Surrender & Reflect: Advice for Winter

The Solstice marks the official start of Winter here in the Northern hemisphere. The short days of Autumn have brought us to this darkest day, and now we gradually begin to see more light in our days once again. Though we’re heading back toward lighter days, this season remains a time of coldness and darkness, and it’s important to conserve our energy to remain healthy throughout the next three months.

The Water Element & Associated Organ Systems

Winter in Chinese medicine is ruled by the Water element, the most yin of the five elements (water, earth, fire, metal, wood). Yin represents rest, stillness, coldness, night, nourishment, consolidation, and contraction. The Water element influences the health of the Kidneys – one’s primary source of energy and vitality. The health of the Kidneys can manifest in the hair, lower back, joints, ears (hearing), sexual drive and function, reproduction and bones/teeth. An imbalance or weakness of the Kidneys can lead to problems in these systems.

The Urinary Bladder is also associated with the Water element, and serves as the paired organ to the Kidneys. It is responsible for storing and excreting the waste fluids from the kidneys.

Winter Emotions

Fear is the emotion associated with the Water element in Chinese Medicine. While we tend to think of fear in the negative sense, it can also be viewed as a very healthy emotion. Fear allows us to remain alert to the situations surrounding us – an important element of survival. Constructive fear can guide us away from situations that might not be serving our greatest potential.

When the Water element and it’s associated Kidney organ is out of balance, fear can become pathological. This can manifest as intense phobias or chronic anxiety. If you are suffering from anxiety and fear, acupuncture and botanical medicines can help to bring your Kidney function back to health.

When the Urinary Bladder is out of balance, depression, fatigue, and difficulty adapting to new circumstances can occur.
Try to practice self-acceptance: observe your fears without judgement, to allow them to move through you rather than getting stuck. When fear “freezes” us, this can lead to hopelessness. Be kind to yourself, and learn to gently witness and accept your emotions (like you would with a dear friend), rather than getting consumed by them.

General Tips for Staying Healthy

Stay Warm

This is no time for ice water! While it is important to stay hydrated during Winter, eating and drinking cold foods and liquids is contrary to the season and will weaken your system. Instead, drink plenty of warm liquids (cinnamon & ginger teas are excellent for this time of year!) and eat warming foods such as hearty soups (especially bone broths, which is a powerful tonic for the Kidneys), roasted root vegetables, squashes, black beans and red adzuki beans. Fish and shellfish are a great choice for protein.

Also, dress accordingly. In Chinese Medicine, the neck and shoulder areas are especially important to keep bundled and safe from wind to avoid getting sick. The lower back houses the Kidneys, so it is prudent to keep this area warm to prevent damaging the source of your vital energy!


It is best to follow the rhythm of the season and increase your periods of rest. Go to bed early, and sleep in if you’re able to. Inward activities such as writing, meditating, and reading are excellent for this time of year.

While yes, Winter is an important time to slow down and reflect, you shouldn’t stop moving altogether! Now is a good time for fluid-movement exercises such as Tai Chi, qigong, yoga, and dance.

Winter Reflecting

In Winter, nature slows down and hibernates in preparation for Spring. We can follow nature’s cue and use this season to turn inward. Winter is an excellent time for exploring the deeper issues in our lives. Use the natural stillness of this season to meditate and reflect on where you’re at, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. Winter is also a great time to pay attention to your dreams. Try writing them down and see if you notice any patterns!feet-in-snow

Breathe Deeply, Let Go: Advice for Autumn

A joyous Equinox to all!

Yesterday marked the start of our journey into the season of Autumn, and the shift is definitely noticeable here in Spokane with a crispness in the air and changing colors in the trees.

As many of you know, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is largely rooted in harmony and balance – the body with itself, as well as the body with its environment. As we shift into each new season, it is important to shift our habits accordingly to remain healthy.

Here is some advice for staying healthy in Autumn:

The Element of Autumn: Metal

Autumn is associated with the Metal element in TCM.

The Metal element governs order, organization, communication, and setting good boundaries. As we transition from Summer (governed by the Fire element), it’s important to draw some of that outward energy back in: to consolidate and conserve. Notice that Nature is beginning to gather and prepare for the approaching Winter season; it is time for us to do the same. Don’t overexert yourself. Eating nutritiously and going to bed early/rising early will put you in harmony with the rhythm of the Autumn season.

The Metal Organs: Lung & Large Intestine

‘Tis the season for coughs, sore throats, runny noses and upper respiratory infections. The lung is a delicate organ, largely due to its direct connection to the outside world. It is especially susceptible to wind and cold. It is also the organ responsible for keeping you protected from catching colds. Protect it so it can help to protect you!

You can help protect the Lung by dressing appropriately for the season; wear a scarf and a hat, and dust off your coats and warmer shoes – it’s time to don them!

You can also help protect the Lung by keeping the Lung qi (pronounced “chee”) or energy full, clean and quiet. This can be best achieved with breathing exercises such as Qi Gong (More info: click here), or simply with meditation focused on the breath. Stop throughout your day to consciously take full, deep breaths.

Grief and sadness are the emotions of the Lung. When the Lung is out of balance, grief and sadness can become enhanced and difficult to move through. Conversely, unresolved grief and sadness can lead to an imbalance of the Lung organ. If you are having difficulty with grief and sadness, reach out to your Acupuncturist for some focused treatment in this area. Expressing and resolving these emotions will help to strengthen the Lung and immune system to keep you healthy as we move closer to the Winter season.

Large Intestine
The Large Intestine is responsible for both the physical “letting go” as well as the emotional “letting go.” This is the perfect time of year for cleaning and organizing your belongings and donating what you no longer want or need. Do you have a messy closet or cluttered computer files that need your attention? Time to get on that!

It’s also a wonderful time of year to work on forgiveness, and to let go of old habits and patterns that no longer serve our highest, best Self.

Food Advice: Eat & Drink Warmly

As the weather turns cold, it becomes more important and appropriate to eat warmer foods. It’s time to lessen your consumption of cold and raw foods (such as salads) and increase your consumption of cooked foods. Soups are perfect for this time of year!

Take advantage of the seasonal produce: especially turnips, pumpkin, various squashes, apples, pears & sweet potatoes. It’s a great idea to add ginger and cinnamon to your diet, too.

Don’t forget to switch to warmer liquids. Put down the ice water and replace it with some hot herbal tea.

To Summarize: Do what nature is doing.

Living in harmony with Nature is a great way to ensure you’re doing all you can to stay healthy. Autumn is the time of year when Nature is slowing down and beginning to contract and conserve as it prepares for Winter. To ensure a healthy Autumn (and thusly a healthy Winter), take the time now to do the same: conserve your energy, get enough sleep each night, eat nourishing, warming foods, and dress appropriately. Turn your attention inward and work on your Self. Breathe deeply and let go.

“There was temperance in eating and drinking. Their hours of rising and retiring were regular and not disorderly and wild. By these means the ancients kept their bodies united with their souls, so as to fulfill their allotted span completely, measuring unto a hundred years before they passed away.” Huang Ti Nei Jing Su Wen

Cannon Hill Park; Spokane, Washington

Cannon Hill Park; Spokane, Washington