As the year progresses to winter, we begin to drink more warm beverages; wear double, triple or even quadruple more clothing when going outside; and perhaps go to bed earlier, seeing that the sun also does so in this coldest season of the year. Many mammals naturally go into a period of hibernation as the environment becomes quiet and slows down. We enjoy peaceful seasonal celebrations with our family and friends and relax in the comfort of our warm homes.
What has winter got to do with Chinese medicine?
Most ancient traditional healing systems in the world, including Chinese medicine, urge us to experience the natural environment around us so that we may find the answers we need to enhance our inner well being. We humans are subject and part of these cycles that happen in nature- birth, development, maturation, deterioration and hibernation/death. Each and every one of us, at our own pace, will experience this cycle. It’s what binds us to mother earth and all of us to each other.
Winter is Here
Earth cycles such as the season not only manifest each year with the change of the season but are also clearly evident in our life span. We currently are into the winter season; the period when our natural environment enters into hibernation and wane in order to preserve its strength and to prepare for the impending energy burst it needs for spring. Winter is a period of steady and slow work that’s now occurring as the energy of the earth goes deep underground for self renewal and self nourishment. Winter, in this manner, can be akin to sleep; a period in the yearly cycle where we need to rest in order to renew ourselves. For animals and humans to gain or preserve their health, they need to follow the example of mother earth and consider winter time as the period for self-replenishment attained through rest and activities that renew/repair minds and bodies.
In Chinese nutritional therapy, there are certain ways of eating and specific dishes that are appropriate for consumption during the cold seasons. In order to get a clear idea of what I am saying, let’s do a contrasting exercise. During summer, what do you think our bodies might naturally have a craving for on a sweltering, hot day? Watermelon! In order to replenish the electrolytes and fluids that have been lost to the heat, our bodies are telling us to consume watery foods. Watermelon rehydrates and cools us down physically. It’s not surprising that it tastes delicious during summer picnics!
However our nutritional requirements change during winter. When it’s cold outside, eating watermelon may not exactly be what our body craves for. It may yearn for warm drinks and warming, slow-cooked, foods such as a bowl of spicy and sweet chai soup spiced up with black pepper, garlic, and ginger. During chilly weather and cold months, what our bodies will crave for are hot foods cooked with garlic or black pepper. During these periods, these foods are appropriate and healthy as they provide our bodies with the right nourishment.
How to warm our digestive fire
Imagine our digestive system as a fire that breaks down and warms our food. This fire warms our digestive functions at varying degrees based on the current time of year. The apex of our digestive fire is during summer and at this time of year we tend to have no issue and can relish eating lots of fresh raw foods. We can consume watermelon and salads with abandon since the higher degree of our digestive fire will internally “cook” our food, which means our digestive fire will convert food into the nutrients our bodies need to thrive and survive.
But what if we eat these same foods during winter?
We would not like the consequences when we try to eat these same foods during winter or any cold periods; our stomachs would be the most affected. During winter, our digestive fire is functioning at its lowest capacity. The digestive systems of humans require that food is already broken down and easily converted into nutrients that can be utilized by our bodies. Cooking foods will not tax our digestive beyond its seasonal capacity and foods are broken down in an efficient way prior to them entering our body. We therefore need to make it a point that most of the food that we eat is well cooked and eaten warm when the environment outside is cold.
During winter, we pull our long pants and sweaters out of storage, whilst packing away our shorts and tank tops; if we change our clothing to match the season, so why not also change how food is prepared and eaten so it becomes appropriate to the season we are in?
Eastern Healing Solutions, LLC
10875 Grandview St #2200
Overland Park, KS 66210