Our bodies react to the changing of the seasons. When we understand how our bodies change we can develop deeper knowledge of ourselves and take steps to lead healthier happier lives in rhythm with the seasons.
During the seasonal shift into the season of winter, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) teaches us how kidney chi can become imbalanced. What are the symptoms of this imbalance and how can we address it?
The kidneys play a pivotal role in storing and managing our chi, the basic life force energy that flows through the body. The kidneys act like batteries to keep the body going as we power through our days. If we don’t slow down during the season of hibernation the kidneys become taxed. It’s then we start to see imbalances which can build up to become more pronounced and lead to disease. See my video here on winter imbalances.
According to TCM, when the kidneys are out of balance, the main emotional flavor is fear. This can manifest as holding on to things and people with a fear of letting go. Accentuated by the lack of brightness, dampness and cold, we can often feel depressed and anxious. Symptoms include low energy, moodiness, and fatigue. In these challenging times with lock downs and social distancing, these disturbances can be exaggerated. Gloom can be close to the surface for many of us, as well as other issues like lack of sleep and over eating causing weight gain.
The energetic health of the kidneys rules the general health of the lower back, the reproductive organs, the urinary system, the lower intestinal tract, and all the fluid systems of the body, including joint lubrication. In fact, students check in with me about lower back sensitivities during winter more than any other time of the year. So, I wasn’t surprised to learn lower back issues can be associated with weak kidney chi.
Here are some tips I’ve found helpful in my own life. Doing these simple practices regularly during winter can help clear emotional, physical and mental blockages in the winter body. You’ll sense balance has been restored with alleviation of the symptoms listed above and emotional capacity to access your innate gentleness, openness and kindness.
Working with an acupuncturist can help nourish the kidney and bladder meridians as they are most likely to be out of balance this time of year. Acupuncture points go up the leg from the bottom of the foot, up the tummy and chest to underneath the collar bone. The badder meridian, one of the longest meridians in the body has 67 meridians located on it which make it a super highway in the meridian system. It starts at the eye and goes up over the head, down along the spine, back of the leg to the outside of the foot by the little toe.
Rubbing the feet is a luxurious self-care practice to nourish the body. Using your favorite aromatherapy oil, start at the toes, then move up the sole of the foot to the ankle bones. Pay particular attention to the kidney point under the ball of the foot known as K1. Rub your foot for about one minute and move to the other. You can’t do it wrong or miss the points – there are so many acupoints on the feet.
TCM suggests the best winter diet features foods that enrich yin (inward energy) and reduce yang (outward energy). Ingesting warmer temperature and foods with warming qualities can support the digestive systems. Drinking bone broths is a helpful way to support the kidneys and bones. Eating more beets, carrots, root vegetables, winter greens, apples and pears as they naturally grow this time of year is the natural way to nourish our bodies. I love this soup as its jam-packed not just with one or two roots, but with multiple delectable and very colorful root vegetables.
Being around Water
Winter is marked by the qualities of the element of water which are stillness and quiet. The kidney is a water element so being around water this time of the year can help balance chi deficiency and strengthen the kidneys so they can perform as our storehouse of vital energy. Check out some of the beautiful water flows I came across during my hikes over the last few weeks here.
If you can’t get to acupuncture you can always do Yin Yoga instead. Or do both :) Both modalities serve to clear physical, emotional and energetic blockages. In Yin Yoga, poses are held for extended periods to lubricate joints and tissues and to cultivate chi flow in the body. Poses that target the back body, spine and inner thighs are immensely therapeutic this time of year. Even doing one yin pose for 4 minutes each day can help. Try sphinx pose for a few days in a row and you’ll notice a profound difference in your emotional steadiness.
Set a timer for 4 minutes. Make sure you sense only a light sensation in the lower back, your breath is relaxed and you can stay in the pose for a generous amount of time. Relax the flesh on the face, shoulders and back. Close the eyes and allow the pose to work its magic.
We do sphinx pose in each of my Yin Yoga classes to help balance the winter body. Every Monday and Thursday night at 7.30pm. Join me. Let’s practice together to harness harmony in the winter body for optimal health and wellbeing.