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5 Ancient Chinese Medicine Tips to Stay Fighting Fit this Winter

By Sophie Pettit 22 January 2015
As the temperature drops, sniffling red noses are appearing in the crowds and the fear of catching that dreaded seasonal bug is on our minds. But before you stock up on a mountain of tissues and reach for the pills, you might want to consider an alternative line of defense. We speak with Judy Xu, certified holistic health coach and Chinese medicine nutritionist at Balance Health and Oriental Health, to gather some top tips and secret recipes to boost your immunity and keep you fighting fit this winter.

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1. Stay Balanced

A healthy life requires living in harmony with nature and understanding the character of the season to leverage its force and minimise imbalances. The theory of the winter season is one of conservation and storage, a time when all things in nature wither, hide, return home, and enter a resting period, just as lakes and rivers freeze and snow falls. Desires and mental activity should be kept quiet and subdued, as if keeping a happy secret. Winter is when Yin dominates Yang, therefore we need to take measures to restore the balance and refrain from overusing the Yang energy, by following the following simple rules.

2. Don’t Get Cold Feet

Cold weather causes our body to slow down and contract, which can make us even colder and lead to poor circulation which triggers symptoms such as aches, asthma, arthritis, or colitis. According to ancient Chinese medicine, the body Qi (the Chinese term for life energy) needs to be conserved by keeping warm, but not hot. So on cold and windy days, enjoy the comfort of your warm house. Avoid sweating when taking hot showers as the pores of the skin open and Yang Qi is easily lost. A good idea is to keep your feet warm by having hot-water footbaths and if you need a hot water bottle, it is best to put it down by your feet. In Chinese medicine, we believe that for proper fluid and energy movement to take place in the body, the head should be relatively cool and the feet warm.

3. Care for Your Kidneys

The organs of winter are the kidneys and bladder. When we talk about the kidney from the Chinese medicine perspective, we actually mean much more then just the organ itself. In traditional Chinese medicine, the kidney system includes the adrenal glands and the reproductive system, and our energy stems from it. The kidney system is responsible for strengthening bones and teeth, hair, healthy sexual function, fertility, and wisdom, therefore if the energy of our kidneys (the deepest fire in our body) is out of balance or exhausted for too long, then we might experience Kidney Yin or Yang deficiency. Symptoms of kidney Yang deficiency include feeling cold and tired, aching and coldness in the lower back and knees, frequent urination, low libido, infertility, or impotence. Moxibustion is a common way to regain the fire and stimulate circulation and induce a smoother flow of blood and Qi, as well as combining acupuncture with burning Mugwort (an aromatic plant) close to specific body parts. In contrast, a kidney Yin deficiency brings symptoms like dizziness, ringing in the ears, dry throat and mouth, lower back pain, weak legs, sweating, or a very red tongue. It also has emotional symptoms like insecurity and fear. People who lack kidney Yin tend to feel restless, moving from one issue to the next without getting to the cause of the problem.

4. Say ‘No’ to Cold Foods

In winter we need to eat foods that create warmth and support the kidney Yin and Yang. Cold and raw foods and drinks are best avoided because our body expends so much energy warming itself up before it can break these down and utilise them. So hold off the green smoothies until the thermometer rises, especially if your body constitution is cold and pale. You don't need to totally avoid cooling food, but it's always good to eat a balanced diet, so you need to increase the portion of warming food and decrease the portion of cooling food. Eat lots of warming foods like cloves, fennel seeds, black pepper, ginger, walnuts, turtle beans, onions, leeks, shallots, chives, beef, and lamb. Foods that nourish the kidneys include sweet potatoes, kidney beans, black beans, squid, millet, and sesame seeds. Usually food of black or red colour are good for the kidneys. Prepare the food in a way that can add to the warming nature like stewing and slow cooking. Soups and congee are also especially good for winter. You can take this test to learn more about your body type, and try out this simple walnut-congee recipe to keep you warm.

5. Learn to Relax

We’ve all heard of the January blues, with fear and depression spreading throughout communities, but according to the ancient Chinese medical text, Huangdi Neijing Suwen, this can take its toll on our bodies. A prolonged, excessive fear can harm our kidney energy, and vice-versa. We can experience fear in two different ways, either as a sudden shock or as an underlying negative emotion that prevents us from feeling safe. So what is the solution? It helps to remind ourselves that our world will always be something beyond our control. We will only be able to enjoy life when we are in harmony with ourselves, so try to find your purpose and learn to trust and let go. It pays to keep life simple. Winter is the perfect time for rest, reflection, conversation, and storage, so get plenty of sleep, reduce stress, and don’t worry. Find your personal way of relaxing, whether it be yoga, meditation, biofeedback, or simple relaxation therapy. Just try to release the stress and pressures of modern life – that way you will achieve perfect harmony with winter.
Read more! Explore the rest of our Wellness section.

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Sophie Pettit


Sophie is always on the lookout for a great story and her next big adventure and loves nothing more than discovering the city’s hidden gems—and most delicious cocktails. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s off travelling and ticking countries off her bucket list.