Introduction to TCM Wellness Practice in Winter

Compiled by Kevin W CHEN

According to “Yellow Empire’s Internal Classic“, “The winter months are the time for closure and preservation.”  That is, the three months in the winter are the season of all things closed and hidden. Our human body should also conform to the nature and store essence and absorb qi (藏精纳气). The wellness practice (Yang-sheng in Chinese) in the winter mainly refers to the means or methods, such as diet, sleep, exercise, daily routine, qigong and supplements, used to achieve the purpose of maintaining vital energy, strengthening body, and prolonging life.  According to Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), winter is the season for concealment of vital energy, and the period from the beginning of winter to the start of spring is the most appropriate period for winter tonic.

Wellness Practice in Winter

The interpretation of “winter” in the ancient book “The Seventy-two Pentad of The Lunar Calendar” is as following: “Winter, the end, and all things are concealed”.  In climatology, the day of “Start of Winter” is not fixed as the beginning of winter in various places. Instead, seasons are divided according to the temperature. Winter is defined as one pentad (5 days) when the average temperature is below 10oC (50oF).

TCM considers the winter season the top priority for health preservation in four seasons for three reasons:  First, in the cold winter weather is easy to cause or aggravate diseases, especially cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases. Second, “if you do not hide essence in winter, you will get sick in spring.” If you do not pay attention to health preservation (Yang-sheng) in winter, you will get sick easily in the coming year.  Third, if you did not preserve essence well in the winter, it will affect the essence-qi-spirit in the entire next year.

The Core of Winter Yang-sheng: Concealment or Preservation (藏)

According to TCM wellness practice, winter is the season for preservation or hidden (藏). More specifically there are three preservations to be practiced during the winter: preserve yang, preserve jing (essence), and preserve shen (spirit).  Let’s briefly explain what these preservations are about.

A.  Preserve Yang (藏阳)

Winter is the season when “Yin rising while yang disappear”. Preservation of Yang can achieve the basic balance between Yin and Yang within body.

1.  Protect the kidney Yang

TCM believes that “the head is the meeting place of all Yang”, that is to say, the head is the gathering place of all Yang, it should not be exposed to the cold.  So we should pay attention to the head and wear a hat to protect the Yang qi.

Reduce Yang dissipation — People who are used to do morning exercise should go to bed early and get up late, start exercising after the sun is rising, and avoid getting up too early or exercising in fog. Physical exercise just to the degree of minor sweat, because big sweating is easy to expose to cold evil, and catch a bad cold. Winter clothing should be gradually thickened, so that the body to the drop temperature has a process of adaptation.  As indoor and outdoor temperature difference, it should be appropriate to increase or decrease clothing, to avoid sudden cold and sudden heat.

2.  More Sunshine

Get more sunshine, especially the body back. TCM believes that the abdomen is Yin, the back is Yang, more sun to the back can play the role of enhancing Yang qi, and channeling meridian. The best time to get Yang from sunshine is between 11am and 1pm (Noon time).

3.  Protect the Foot Yang

Human abdomen and feet are the most vulnerable to cold evil attack, as the saying goes, “cold come from the foot”. The foot is the farthest from the heart, blood supply is slow and less, once cold, will reflexively cause respiratory mucosa capillary contractions, therefore, the patients of chronic bronchitis should strengthen the foot warmth in the winter.

4. Diet Nourishment

After entering the winter, diet should mainly be light and warm in nature. For example, mutton and hot-pot can increase the body’s heat or yang. There are many good recipes for winter (to be laid out later). For instance, drink some lily pear soup every day to prevent dry mouth; or drink turnip water, it is especially good with white turnip, which can have good qi benefiting the spleen, clear heat diuresis, prevent the effect of cold.  The most seasonal fruit in winter is orange, winter tonic orange can play the role of preventing cough and moistening lung, as well as balancing the qi.

There has always been a custom of winter tonic among Chinese culture. There are folk proverbs such as “Yang-sheng in a winter tonic, and there will be no pain next year” and “Winter tonic this year, and you will have power to fight a tiger next springs”.  During winter people’s digestion and absorption function has been strengthened, so in the winter taking tonic supplements and food is easy to digest and absorb; At the same time, the metabolic rate is low with less consumption, absorption of nutrients, energy can be stored in the body, which can give full play to its benefit function. On the other hand, no matter it is the food supplements or nutrition ointment, winter can be the time for long-term storage with going moldy, easy to take supplements for applications that need to be long.

The climate is cold in the winter, people are deficient with cold signs. According to the TCM principle of “deficiency need being replenished, cold need to be warmed,” we should eat more warm, hot, especially warm-nourishing kidney-yang food for conditioning, so as to improve the body’s cold tolerance. In winter, the yang-deficiency people should eat more beef, mutton, chives, etc., partial to the Yin-deficiency people tonic to duck, goose meat for good. Winter daily meals can add a small cup of wine, which can play the role of relaxing muscles and helping blood circulation.  You may eat some ginger for yang-lifting. Meanwhile, try to avoid eating sticky, hard, raw, cold food in the winter.

5.  Nourished with Supplements

Winter is the best time to take medicinal cream recipe (a TCM tradition). At this time, the nutrient absorption and utilization rate of human body intake is high, and it is easy to accumulate and play a role in health. It is the best opportunity for patients with body deficiency to enrich the kidney and store essence. Therefore, there is a saying that “practice winter tonic, fighting a tiger in the beginning of spring.”  Under the guidance of the TCM doctor, the elderly can take tonic supplement such as done-gelatin, ginseng and velvet antler. They can also drink some medicinal wine to promote blood circulation.

B. Preserve Essence (藏精)

The function of kidney is to store the essence and absorb the qi. “Yellow Empire’s Internal Classic” says: the kidney is the main body of the insect, and the source of sealing the kidney Qi. That is to say, the kidney is the main body-essence, in the winter we need preserve and seal the kidney essence.

Winter is the season of kidney-water. Kidney is mainly in charge of preservation of essence, when kidney essence is full, criterion cerebrum become sufficient, body-action is agile, and ears and eyes are clever. Accordingly, raising kidney Qi basically depends on reduction of desire and protection of essence.  It is said that there is a place called three laughter, related to three elderly of longevity. Three old people exchange their longevity experience, one said: walk one hundred steps after a meal; another said: use walking replace car; the last one said: marry a ugly wife. All three people laughed at that, then name the place three laughter. Longevity is related to abstinence, and preservation of essence (sperm) play a big role.  Human illness develop from light to heavy, generally it starts with injury of qi and blood, then the injury of kidney-essence.  The so-called long-term illness will hurt kidney, eventually become chronic. Alcoholism also hurt kidney essence, so borrow a sentence from storytelling, “wine is the intestinal poison, and sex is the steel knife hidden in the flowers.” The elderly and seriously-ill people must keep away from too much alcohol or sex.

Preservation of essence is to preserve (conceal) the true Yin and true Yang within.  For this purpose one can do some exercises nourishing kidney Yin, and tonifying kidney Yang.  One kidney-care method is to rub yong-quan (kidney 1) and rub waist diathermy with warm hands.

If a person is easy to fear, it is actually a sign of insufficient kidney Yang. A person with sufficient kidney Yang will not be afraid of.  If you do not fill up the kidney Yang, verbally say, you cannot stand up for yourself, because there is no material basis.

This person with insufficient kidney yang needs to do the exercise of rubing waist diaphanous. The method is put both palms on the position of lumbar kidney area, rub up and down, rub about 3-5 minutes. Then rub both palms together again, fast rubbing until it is hot, use the warm palm cover in kidney area, experience heat to penetrate into waist, half a minute each time, you can do a few times a day repeatedly.

Some people cannot concentrate themselves, although Yang qi is sufficient, very restless, what does this show?  TCM called it “Yin deficiency and Yang hyperactivity”. Always Yin deficiency with fire flourishing, people will produce a kind of trouble, easy to be distracted, attention is not focused, restlessness.

A man cannot do anything if he cannot keep his mind still. This kind of person need do rub yong-quan, to nourish the Yin decrease internal heat. Once the kidney water is sufficient, the empty fire in the body will be nourished and calmed down. The method of rubbing Yong-quan is to rub the sole of the foot back and forth with the palm, pay attention to be gentle, slow, speed is not too fast.  Do this before going to bed, rub both sides of the foot for 15 minutes for the best outcome.

The “Shacking seven bumps on the back to get rid of all sickness” in the Eight Pieces of Brocade Qigong highlights the benefits of standing on tiptoe.  From the perspective of meridian circulation, the three Yin meridians of the foot (spleen, liver, and kidney meridian) all pass through the inside of the foot, and the tiptoe can play the role of dredging the three Yin meridians of the foot, so as to improve the kidney function.

C.  Preserve the Divine (Spirit 藏神)

Preserve the Shen (divine or spirit) refers to the activities related to mood, emotion and spirituality.

1. Go to bed early and wake up late

In daily life of winter, one should go to bed early and get up late, as early sleep can nourish Yang qi, and late rising can nourish Yin Qi. At the same time before going to bed one can do hot-water bubble feet, with massage Yongquan point and San-Yin-jiao point to help sleep.

2. Cheerful Mind

Winter begins the weather dark and gloomy, cold wind rustling. It is extremely easy to affect the person’s mood. Therefore, it is suggested to do moderate exercise, such as Eight Pieces of Brocade, Tai Chi and Yoga to achieve peace of mind.  Also one can do the traditional movement forms such as clasp teeth, stir a tongue, turn eyeball.  Tooth passes the kidney, tongue passes heart, eye passes liver, frequent exercises can slow down aging, and delay concrescence.

It is necessary to remind you that exercise is best done after sunrise or in the afternoon, people who have the habit of morning exercise should pay attention to the “three not” : not too early, not in snow, not in fog.

3. Adjusting Mood

Low temperature in winter may cause mood prone to depression, it is recommended to listen to more light-n-easy music, keep an open-minded, do some fun activities, and maintain a cheerful mood. The liver stores blood, and is the host of catharsis. The cheerful mood will benefit liver collecting and nourishing the liver blood for catharsis.

Winter Wellness Practice Need Nourishing both Yang and Yin

According to the TCM theory of nourishing Yang in spring and summer, and nourishing Yin in autumn and winter, Yin should be nourished in the winter, because winter is the season with the strongest Yin qi with best quality, and winter is the time when Yin raises while yang disappears. Therefore, when the Yin is long in winter, the Yin should be replenished to the human body, especially for those of Yin deficiency. Do not miss the winter as it is the best opportunity to obtain Yin qi, to balance their Yin and Yang.

However, we should also pay attention to nourishing Yang in winter. Because winter is the top priority of wellness preservation in four seasons, the quality of winter wellness practice is related to the health of the coming year; and because the sun is the most precious in winter, the sunshine is short and weak, and the sun soon moves to the west. In addition, the cold weather in winter tends to deplete the Yang qi of the human body. Therefore, attention must be paid to Yang cultivation in winter so as to better maintain the balance of Yin and Yang of the human body. Especially for yang-deficient people, more attention to nourishing Yang.

How to adjust and nourish Yin in winter

From the perspective of natural Yin and Yang gasification, winter is the season with the most Yin and qi in a year. Because in a year, spring and summer is the period when Yang grows and Yin disappears, that is to say, spring and summer weather is dominated by “Yang grows”, so spring and summer should take advantage of the weather trend to raise Yang; And Autumn-winter is “Yin raises while yang disappear” of time, that is to say qiu Dong is long Yin qi of time.

Then, of course, people with Yin deficiency should take this opportunity to nourish Yin in order to adjust and restore the balance of Yin and Yang. Winter is the best time nature gives Yin qi, winter Yin qi is the most concentrated, the best quality, of course, to take this opportunity to raise Yin.

So, how to nourish Yin in winter? People with weak fire, in the winter night love lift quilt, five upset heat, pharynx dry, insomnia, more dreams, tongue red, pulse, more belong to Yin deficiency. In winter, we should seize the opportunity to nourish Yin.

Where should we go to nourish Yin in winter?

  • Go to water-side, woods, mountains, valleys and take a deep breath.
  • When it clears up after snow, go outdoors.
  • Deep breathing under the sun works better.

To nourish Yin in winter, you must drink three glasses of water per day:

  • The first glass of water: 5-7 o ‘clock in the morning, when the large intestine is “on duty”, drink water at this time is beneficial to clean large intestine, beneficial to defecate.
  • The second glass of water:  In the afternoon (17 ~ 19 o ‘clock) are the kidney meridian “on duty” and drinking water can do the job of cleaning the bladder.
  • The third glass of water: one hour before going to bed in the evening. Drinking water at this time is good for diluting blood and protecting cardiovascular and cerebrovascular, but not affecting sleep.

Meanwhile, eat some Yin food in winter, such as winter dates, snow pear and so on.

How to adjust and raise Yang in winter?

1.  More Sunshine

The sun is the main source of Yang qi, the sun is nature’s most selfless gift. The best time to bask in the sun in winter is 10 ~ 11 am, around 13 PM. Yang-deficient people want to bask more.

2.  Eat more warm food

Kidneys need to be prepared to maintain their winter caloric expenditure, it is important to eat warm food with extra energy so that a certain amount of energy can be stored for the coming year, so kidney maintenance is crucial. Diet should always pay attention to the recuperation of the kidney, pay attention to the addition of calories, eat more animal food and legumes, vitamins and inorganic salts. Beef, mutton, goose, duck, soybean, walnut, chestnut, agaric, sesame, sweet potato, radish and so on are suitable food in winter.

3.  More sleep

Sleep is also a good way to nourish Yang qi and give rise to “healthy qi”. Some animals go into hibernation in winter, and humans have to work and live, but a little more sleep can be done. Sleep more, help to restore energy, physical strength, so as to achieve the goal of Yang.

4.  Meditation and Qigong practice to nourish Yang

There are many forms of Qigong, especially standing pole, that are designed to raise Yang and nourish kidney. They are extremely powerful to practice in the winter.  Starting on December 2020, our weekly online qigong for health program will focus on TCM winter wellness practice, including a series of qigong forms, life-style issues and nutrition recommendations.  We meet every Sunday from 8:30 to 10:00am EST, and welcome those who are interested in winter Wellness practice to join us at any time.  Here is the link for online registration:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dr-chens-weekly-online-qigong-for-health-a-zoom-based-event-tickets-101852467472

5.  Keep warm in winter

It is important to keep the following three parts of body warm all the time in winter so as to nourish Yang:

  • Head warm — when the head is exposed to cold, the blood vessels will contract and the head muscles will be tense, which will easily cause headache, cold, and even gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Back warm — The stimulation of cold can affect local muscles or spread into internal organs through the acupuncture points of the back, which is harmful to health. Besides cause lumbar acerbity backache outside, back catching cold can also affect upper and lower limb muscle and joint, viscera through cervical vertebra, lumbar, cause all sorts of sickness.
  • Foot warm — Once the foot is cold, it can reflexively cause the capillaries in the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract to contract, the cilia oscillation slows down, and the resistance decreases. The consequence is that viruses and bacteria take advantage of the void and multiply, making people catch a cold.

In short, the fundamental purpose of wellness practice and health preservation is not only to prolong life, but more importantly to improve the quality of life and enjoy more of our lives. In a sense, keeping in good health is to manage health, manage way of living, and manage life.

Standing meditation practice

For those who are interested in more knowledge and training in the wellness practice of winter, please join us every Sunday from 8:30 to 10:00am EST, our weekly online Qigong for health will offer systematic training in TCM wellness practice, including:

  • Standing meditation (Magnification by standing pole)
  • Meridian exercises
  • Qigong for nourishing kidney Qi
  • Qigong for raising Yang
  • Nutrition adjustment for winter
  • Six-minute standing for strength (unnamed standing pole)
  • Open Original-Channel Qigong
  • Wudang Sitting Eight Pieces of Brocade
  • And more….

The first class is a free trial, then you pay only $7 to $10 per class. Please register online at:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dr-chens-weekly-online-qigong-for-health-a-zoom-based-event-tickets-101852467472 .

For more information about our Winter wellness training, please contact Allwyn by email: alja78@aol.com for details.

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