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Winter – Self Care with Traditional Chinese Medicine

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The seasons affect us all, from the way we go about our day to very subtle shifts in the body. With the change of each season I will talk about how to adapt to each season to enhance your health and wellbeing. 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the seasons correspond with the Five Elements; Wood/Spring, Fire/Summer, Metal/Autumn and Water/Winter. The theory of the Five Elements plays a significant role in the foundations of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The fifth element Earth, does not have a season as it is the centre to which the seasons spin. The Earth corresponds to the late stage of each season, towards the end of each season their energies go back to the Earth for replenishment.


Many of my patients struggle through Winter, experiencing symptoms of depression, low energy and mood swings or what is referred to in the West as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  These feelings can be a sign of an imbalance with their Water element that will often compel them south for some respite from the freezing short days.  But maybe there is something we can learn from Winter and the corresponding Water element that may help one embrace the season with a little more warmth.


Winter is when everything slows down; water trickles beneath hard layers of ice, bears hibernate in dark dens and trees are dormant to conserve energy.

Nature is at rest in Winter and in this rest replenishes itself.  With this rest, conserving energy, nature is preparing itself for the outburst and growth of new life and energy in the Spring.

With our busy active lifestyles, we too need to welcome a period of rest, to conserve and replenish our physical, mental and emotional energy.  If we don’t get sufficient rest, we are prone to sickness, injuries, stress and accelerating our aging process.

In order to fully enjoy the seasons, you must allow yourself to surrender to the Winter.  In this deep stillness of nature, Winter beckons us to examine the depths of our being.

Winter is a time to reconnect to your inner being, for reflection, for stillness and for solitude.

The Water Element

The season Winter is connected with the Water element which is related to the organs of the Kidneys and Bladder, which govern your water metabolism.  Winter is all about balancing and harmonizing your Water element and protecting and nurturing the Kidneys and Bladder in order to maintain good physical and emotional health.

In Chinese medicine excessive introspection, or an increase in worry, fear and depression is very much associated with the Water element and an imbalance of the Kidney and Bladder energy.  For some people these feelings can become much more acute in Winter. 

How to Balance and Harmonize your Water Element in Winter


Rest:  Rest appropriately to replenish your Kidneys and to conserve your physical energy. Resting needs to be balanced with some light activity to maintain good circulation.

Stay Warm:  Your Kidneys are in the area of your lower back, during Winter your lower back area is more vulnerable to the cold.  It is very important to keep your middle area warm.  Avoid heavy lifting which can easily put a strain on your lower back that is often weaker during Winter.

Balance the Emotion Fear:  Fear is the emotion associated with the Water Element. In a healthy way fear is an emotion that moves and directs us to remain alert and attentive to our surroundings and situation. When Water is out of balance, fear becomes an obstacle to movement.  A deficiency in the Water energy might manifest as chronic anxiety or as an intense phobia.
















The colder weather encourages you to slow down and this provides the opportunity for deeper thought, bringing to the surface any unresolved emotional matters.  Acknowledging, owning and addressing the origins of any fears that you may have is part of the healing process and balancing your Water energy.

Acupuncture:  Acupuncture can help balance the Water element and with Traditional Chinese Herbs can treat the Kidneys and Bladder.  Anybody over the age of 45 would benefit from such treatments as the Kidney Qi is already waning and more prone to the effects of Winter.


The Kidneys play a vital role in Traditional Chinese Medicine, they are often referred to as the “Root of Life”.  The Kidneys determine our genetic predisposition and govern birth, growth, reproduction and development.

They are also regarded as the body’s most important reserve of essential energy or Qi.  The kidneys are the foundation for all the Yin and Yang energies of the body.  Kidney Yang is the motive force of all physiological processes.  Kidney Yin is the fundamental substance for birth, growth and reproduction.

The strong health of the Kidneys is essential so any stored energy can be readily available for use in times of environmental or emotional change or stress, as well as to heal and prevent illness.

During the Winter months it is important to nurture and nourish your Kidney Qi as this is the time when this energy can be most easily depleted.  The Kidney energy naturally declines with age and this is reflected in the signs of aging.  As we grow older we become more susceptible to the Winter months.  How fast we age is determined by our genetics (Kidney energy from our parents) and how well we nurture and protect our Kidneys.

Common signs of imbalanced Kidneys:

  • Sexual disorders
  • Infertility
  • Weak low back and knees
  • Urinary disorders
  • Fear, depression, anxiety
  • Early signs of aging
  • Chronic fatigue

How to Nurture and Protect your Kidneys


Avoid raw and cold foods during the Winter as much as possible, as these tend to cool the body using up our reserves of energy.  Incorporate more warming foods, both in energy (see below) and in temperature.  Baking and roasting are two of the most warming cooking methods.  Warming food, such as soups and stews, root vegetables, beans, garlic and ginger, are perfect for you at this time of year.

Beneficial Foods for the Kidneys

Grains:  Black beans, quinoa, millet, aduki beans, oats

Vegetables:  Onion family, string beans, asparagus, sweet potato, alfalfa sprouts

Spices:  Cloves, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, fennel tea, star anise, black peppercorn, ginger (dry), cinnamon bark, garlic, cardamom, celery seed, caraway, rosemary, dry ginger, juniper and nettles

Fruits, Nuts, Sweeteners:  Walnuts, chestnuts, dates, cherries, raspberries, blackberries and apricots.  Dried, baked or stewed fruit with warming spices will moderate the cooling nature of fruit.

Animal:  Chicken, lamb, trout, salmon, mussel, kidney, egg, shrimp, lobster (all proteins should be organic)

Recipe; Add several of the above warming spices and foods in black bean-seaweed soup.

Foods to Avoid or Reduce

  • Cooling foods (wheat, tomatoes, soy products, citrus, bananas)
  • Chilled foods and beverages
  • Fruit (cold or raw)
  • Raw vegetables (lightly cook vegetables instead)
  • Excess salt
  • Avoid sweet foods
  • Fatty and heavy foods
  • Wheat
  • Consuming liquids with meals
  • Dry breakfast cereals or granola (eat cooked oats or brown rice cream instead and add dates and warming spices)
  • Avoid stimulants, especially coffee


  • Avoid excessive stress and fear
  • Years of overwork or excessive labour/exercise can deplete your Kidneys
  • Acupuncture and TCM Herbs can maintain your Kidneys and Bladder or help treat any related health disorders
  • Maintain adequate exercise, but avoid strenuous exercise
  • Quality rest and relaxation and sound sleep (8 hrs) is essential to the replenishing process over Winter
  • Keep warm especially around the middle area of the body where your Kidneys reside.  The Kidneys are vulnerable to the cold which weakens them.  When the Kidney energy is depleted low back injuries can occur.

You came from a place of love not fear,

you will return to a place of love not fear,

you ARE love.