Winter Healing with Traditional Chinese Medicine
By Jasmine Lister, L.Ac
Let’s talk about winter.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), winter is the season associated with the water element, the energetics of yin, and the kidneys.
What does this mean for you?
This means that winter is a critical time for you to look inward, an aspect of yin nature, reflect through self-cultivation practices such as meditation, journaling, tai chi and qi gong. It is no coincidence that foods that are naturally available during the winter benefit the kidneys. Consider nourishing yourself with seasonal winter foods such as winter congee (please see recipe below), bone or vegetable broth, root vegetables, nuts and adding black sesame seeds into your warm daily meals. Avoiding cold fluids and foods and replacing them with warm, steamed and cooked veggies are also essential for optimal health.
By aligning our diets and lifestyle choices with the colder months, we can replenish our energy, improve our health and transition into spring and summer with increased vigor and vitality.
Common Symptoms Associated with the Winter Season
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Low back pain
- Knee pain and weakness
- Problems with urinary retention
- Fatigue/shortness of breath
- Decreased libido, premature ejaculation, vaginal dryness
- Anxiety and excessive fear
- High blood pressure
- Lack of excitement
- Inflexibility and resistance to change
Understanding your Body in Winter
Building kidney energy (or jing essence) is best done during the winter months. Stress, poor sleeping habits, excessive consumption of alcohol, drugs and sexual activity can easily deplete the kidneys. When the kidneys are weak, we may become tired, suffer from lower back and knee pain, as well as experience hormonal imbalances, lower libido and show more signs of aging (i.e. premature greying of hair).
In TCM, the kidneys are the root of our vitality, the source of our body’s warmth, and are associated with the adrenals, reproductive system and how quickly we age. TCM also associates the kidneys with the bones and marrow, so it’s especially important to pay close attention to your joint health during the winter months and keeping your neck, back and feet warm. Don’t be hesitant to wear a scarf, add on an undershirt and cozy up to your favorite wool socks!
(Adapted from Food & Wine’s “Basic Congee Recipe”, November 2014)
Congee, otherwise known as rice porridge, is very easy on the digestive system and offer a great source of energy for the body and can be tailored to meet your individual and seasonal needs.
Total Time: 1 HR 30 MIN
Yield Serves : 4
- 1 cup raw long-grain white rice
- Rinsed 7 cups chicken OR Vegetable stock
- 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt, plus more for seasoning
- One-inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced thin
- Sliced green onion, for garnish
- Sesame seed oil or soy sauce (optional for taste)
In a large pot add stock, rice, salt, and ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Stir occasionally so that the rice doesn’t clump or stick at the bottom.
Simmer the congee for about 1 hour or until the congee is thickened and creamy. Add salt to taste. Serve the congee hot.
As the congee cools, it will become thicker. Add additional stock or water if necessary to make the congee to your desired thickness.
Additional TCM winter ingredients you may add: eggs, mung beans, black beans, black sesame seeds, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, and bok choy.
December 21, 2017 marks the Winter Solstice: a pivotal turning point in the continual cycle of the seasons. For millennia, human civilizations have celebrated this longest night as a mysterious, sacred and profoundly spiritual time.
In the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the start of true winter: the season of ice, deprivation and challenges. Yet it also marks the start of a subtle but mystical transformation. Even as we hunker down against the cold, the days are lengthening. Steadily and invariably, we are headed back toward spring.
We all know that feeling of the longest night. It happens each time you feel discouraged, depleted or depressed. When you’re lonely and at a loss. When your job or relationships or bank account are empty. When you feel scared or trapped or powerless. When you look into the
mirror, and recoil.
Fortunately, just like the Winter Solstice, our own longest night can be holy and powerful… if we are willing to accept it.
Pema Chodron, An American mother and grandmother who is also a Tibetan Buddhist nun, teaches that “when we touch the center of sorrow, when we sit with discomfort without trying to fix it, when we stay present to the pain of disapproval or betrayal and let it soften us” we move toward enlightenment.
Or, as she explains with characteristically blunt humor: “Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
It is uncomfortable, even painful, to stay present to our own inner darkness. But when we accept and open ourselves to the longest night, we may find it contains an insight into something our soul lacks, and is craving. Each time we honor that craving and make whatever change the darkness has been demanding, we become more genuine.
Then as surely as the Winter Solstice marks the long, slow turning back toward spring, we gradually become truer, kinder, lighter… more enlightened.
- When your eyes are tired the world is tired also.
- When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you.
- Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own.
- There you can be sure you are not beyond love.
- The dark will be your womb tonight.
- The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.
- You must learn one thing.
- The world was made to be free in.
- Give up all the other world except the one to which you belong.
- Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.
– David Whyte, House of Belonging
Held on Saturdays at 6pm, sound bowl concerts in the salt cave are led by Janine Narayadu, Bethesda Salt Cave Owner. These sound bowl events offer a therapeutic experience filled with soft subtle tones that will relax you into a deep meditative state where you can let go of stress and increase the feeling of well-being. Janine plays a changing combination of sound bowls, fen gong, chimes, kalimba, and monochord.
Sound Concert & Meditation FAQ
Are the concerts and instruments always the same?
No, you can expect variations in sound and/or flow.
Is this the same as Sound Healing?
This is relaxation. Sometimes guests report a healing has occurred, but in order to keep things light and easy, we prefer to think of it as a bonus.
Will we sit or lie down / Do I need to bring a cushion?
Most guests relax on the floor in the front, or against the walls and in chairs at the back of the room. You’re welcome to bring your favorite cushion, back-jack, and/or blanket.
What kind of “meditation” is it?
It’s a free-form and unguided soundscape, unless otherwise noted in the event details. No experience required.
Is there any required talking or sharing afterwards?
You’re free to maintain your silence. If there is a specific sharing time set aside, it will be announced in the event description.
Bethesda Salt Cave offers relaxation in a soothing, sodium-rich environment
In a modest underground storefront in Bethesda, beyond a soothing waiting area, is a room filled with pink Himalayan salt. The walls are made of salt rocks ranging from 3 ounces to 250 pounds, and the floor is covered with more than 61/2 tons of sandlike pulverized salt. There’s even salt in the air, thanks to a “halo generator,” which releases sodium in aerosol form.
The treatment program at the Bethesda Salt Cave is simple: come in and take a load off. Hanging out in such a salty environment — particularly one with pink Himalayan salt, which is said to have antibacterial, antimicrobial and detoxifying powers — can potentially help with a variety of medical problems, says owner Janine Narayadu, who recommends it for allergies, asthma, eczema and even hangovers.