According to Chinese medicine philosophy, winter is yin: it is traditionally the season of hibernation, as plants and animals move into a dormant phase. In winter the predominant energy is cold, even in Australia's milder climate; there is darkness and a contraction of environmental energies. The same process occurs in the body, with the body's qi naturally moving deeper within to nourish and repair the interior and protect against penetration of cold energy. To boost qi in winter, we must consider the predominant energies in the environment and adapt to them. Here's how:
Align with winter energetics Winter is a time of stillness and quiet; a time to move slowly, rest, meditate, and be more introspective. During winter, be mindful of the energy that you expend day to day: get plenty of rest, avoid staying up late, and rise with or after the sunrise. Keep balance in your life between the energy you use and the energy you cultivate. If your life is rushed, your body's adrenal activity increases and may cause exhaustion – and if this happens, the body becomes easily vulnerable to cold energy entering and disturbing the qi.
Keep warm It is important to stay warm, to keep cold out of the body. When cold penetrates the body it may cause stiffness and stagnation or contraction, and limit movement of qi and blood. Pathogenic cold energy enters through the pores, so keep skin covered and use scarves and beanies. Signs of cold in the body may display as coldness on palpation of the abdomen, back or hips, a white tongue, a sense of coldness, or an inability to warm up.
Seek support If you know that Winter is difficult for you, seek support to warm the body in preparation. Chinese medicine can be used preventively to promote wellness and boost qi as well as to treat signs of existing coldness. Acupuncture points can address patterns of imbalance along with cupping to remove cold. Moxibustion is another likely addition to treatments: this heating therapy warms the body and channels and promotes movement of and building of the qi and blood. Herbal prescriptions can warm the body and enhance the protective elements.
Eat seasonally As with all seasons, eating locally-grown seasonal whole foods is encouraged, as these foods will align most closely with the energy of a person's environment. To boost qi in winter, have warming meals that have been cooked at low temperatures for a long time, like hearty soups, stocks, broths, stews, and curries. Warming spices - cloves, peppercorns, ginger, and cinnamon - are a good addition.
Maintain activities Even though winter is a yin time, we should continue physical activity to maintain flexibility, cultivate qi, promote circulation, and create internal warmth. Movement from activities such as Qi Gong, yoga or Pilates are particularly appropriate. Keep skin pores covered when exercising in open air, particularly the neck and lower back. Minimise activities that encourage opening the pores and sweating, as these will leave you vulnerable to cold penetration; if you do high-activity exercise, ensure you keep warm afterwards.
Shura Ford is a doctor of Chinese medicine. Contact her at Ford Wellness Group, www.fordwellnessgroup.com.au