The winter season is when nature sleeps, and everything experiences the slowing of natural processes-even our bodies. Chinese medicine links the winter season to the kidneys, the adrenal glands, and the bladder. Inactivity leads to an accumulation of toxins and carbon dioxide; people are inclined to colds, flu, poor circulation, and low vitality.
To avoid the winter blues, take some advice from the Yellow Emperor: go to sleep early and wait to let the sun bathe the house before rising from bed, dress warmly, engage in physical exercise, refrain from eating cold and raw foods, reduce salt to protect the kidneys, and increase bitter flavors, found in foods such as rhubarb and kale. Be happy and avoid experiencing extreme emotions.
1. Eat tryptophan-rich foods. Tryptophan is an amino acid that converts to serotonin in our brain. Foods rich in it include turkey, avocado, fish, bananas, and root vegetables like turnip, leeks, onions, parsnip, and rutabaga. Eat smaller meals, more frequently, and drink more liquids. Avoid dairy, alcohol, coffee, sugar, refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta, and fatty foods. Certain amount of herbs and spices are beneficial as they increase circulation and alertness.
2. Bring colors into your life. Studies show that certain colors can uplift one’s mood. Not surprisingly they are bright colors like tones of red, orange and yellow. Wear bright color clothing, paint a room with cheerful colors, and surround yourself with flowers and beauty.
3. Welcome the Season. Look forward to what winter has to offer. Take up a winter activity like skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, ice-skating, hockey, or even winter photography. Seeing winter in a different light, with all the delightful activities that it has to offer, will keep your spirits high.
4. Get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Take a 30-minute easy walk one hour before bed, not for exercise, but to help you sleep more soundly. Meditation before bedtime is also helpful as it calms your mind and releases tension. A little nap at midday is also helpful to recharge your energy and your moods.
5. Move to lose the winter blues. Movement is essential for proper metabolism and energy circulation. Consider learning and practicing tai chi, qigong, or yoga exercises; these exercises in particular are very effective in balancing energy. However, any exercise will be beneficial in keeping your energy up and avoiding stagnation.
6. Get some light. Go outdoors as much as possible and get some sun before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. while avoid wearing sunscreen and sunglasses that block out light which signals your brain to produce the happy neuro-chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. If that is not possible, sitting by the window during the day and keeping the blinds open will have similar effects.
7. Drink warming tea to keep your vitality fired up. Steep one teaspoon of any of the following in one cup of hot water: ginger, cinnamon, and clove. Or try the Winter Tea (go to taoofwellness.com) that contains the above spices and select Chinese herbs to expel cold, warm your kidney/adrenal system, and stoke your sensual fire.
8. Don’t try to overload. Overplanning is an energy-depleting activity. Try making only one or two items a priority every day. Make bite-sized goals that are realistic and achievable. This way, you can build on daily success instead of failure.
May you live long, live strong, and live happy!
Dr. Mao Shing Ni is a bestselling author, doctor of Oriental Medicine. He practices at the TAO of Wellness in Santa Monica, a Wellness Medicine group that he founded with his brother, Dr. Daoshing Ni 25 years ago. He is also the cofounder and Chancellor of Yo San University in Venice/Marina del Rey. To make, appointment or to subscribe to a free newsletter please visit www.taoofwellness.com. You can contact him at [email protected] or call 310-917-2200.