Health Cultivation in Winter: how to optimize your health

Winter refers to the period from the Beginning of Winter (which is November 7th in 2020) to the day before Beginning of Spring the following year (February 3, 2021), which includes the solar terms of Slight Snow, Great Snow, Winter Solstice, Slight Cold and Great Cold chronologically. Winter is a season of excessive yin qi and the “hiding of everything”. At this time, yin qi is in excess while yang qi is hidden and concealed. It is a world of ice and snow. Vitality is hidden, grass and trees are withered, fallen and scattered about and insects hibernate. The human metabolic state is in a relatively slower state. Health preservation in winter should conform to concealing yang qi and hibernate to avoid cold and approach heat, as well as preserve yang and yin. This is in agreement with “the principle of nourishment and hiding”.

Regulating Daily life

In winter, going to bed early is advisable to nourish the human yang qi while getting up late is suitable to protect yin and essence. This is because retiring to bed earlier and rising later can help yang qi descend as well as help accumulate yin and essence. Do not work until the sun rises, avoid cold and approach heat to prevent external cold from injuring the yang. Use heating devices to maintain a proper room temperature - careful not to heat the room too hot because it will cause the skin pore to open, allowing pathogenic cold to easily invade the body.

In terms of clothing, wear cotton fabric as an underlayer because it’s soft, comfortable and good in heat preservation, the outer clothing should be slightly larger. Excessively thin clothing may easily impair yang, causing common cold or numbness and pain of the waist and legs. Conversely, clothing too thick may stir up yang qi and cause it to escape (same idea as room being too hot). Shoes and socks should be a little larger so as to keep qi flow free and harmonious, limbs comfortable and warm. The hands and feet are more liable to chilblain when exposed to harsh winter air - therefore, extra protection is needed.

Regulating emotions

Winter corresponds to kidney, and the kidney controls the storage of essence and is the congenital base of life, as well as emotionally associated with fear and fright. Excessive or sudden fear and fright may impair the kidney and cause pathological changes. During winter, the time of hiding, people should focus on cultivating the mind implicitly - stay quiet and happy and avoid drastic emotional activities. Meditating and engaging in less social activities are suitable for winter.

Regulating the diet

Ingestion of tonics in winter has been the go-to TCM health preservation method for thousands of years. Modern research has shown that winter is the season where most nutrients are absorbed after intake. Tonic food includes: mutton/lamb, chicken, beef, etc. Also consider tonifying herbs to add in herbal soups for medicated diet: Ejiao, Ren Shen, Lu Rong, etc. However, keep in mind that tonics should be ingested based on a person’s constitution and state of illness. Otherwise, the tonics can cause more harm than good. 

People with yang deficiency or relative yang deficiency should eat sweet, warm natured food and yang promoting food, such as: shrimp and Lu rong (deer antler)

People with yin deficiency should eat sweet and cool natured or sweet and moist natured foods such as hare/rabbit meat, tortoise meat, soft shelled turtle meat, Bai He (lily bulb) and Yin Er (White fungus).

People with yin and qi deficiency should eat duck meat and goose meat. 

Tonification herb should be consumed under the guidance of a TCM herbalist, and avoid excessive tonics leading to adverse effects on the body.

About Physical Training

In the winter, people should still persevere with physical training, as it is a basic method to strengthen/maintain health. 

Indoor physical training such as: health strengthening massage, mild qi gong, Tai Chi, dance. 

Outdoor physical training: long distance running, walking race, ice skating, skiing.

Choose the physical training mindfully with the harsh cold weather in mind, as well, pollutants in air take longer to dissipate due to the cold weather/air pressure -  avoid outdoor exercise when there is extreme cold weather, as well as dress appropriately, and avoid physical training early morning in the winter. 

Article written by Karen Tsoi, R. Ac., Advanced TCM student, for reference only, not medical advice.