This time of year can be a real struggle – the grey weeks following the festive season can be a heavy burden – but this year more than ever it’s vital to acknowledge winter, the effects it can have on health, both physical and emotional, and to embrace ways to take care of yourself.
Chinese medicine and winter
Winter is all about the energy of the Kidneys and about rest and restoration. The power house of your body – basically your engine - Kidney energy is depleted by stress/worry, overwork, illness or inappropriate diet. Hmm. Any of that sound familiar at the moment?
If Kidney Qi has taken a dive, it can mean low energy, problems with backache and other joint pain, and depression and anxiety.
At the time of writing I’ve elected to close my practice temporarily as the coronavirus numbers in the local area are extremely high.
So, in the absence of acupuncture treatment, what can you do to look after yourself and your Kidney energy this January?
Go outside and look to the light
Pick gentle exercise in daylight, preferably sun if there’s any available. If you’re lucky enough to be within reach of nature, take time to look up and around while you’re out and try not to be distracted by what you need to do when you get home. The signs of spring are already there and infinitely cheering, not to mention the hours of daylight already getting noticeably longer!
Eat winter food
I always enjoy saying this: THIS IS NO TIME FOR SALAD. Hearty warming fayre is the order of the season. Dust off the slow cooker, use seasonal vegetables, and if you eat meat make sure what you cook is organic. Soups are simple and quick to make, full of easily-digestible goodness, and they make your home smell great.
… and avoid draughts. Anyone who comes to me for treatment will be used to being told to keep warm, especially around the small of the back and the base of the neck. Here’s an interesting thing, Wind (with a capital W) is an important factor in Chinese medicine and is known as the ‘spearhead of disease’. It’s traditionally thought to enter the body through the base of the neck, so make sure you have a scarf handy. The lower back is the home of the kidneys, so make sure you keep that warm too.
Stop, rest, restore
Vital after the stress and uncertainty of the last 10 months, this one might not be so simple for those of you who are heroically juggling home-schooling and/or work. That’s certainly not easy. But it’s important to get as much space, sleep and rest as you possibly can. Here are a few changes you could consider making, even if it’s only one:
· put aside a few minutes a day to do some yoga or just to concentrate on your breathing
· make an agreement with yourself that you’re going to be in bed half an hour earlier
· try a short pre-bed meditation – it only needs to be a few minutes long – to help you wind down
· cut down on caffeine so that sleep comes more easily
· write down your worries and/or your to do list before going to bed so that you can let those thoughts go.
· make your bed as comfortable a place to be as possible so that you want to be there.
Keeping an eye on the above will help you through the coming weeks to spring and, hopefully, the dawning of the light at the end of the tunnel.
If you’re interested, here are some of my personal go-to things that are keeping me on a (relatively) even keel. You might be inspired!
Baking – being creative, lovely smells and at the end of it all: cake. What’s not to like?
Gardeners World – balm for the soul, colour and light and joyous optimism. (I used to be quite rock and roll, you know …)
Fairy lights – keep them up! There’s nothing to say we can’t keep the Christmas lights even though the decorations have come down. We need all the colour and comfort we can get.
Nice baths – keeping those kidneys warm and protected, a bit of space from everything (and everyone) and getting in your rest and restoration. You could also use this as an opportunity to make use of …
BBC Sounds and podcasts – listen to classic sci fi while you’re in the bath, or a documentary while you’re ironing. Or you could take yourself off to the seaside with Coastal Stories, my favourite podcast. Created by author Charlie Connelly, each episode is a true story from the British coast told over a background of the sound of gentle waves.
Getting creative – the possibilities here are endless, from macramé to jigsaws to painting to baking (see above) to writing to gardening to photography. Even if it’s 10 minutes a day. Find what floats your boat.
Exercising but keeping it gentle – pounding the streets in shorts in the freezing cold and the dark is not the order of the day. Remember the focus on space, rest and restoration. See above re walking in nature, but at home you could try online yoga or gentle low impact workouts. My recommendations are:
Joe Wicks (obviously) – a variety of home workouts for all ages and all levels of fitness. I can recommend the short senior workouts if you’re strapped for time and need to get your blood flowing!
Yoga with Adriene – available free on YouTube, Adriene offers everything from 5-minute yoga practices up to 30-day courses. There’s something for everyone. She’s very encouraging: you’ve won even if all you do is turn up on the mat.
Travelling without moving – visit Window Swap, a site consisting of short videos of the views from people’s windows around the world. A little broadening of our restricted horizons, travel without leaving your own home and the comforting knowledge that we're all in it together.
Losing myself in films – what makes you feel good? Search YouTube, Netflix and the rest to find your perfect escape. My recommendations: Local Hero, Paddington and any Ealing comedy.
Keeping the weekends – ‘I’ll just get this done …’. We’re all guilty of it. Stop right there. If you can, make your weekends different to your weekdays. If you must do household tasks, restrict them to an hour first thing. Then the rest of the day is for good stuff.
Teddy fleece sheets – keeping in mind rest and restoration, if you need to make your bed a comfier and more inviting place to be, you could do worse that investing in one of these. Available from Next and M&S, they have changed my life!
Keeping tabs on spring – finally, have a look at Time and Date to watch the hours of daylight get steadily longer and learn about such things as our route around the sun and the existence of arcane things like nautical and civic twilight. Spring is close than you think …
Stay safe, breathe and I’ll see you all again soon!