In Chinese Medicine the winter season corresponds with the water element, the kidney organs, and the emotion of fear. To translate biomedically, the “kidneys” really are referring to our adrenal glands and hormonal reserves, which suddenly then becomes easy to understand why the ancient Chinese were brilliantly able to intuit its relationship with fear.
For many the global pandemic has been depressing—fortunately, for them their season is passing, as it is autumn that corresponds with grief, sadness, and the lungs. But for those of us for whom fear has been the dominant emotion, the next few months bode challenging, especially with the rising local cases and omicron variant’s apparent ubiquity. Unfortunately, responding with mindless fear gradually taxes our adrenal glands, which in turn taxes our immune system and makes us more vulnerable. Chinese Medicine would phrase it as the lung qi needing to draw upon the kidney qi to give it “wei qi,” or immunological energy.
As someone who did approximately 5000 stand-up comedy shows over the course of 15 years, I can tell you that the best way to manage fear is first by not trying to resist or avoid it. While general carelessness is stupid, there is such a thing as intelligent levels of courage that I believe come into play when we are able to sit with our fears, acknowledge them, and allow them to pass through us gently, with observation, possibly a prayer, and our breath.
The “kidney breath” is a good practice during or at the end of your regular workouts. It is one where we direct our nasal breath into the lower back, allowing it to subtly expand while keeping the abdomen flat, then exhale through the nose as well. This is also a nice choice during meditation or qi gong practice, or while just resting on your bed.
I continue to support masking and distancing whenever possible; also keeping in mind that it is as important to keep the head and neck covered in winter as it is to have them uncovered in summer. Heat departs from the top of the body, so we should try to maintain as much of that warm cellular energy within to unburden our immune systems. Hoods and scarves are the warm tea and vitamin D of fashion! I also recommend warm socks to avoid vasoconstriction in the nerves supplying the lumbar plexus, which travel to the none other than the adrenals—also avoid belly t-shirts, as they leave the microbiome vulnerable to air, which creates vasoconstriction in the gut and impedes digestion. Sadly, most sexy trends are not healthy.
If you haven’t gotten it by now, winter is the time for warmth! We do more herbal medicine and moxibustion in the winter. We recommend more warming foods, such as ginger, onions, garlic, bone broths a few times a week, and lamb meat at least once a week. Although green vegetables are always in order, root vegetables are in season and subsequently most logical now. Bedtimes should be approximately one hour earlier than they are in summer, sexual activity should be half as often, and exercise about half as intense. Not to worry—it isn’t all bad: When it comes to indulgences, winter is a better time for whiskey and red wine than white or beer, as the former are more invigorating. If you must have a beer over the holidays try to do so alongside warm and/or even spicy foods to counteract its cold, coagulating nature.
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