Embracing the Darkness, Nourishing Your Winter Light

Chinese medicine takes its cues from nature, and the responses seen during the cyclical changes in weather hold a number of truths for our health and wellness.  With the dwindling warmth and light of Autumn, the natural world begins letting go and drawing inward.  Trees sense the changes in day length and begin breaking down chlorophyll in their leaves; the very structures that gave the plants life and abundance are sacrificed to the approaching harshness of winter.  Much the same, the arrival of winter allows us to take stock and adjust priorities- appraising what patterns have developed during the chaotic busyness of the year, letting go of what no longer serves a purpose, and holding closer to that which is essential.  Winter speaks of fear, isolation, and the bravery and stubbornness to survive the darkness and cold.  It is a time of quiet contemplation; a delving into our own inner darkness to nurture the seeds of growth for the new year.

Lifestyle Advice

  • Increase quiet activities- journaling, meditating, reading, yoga.
  • Get more sleep.
  • Appreciate what it is you have accomplished, and nourish the visions for what you want to achieve in the coming year.

Related Organs and Emotions

The Kidneys are the deepest and most basic energetic stores of the body; literally the final gasp of survival.  When everyday life is in balance (proper sleep, diet, exercise, etc.), our bodies can function with minimal need to tap these reserves.  But how many of us fall into the pattern of overwork, putting off sleep, and skipping meals or just grabbing whatever is convenient?  Burning the candle from both ends creates a deficit lifestyle, robbing the strength needed for weathering true emergencies.  Think of the Kidneys as your body's savings account.  If you are living beyond your means day to day, then you will not have the financial buffer to deal with any unexpected expenses.

In Western terms, adrenaline serves as a clear example.  Adrenaline is an evolutionary adaptation to dealing with stress; specifically, it is what sends us into the fight or flight response when we perceive a threat.  In simpler times, it was often a very extreme danger that set this off.  "Oh, look, a bear... I can either try to wrestle it to the ground or run like hell."  This flood of hormones primes the body for a short burst of intense activity- emphasis on short.  Those stories of people who were able to lift a car off of a child or carry someone twice their size to safety are testament to the amazing energy of the Kidneys.

However, our modern reality finds us dealing with a more constant stream of low level stressors: never-ending news feeds, working multiple jobs to make ends meet, social obligations, the barrage of stimuli inherent in city living, that extra cup or two of coffee.  We rarely are afforded the luxury of quiet rest that helps to replenish our Kidneys.  This kind of pattern leaves us tapped out.  You experience this reality when you wake up from a solid night of sleep and no amount of coffee can get you moving.  That is why we must regularly carve out the time to unplug, re-asses, and let go of what is no longer serving our best interests.  Winter is the natural time to create these habits; to go through a hibernation that strengthens our reserves, and allows us to accumulate the energy needed to greet the coming spring.  

Dietary Advice

  • What to eat- winter squash, sweet potatoes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, grass-fed red meat, dark leafy vegetables, soups, stews.  
  • How to prepare it- slow cooking at low temperatures. 
  • What to avoid- cold, raw, and sour foods, as these can tax the decreased digestive fire available in this season, and constrict the flow of energy in the body.  


Waxing Poetic

Against Winter 

Charles Simic

The truth is dark under your eyelids.

What are you going to do about it?

The birds are silent; there's no one to ask.

All day long you'll squint at the gray sky.

When the wind blows you'll shiver like straw.


A meek little lamb you grew your wool

Till they came after you with huge shears.

Flies hovered over open mouth,

Then they, too, flew off like the leaves,

The bare branches reached after them in vain.


Winter coming. Like the last heroic soldier

Of a defeated army, you'll stay at your post,

Head bared to the first snow flake.

Till a neighbor comes to yell at you,

You're crazier than the weather, Charlie.