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Ways to Balance Your Qi in Winter

Updated: Feb 2

Every season has its nature. The cold and contracting qi (energy) of winter offers us many opportunities to look inwards and focus on ourselves. After all, Winter in Traditional Chinese Medicine is seen as a 'yin' season (associated with the energy of inner reflection, darkness, cold, softness, quiet, etc). However, this inward retreat brings up the importance of maintaining 'yang' activities (yang is associated with energy of outward expression, heat, activity, intensity, etc) during a time of yin, which encourages living with winter, rather than fighting it - this encourages our bodies and our hearts to be in harmony with ever-flowing movement of the seasons. 

Here are three ways that you can balance your qi this winter season: 

Nourishing Foods 
In Chinese Medicine dietetics, food and medicine are part of the same continuum and have the same general properties, only those of substances considered strictly medicine are more potent. Every food and medicament have flavor, temperature, and often unique parts of the body they affect; these three facets come together to give each substance its properties and actions on the body and mind. 

In Chinese Medicine, we generally encourage a diet of mostly warm-natured foods during colder months, as cold-natured foods are hard on the digestive system and in excess can lead to symptoms like bloating, gas, indigestion, loose stools, diarrhea, lethargy, fatigue, and a feeling of heaviness in the body. In winter, our bodies’ yang qi, the warming invigorating aspect of our physiology, is concentrated deep within the interior of the physical body, just as resources of plants move into their cores and roots during this time. Thinking about what is happening with our yang qi guides us towards two important considerations for eating and drinking during winter:

First, as our yang qi moves inward, this leaves the surface of our body vulnerable to the invasion of cold from the outside. In classical Chinese Medicine theory, most of the illnesses we encounter this time of year stem from the invasion of cold. Ingredients that are warm, spicy, and light in nature help add yang qi to the surface to protect us from cold. The best example of this is fresh ginger root. Ginger can be easily added to many meals like oatmeal, soups, stews, stir fries, and smoothies (I always strongly recommend ginger in smoothies, as they tend to be full of cold-natured foods and are often consumed cold). It can be made into a tasty and stimulating tea when combined with a small pinch of licorice root. 
Second, since our yang qi has moved inward, this means more energy is diverted to the digestive system, allowing us to digest heavier and denser foods in preparation for long stretches of winter, where we historically might have found ourselves without vegetation and few animals to hunt. This makes winter the perfect time for stews with fattier meats and root vegetables, or soups based in bone broth; just make sure to include warming herbs and spices as well like thyme, rosemary, cardamon, clove, turmeric, and in particular black pepper to assist with the digestion of these denser foods. 

Lifestyle Adjustments 
Just as with food, if we consider the movement of our yang qi, we can make changes to the way we conduct our day-to-day lives to be more in accord with the qi of winter. Provided the external circumstances of our lives allow us to do so, we should embrace the darkness and its reminder to rest. All around us trees have dropped their leaves, many animals have gone into hibernation, and the natural landscapes have become quiet and serene.  

Intentionally going to sleep earlier and waking later is one way to resonate with the qi of winter; the more time we spend in this yin state now, the more energy and vitality we’ll have as the yin of rest and storage transforms into the yang of growth and movement in spring and summer. 
We can also choose to resonate with the energy of hibernation by engaging more frequently in introspective, repetitive, and calming activities. Some examples would be journaling, knitting and crocheting, painting, journaling, sitting meditation, Iyengar Yoga, chanting, floating in a sensory deprivation tank, and listening to ambient and atmospheric music - just to name a few. 

Counterbalancing Through Community 
While resonating with winter helps to bring us into harmony with its qi, we must remember that the seasons are always moving and changing, and finding a way to plant seeds of yang during this time is essential to maintain a healthy counterbalance to winter’s inward and contracting nature. One of the best ways to do this is by gathering with members of your community for seasonal celebrations; this time of year is full of them, perhaps in part to keep our spirits warm in the face of winter’s cold and darkness.  
If holidays don’t resonate with you, find other reasons to gather; book clubs, game nights, and potlucks are all examples of gatherings that center around connection, joy, and sharing. 

Winter is a time when we can slow down, take deep breaths, gather ourselves, and not focus so much on the future, but be fully present to the quietude and stillness of softly falling snow. Embrace the dark and the quiet while filling yourself with warm foods and experiences. Spring will come all on its own, there’s no need to rush through winter. 

Whatever the season, if there’s ever difficulty adjusting to its arrival, acupuncture can help us make this transition. Certain internal disharmonies and imbalances can hamper our ability to adjust to specific seasons, and through proper assessment and treatment, acupuncture and help to bring internal harmony and restore balance so that we can naturally adapt to seasonal change.

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Image by Jannus Jagomagi

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