Ancient Chinese Thoughts on Protecting the Kidneys and staying Healthy During the Winter.
Author: Anne Hughes
16th Jan 2012
"The kidney is the Place where the true yin and true yang of a man hibernate, it is the base of hiding and the place for storing the refined energy, ... and it's energy communicates with winter"
Huang Di Nei Jing
According to Chinese philosophy, the universe is based entirely on the duality of yin and yang. There can be no light – yang energy – without darkness – yin energy -, no ascent without descent, no heat without cold, and so on. Just as all mountains must have both a sunny and a shady side, there exists no object, occurrence, time, or place that is not a combination of these two opposing elements.
In human physiology, this duality of yin and yang begins with the kidneys. The kidneys are the "root of yin and yang of the entire body." They are the most yin of all the organs and are therefore associated with the water element and the winter season.
However, because yin and yang are not mere opposites but are also mutually engendering, it is from within the greater yin of the kidneys that the yang energy of the entire body is created. This base yang energy is so fundamental to life that it is given it's own name, the Ming Men or Life Fire.
Stoking The Ming Men: Protecting The Body's Hearth During the Cold Winter Months
From beneath the yin water of the kidneys, the Ming Men or Life Fire fuels all growth, development, reproduction, digestion, and cognition. Without a strong Ming Men, no physiological functions can occur. It is often said that if digestion is the cauldron of the body, then the Ming Men is the fire beneath the cauldron.
Winter is the season of the kidneys and it is during winter that the Ming Men is most vulnerable to environmental stress: cold weather, lack of adequate fresh foods, insufficient daylight, etc. It is very important to both protect and invigorate the Ming Men during these cold months
Self Care Strategies for Energizing the Kidneys and Protecting Your Health Year Round:
Go outside and enjoy the cold!
Many people avoid going outside during the colder months for fear that they will get sick. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Provided one is adequately dressed for the weather, experiencing and being active in the cold weather invigorates the Ming Men by forcing it to burn brighter to keep the body warm.
This has a stimulating effect on the immune system and actually prevents contraction of illness. Also, being outside during the daylight hours and getting enough exercise helps prevent depression. Understood in terms of the mutually engendering nature of yin and yang, one's internal yang is strengthened through immersion in the yin energy of winter.
Dressing for the cold
Make sure your neck, head, and trunk are well covered. Chinese medical theory believes that cold related illnesses or "external invasions," enter the body through the back of the neck and head. It is therefore very important to protect these areas. Keep your centre and lower back warm to protect your kidneys and digestive organs.
Stay dry. Don't linger in wet clothing. The combination of dampness and cold can lead to chronic pain conditions such as arthritis.
Avoid overheating your home and work environment
It is important not to keep your home and work environment too warm during the cold winter months. Moving quickly between extreme temperatures stresses the immune system and leaves one exposed to illness. The Ming Men needn't burn brightly in an overly heated home because the environment is providing the necessary yang energy. This weakens the Ming Men and makes you vulnerable to the elements. Your home and work environment should be kept at a temperature that requires you to wear a sweater indoors. This will keep the Ming Men vigorous, boost your immunity, and save energy.
What to Eat During Winter
Eat foods that are both warming to protect the yang and consolidating to nourish the yin. Eating warm foods and drinking warm beverages is essential in winter. Eat fewer raw vegetables or foods such as sushi. Avoid foods that are overly spicy; they may seem warming but if they are too spicy they disperse the qi, compromise digestion, and weaken the body.
Seafood and fish are generally considered cold because they come from the sea and should be limited in winter. During these months it is preferable to eat slightly more of the warming meats such as beef and lamb. These are especially good and more easily digested in stock and stews.
Perfect winter breakfasts
Oatmeal with a hardboiled egg
Perfect winter lunch and dinner
Vegetables that are lightly steamed, sautéed, or roasted with warm chicken, meat, or other protein
Soups and stews are great for any meal.
Sleeping and Waking in Winter:
Get Enough Sleep... Because winter is the yin season, most people need more then the standard eight hours of sleep in order to function optimally. Your sleep should fluctuate according to the amount of daylight hours.
While seven or even six hours may be enough in the height of summer, in winter you should aim to get between eight and ten hours of sleep each night.
How Acupuncture Can Boost the Kidneys
Chinese medicine's approach to supporting the kidneys begins with prevention. Because the kidney energy or qi is most basic in the body, damage to the kidney sets off a cascade that damages all the vital organs and impedes their function. Likewise, prolonged damage to the other organs will eventually damage the kidney Qi.
Acupuncture excels at boosting the immune system and optimizing the body's ability to manage environmental and emotional stress. In this way, winter illnesses can be prevented or treated quickly to avoid chronic problems.
Common Winter Ailments Treated With Acupuncture
Chronic, lingering, or recurrent colds, rhinitis, and sinus infections
Fatigue and Malaise
Diarrhoea, particularly in the morning
Urogenital disorders such as UTIs and bladder infections
Inability to feel warm/cold hands and feet
Arthritis (especially with the added seasonal sensation of coldness in the joints).