The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) term: “Holism”, refers to the the oneness of the human body and of the external environment around it. The heaven above and the earth below, and where the two meet, in the person. When assessing a patient or observing ourselves, we are constantly looking internally, to where what the dysfunction is, where the problem is occurring, and what is likely the causative factor. It becomes important to investigate everything that is happen in the body, but also taking into account the current season and the external environment it creates. The constitution of a person, as well as their interactions with the environment will either yield a healthy person who’s internal environment can adjust and adapt to exterior factors, or, if there is an issues, their constitution - or internal situation is not able to adapt and thus, diseases occurs.
Lord Shiva, the Hindu deity of destruction has been appearing in my thoughts a lot lately. Whether it be during yoga asana, meditation, mantra, or just daily thought. Today, it became apparent why the reoccurring thought: it is winter. The feeling and energy of destruction is among us. I always used to think of “destruction” as something to be afraid of, to avoid. However, destruction yields generation - new, and thus, the constant movement of life, it is so necessary and so beautiful. It is something to be embraced and enjoyed.
Although Hinduism and Taoism are separate philosophies, they have so many parallels they are sometimes thought of a branches of the same root. With Shiva making its constant appearance, I think to Chinese Medicine, and how winter, destruction, the extreme yin time of the year, needs to be handled with care. It must be respected in how we live our lives and take care of ourself during this time. Fighting this natural course of nature will only give rise to disease and disharmony of the body. When our external environment is prevalent in the weight of yin or yang, we must act to maintain balance. The constant ebb and flow of yin and yang is how we live every second of our life. Naturally, yin and yang will adjust to maintain the desirable balance of life, but often, we stand in the way of nature, and restrict this movement of oppositions, and then disease occurs. In the winter time, dryness, cold and dampness are external factors that are more prevalent than any other season.
Still, inward, cold and destructive are all characteristics of winter and of yin. When yin is naturally in abundance in the external environment, our internal systems will want to increase yang energy to stay warm and protect yin energy. The interaction keeps qi balanced. This is an ideal situation - however, as humans we tend to throw off the balance.
Being conscious of our decisions in the winter is the best way to avoid sicknesses that typically come with the season. We live in a society that changes and control the normal course of nature. In the winter, we make available foods that should only be available in the summer, cooling - yang damaging foods. We have artificial ways of heating our homes and ourselves, artificial lights, and our habits and daily activities do not change with the seasons, we maintain nearly the same schedules year round. The energy of the natural world changes, and yet, as humans, we do what we can to control it, and do not change and adapt to these inevitable changes.
To increase yang energy during the winter it is important to eat yang foods, cooked root vegetables, squashes, warming herbs and spices, stews, soups, bone broths (stocks) and grains like quinoa and buckwheat. Raw, cold foods only destroy yang more and should be avoiding during this vulnerable season.
Kidney is the organ associated with the winter season, so it is particularly important to pay attention to diseases and symptoms associated with kidney yin and yang deficiencies. This would include, fatigue, decline in hair quality, soreness in knees, back and teeth with regards to marrow, decreased reproductive/sexual energy and ear issues. Also with yin deficiency being prevalent in winter, the signs to look out for are dryness, insomnia, worry, night sweats, dizziness, dry throat and mouth, and a very red tongue.
With regards to the inward nature of winter, it is important to be in harmony with winter’s natural cycle, and slow down, look inward, reflect on your health, do replenishing activities, stay inside more often, and conserve or Qi or energy. It is no wonder during the winter months we feel like moving slower and resting more. It is our body’s natural cycle that is best to be acknowledged and respected. This can be further exemplified by the regular hibernation of some animals during winter.
Of the external pathogenic factors, “cold” is the most important one to be aware of in the winter. During this season cold pathogens can easily enter our skin and invade the interior. During particularly windy and cold days, try to stay inside, or if you are going out, protect yourself and cover up. Also, strenuous exercising outside should be avoided. When we sweat profusely the pores open up, and thus creating a perfect space for external pathogenic factors to enter, particularly wind-cold.
TCM practitioners say it is best to live in harmony with the natural environment. So, this winter, do what you can to following the natural course of winter, listen to your body. Get lots of rest and sleep, eat warming, cooked foods, spend time looking inward and calming the emotions, bundle up and stay warm.