervous system.
A strong, stable nervous system helps you to stay relaxed and upbeat through the cold months.
Winter food requires a bit of planning but it is worth it. And remember, you can always cook double (or triple) portions and freeze some of it. I do this all the time with ADZUKI & PUMPKIN CASSEROLE . It is the easiest winter lunch stand by I know!
You will digest better and further stabilize your nervous system if you …
- Further enhance the mineral content of your one-pot meals by cooking with some quality sea salt &/or sea weeds
- Eat your meals early – particularly your evening meal
- Eat your meals hot and save more of your energy for other things.
The Australian Winter is really quite short. We don’t get that many long nights so make the most of them. Try this very obvious Winter energy conservation strategy: go to bed early and sleep a lot. Aim for a good 9 hours per night – that way you might just average 8.
This is where the hot water bottle really comes into its own. (Do not waste your own precious body heat.)
A pre-warmed bed is a very comfy place when it is dark and cold and building up sleep credit is always a good idea.
You will sleep better and build your motivational “can do” if you have …
- Properly digested your evening meal
- Already made the important decisions about what you need to do the next day
- Given yourself something specific to look forward to first thing in the morning (food, social, exercise, a new scarf … all four) and
- Been sure to turn off the heating in your bedroom.
In Winter it’s crucial get plenty of rest … and then some more rest. It is also crucial to resist the urge to be a 100% couch potato. Your exercise regime doesn’t have to be super demanding but, ideally, make it regular and outdoors. You can get some fresh air and maybe some Winter sun as you clear out your head and your lungs.
Plain old walking is great for keeping your Winter fires burning. The cooler the weather the more motivated you are to walk a little briskly. If you are pretty fit and infection free you could try WALKING BAREFOOT – but only on a dry day.
Walk tall, keep it loose, breathe into your lower belly so that you release and TONIFY YOUR PSOAS MUSCLES as you go.
Winter yoga has two distinct sides to it. On the one hand, it’s about developing your balance – which involves both grounding and core work. On the other, it’s to do with stretching and strengthening the spine – particularly the sacral and lumbar zones – and the back of the legs.
Most balances – even the simplest – will do for building the Kidney energy. Although those that work the soles of the feet and the ankles are more advantageous.
To maximise on your position:
- press down through the sole(s) of the foot (feet)
- pull up through the pelvic floor,
- compress you lower abdomen and
- lift up under the ears
Once you are on top of that, if you would like to add some difficulty, you can either: (1) press down into the ball of your foot and rise up through the ankle joint or (2) close your eyes.
WORKING THE BACK
Then there are the forward bends, back arches and other moves aimed at building strength and flexibility in the spine (and thence the Bladder meridian).
You could try something basic such as lying on your back and holding your knees to your chest as you tuck your chin in.
- Breathe deeply and exhale fully to gently release the back and shoulders
- Then gently start to rock’n roll up and down the spine. (Make sure you use a mat!)
- Keep the movement within your comfort range.
- Once you are done, come to a sitting position, gradually release the legs out along the mat and take the movement into a gentle forward bend.
WORKING A LITTLE HARDER
If the forward bend feels good, I suggest that you try to CONSOLIDATE YOUR WINTER ENERGY with this sequence of targeted yoga exercises for the Bladder and Kidney meridians.
THE PLOUGH POSE , being a kind of upside down forward bend, is Bladder yoga par excellence. Taken into a Shoulder Stand, it becomes more of a Kidney pose. The core is engaged, the upper chest is compressed, there is an element of balance and the lumbar spine in particular is strengthened.
Awareness, strength and flexibility through your spine support tranquillity in your nervous system. This, in turn, empowers you to manage the anxieties and fears that can bring you down in the cold months.
Winter is often associated with morning stiffness, niggly aches & pains, fast spreading minor (& not so minor) infectious bugs and (being the season of the Water Element) wetness. The cold weather makes us more vulnerable. Extra body energy is required to keep our system warm and we tend to move less and stay indoors more. This means less oxygen, sluggish circulation (blood & lymph) and lower immunity. Hence the importance of fresh air and a Winter appropriate exercise regime.
That said, it’s never a bad time to pro-actively support your immune system.
If you think you could do with an immunity boost,
get some tips from my
IMMUNITY BUILDING HUB
Whatever you do, keep yourself warm in the cooling weather and make the most of the season in which you find yourself,