Earlier this week guest blogger, Jakob Barry, shared a DIY stuffy nose remedy with us – perfect for when we catch a cold virus. Today we focus on prevention in Part 2 of Staying Healthy in Winter, working with our bodies so our immune systems eradicate viruses before the stuffy nose even appears!
Winter is the coldest and darkest season of the year, dominated by the yin principal. As nature rests, so do living creatures as we all hibernate in our own ways. But even though it’s quiet on the surface, like an ice-covered lake, there’s flowing water and a flurry of activity not far below.
If you read Part 1, this analogy may spark some recognition as winter relates to the Water element in the Chinese Five Elements Theory, which Dr. Elson Haas uses in his integrative health approach to Staying Health with the Seasons.
Here’s a quick synopsis of what was covered last month in the first half of this post:
- The Water element is associated with the kidneys and bladder. These organs determine the water, mineral, and acid-base balances in the body by filtering the blood, making urine, and eliminating unnecessary substances.
- The Chinese system says our vitality and longevity (life force) is stored in the kidneys and is visible to others by the sparkle or vibrancy of our eyes. Weak kidney energy may be experienced as lethargy or low energy, while strong kidney energy may express the opposite, plus willpower and ambition.
- We can strengthen our kidney energy by nourishing the yin (receptive) principal, through deep relaxation and reflection. Dr. Haas says this process allows a blending of the inner and outer to occur, which can give rise to knowledge, wisdom and clear guidance.
- The kidneys and Water element rule over the emotions. Both water and emotions are unpredictable – when flowing, all is well; when blocked or stagnant, great pressure can develop or disease can set in.
- Kidneys, Water and emotions are all ruled by the yin principal, the moon, the deep and dark. These aspects may stimulate fear from within, the emotion governed by the Water element, and fear or lack of faith may injure kidneys or create an imbalance of Water in the body.
I know what you’re thinking, Great info, now what? Here are Dr. Haas’ recommendations (with some of my own comments interspersed) for staying healthy in winter:
How to Stay Healthy in Winter
Dr. Haas says, “You must stay warm and it is important in winter especially to have a cozy spot to relax, sleep, and dream.” Considering our natural circadian rhythms coincide with sunlight and winter is the darkest season, it makes sense our bodies are drawn to more sleep and quiet activities at this time.
Personally, I see winter as a time to plan, test, heal and grow my internal resources. However, living in today’s society where the primary focus is on productivity, results and income, practicing a quieter lifestyle during winter is a challenge I have yet to master. However, I am trying!
If you’ll notice in my 2011 health plan, these first few months of the year I’m taking it easy and prepping my body and mind for the spring, where the real action takes place! My plan includes trying different healthy routines to see what works best with me and rebalancing my hormones with The Hormone Diet before becoming the non-smoker I know I am.
Besides staying dry and bundled up, we can use food to warm us up from the inside-out. These foods should be substantial, that is, more whole grains, less fruit, lots of steamed or baked vegetables, and more dairy and flesh foods if these are in your diet.
Soups are very warming, and use root veggies for an added nutritional punch (since that’s where nature’s energy is focused – in the earth and root systems). Try Steph’s Spicy Savoury Cabbage Soup. Oh, and what about yummy chilis and stews? Here are a couple of chickpea stews and veggie chilis.
Haas also suggests that oceans foods, like fresh fish and the seaweeds, are especially good now (you’ll have to read his book to find out why!). By the way, he shares a healthy recipe for homemade sushi dish called, “deep-sea divers” that I’m excited to try.
Soybeans (try to source organic non-GMO sources), one of the complete vegetable proteins, is a good food with many uses, whether sprouted 0r cooked, as soymilk and tofu; or fermented and aged to make miso. Again, Haas shares a delectable recipe that I’ve made several times, a healthy alternative to mayonnaise called, “Tofunaise”.
Although we’re drawn to rest and inactivity during winter, it’s all about balance and, of course, staying warm! Ever hear stories of couples being trapped in a cold area and have sex to survive? Activity increases our internal core temperature which filters out to our extremities (the most susceptible-to-cold body parts).
Also, remember winter corresponds to the Water element (and emotions) which when stagnant can lead to disease? Activity keeps our lymphatic system moving, which is part of our immune system and transports junk (like viruses, chemicals, etc.) to our elimination channels.
Honouring winter and its yin energy, we can do more with our limited energy by focusing on quiet and slow activities. Haas suggests indoor exercises and says,
“throughout the year, it is important to balance outward, energy-expanding activities like walking, jogging, tennis, and swimming, with quiet energy-accumulating, internally rejuvenating practices like yoga, tai chi, and breathing-relaxation. Keeping your spine and other joints flexible and mobile is important to how you feel. These practices can keep you young and vital.”
For myself, I’m doing way more yoga and pilates but still walking almost everyday. I’ll be incorporating some weight-resistance to the mix next week!
Since nature is hiding in her roots during the cold months, gathering energy to be reborn in the spring, we can benefit by brewing herbal roots and drinking lots of good tea. Haas says, “ginseng is a fine general tonic and rejuvenator, but burdock, comfrey, ginger, licorice, and sarsaparilla roots are also traditional energizers.”
Haas reminds us that as in all seasons, it’s vitally important to health that we balance the intake and output of our energy in the form of foods, feelings, and work. We need proper rest and sleep, relaxation and play, to balance the activity, stress and work in our lives. Creating and maintaining cleanliness within and without is also important to staying healthy.
Each new season brings stress and change which weakens our immune systems and makes us susceptible to illness. Haas says if we voluntarily change with each new season, work with her and our bodies, we may prevent illness. Winter is the perfect time to feel “inner changes and weave them into your dance of existence”.
Do you find yourself naturally adjusting your lifestyle to winter? If not, do you think you’d cope with winter better if you at least got more sleep and relaxation?