TIPS FOR DEALING WITH THE COLD
A TCM Perspective
Fall is here which means cold weather is right around the corner. While we love sweaters and cozying up under a warm blanket, it’s important to remember that the cold months bring on a lot of illness. The good news is that Eastern medicine is here to help you keep your immune system in tip top shape. Let’s look at what winter means in Traditional Chinese Medicine, TCM, and how to stay warm and healthy.
What Does Winter Mean in Chinese Medicine?
To start, in Eastern medicine cold weather represents the Yin. The Yin is a dark and slow energy, which means winter is a time to slow down and relax. Winter and cold weather are also associated with the kidneys, which hold the body’s basic and fundamental energies and essence
The belief in TCM is that being in tune with the seasons can help you stay healthy and prevent disease. It is originally a preventative medicine practice. This is especially important in the winter time when the temperature drops. We become more susceptible to illnesses such as the common cold and the flu.
Cold weather can not only make you sick with conditions such as the common cold, it can aggravate other conditions. For example, if you have arthritis, it could become worse during the cold months. This also helps you learn more about what imbalances may be unique to you. Practicing Eastern medicine can help you keep your body in good health.
In TCM, there’s a term called ‘cold damage’ which refers to conditions that can happen from exposure to the elements such as cold. The cold can not only damage us physically, but it can also damage our life source. This can affect your body’s ability to ward off disease.
So, how can we use Eastern medicine to take care of ourselves in the winter? It’s easy! Along with keeping your body warm, there are plenty of Eastern medicine foods and herbs you can utilize to combat the cold weather and stay healthy and our Mothers and Grandmothers were right to tell us to wear our scarves and hats!
Cold Weather Foods
The best place to start when using Eastern medicine during the cold months is with food. Keeping your body nourished can boost the immune system to fight off illness. Not to mention, there are plenty of delicious options to keep you satisfied all winter long!
Broth is Your Best Friend
Who doesn’t love a good broth? In Eastern medicine, bone broth is not only delicious, but has many health benefits. It’s said to boost your qi, yin and essence. Bone broth is said to improve digestive health and strengthen the kidneys. This type of broth is warm and full of nutrients making it the perfect cold weather dish.
You’ll typically find chicken or beef bone broth. You can also make your own for a relaxing winter activity. Use bone broth as a soup base, or sip it as a coffee replacement. You’ll be feeling warm and refreshed in no time. For some people bone broth is even prescribed as medicine.
Give in to Your Sweet Tooth
We’re often told to avoid sweets, but in Eastern medicine sweets in moderation can nourish the spleen. Typically, when our body is craving sweets it’s because the spleen is imbalanced. When we say sweets, we don’t mean grabbing a bag of candy! Many seasonal fruits for fall and winter are sweet, nutritious and delicious.
We recommend pears, apples or figs. Baking them with cinnamon makes for a delicious, Eastern medicine approved snack! If you’re really craving something sweet, add a little honey on top, too. It’s important to remember that too much sugar can aggravate the spleen and cause an imbalance, so sugar should be consumed in small doses. Squashes, root veggies and beans like azuki beans are also wonderful fall and winter foods.
Apples are known in Eastern medicine to tonify the Qi and Yin. So incorporating them into your diet cooked with cinnamon and ginger is a great way to incorporate TCM into your cold weather diet.
Experimentation With Fermentation
Fermented foods are notoriously good for your gut health and digestion. Research shows that a diet high in fermented foods can increase microbiome diversity and boost your immune system. So, they’re a great addition to your cold weather diet to keep illness away.
It can be easy to confuse fermented foods with pickled foods, but they have differences. Fermented foods are produced through a controlled chemical reaction between naturally present sugars and bacteria. Pickled foods are soaked in an acidic brine. Some fermented foods we like for an Eastern medicine diet include:
Miso and kimchi would be a great addition to a bone broth soup meal for the ultimate gut health restoration. If you are feeling sick in the cold weather, fermented foods can give you a needed immunity boost, as well.
Best Herbs for Cold Weather
While you’re enjoying your cozy winter foods, there are herbs you can utilize to give yourself an extra boost. Here are some of the best herbs for cold weather in Eastern medicine.
Cinnamon is a delicious herb commonly associated with the holidays. Not only is it a great cooking and baking spice, but it has medicinal properties to keep you healthy during the winter. Cinnamon is loaded with antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. So if you’re starting to feel sick, add some cinnamon to your stew or brew a cup of tea. You can even put cinnamon in a tea bag and place them in gloves or shoes for warmth.
Ginger is another fabulous addition to a cold weather diet. You can add it to your bone broth soup stocks, or use it in tea. If you’ve got the flu this winter, ginger is great for reducing nausea. Ginger is even used on the abdomen in TCM abdominal treatments to support digestive issues or spleen/stomach imbalances.
Other TCM Cold Weather Tips and Tricks
Remember, cold weather in Eastern medicine means it’s time to relax and slow it down. Switch out your morning jog for yoga or meditation. Take time for yourself and read a book. It sounds easy, but during the warm weather we feel pressured to be doing something all of the time. So sit back, and relax!
Don’t Go Outside With Wet Hair
Going outside with wet hair is a recipe for illness in cold weather. This can create a cold and damn situation that’s bad for your health. While it’s recommended in Eastern medicine to never do this, it’s especially important in the winter as it can encourage illness.
Get Under the Covers and Bundle Up
After being out in the cold, brew yourself a warm cup of tea. When you’re done and feeling the warmth, wrap yourself in a blanket. If you start to sweat, that’s fine. This is going to help you release the cold from your body. Don’t forget the scarves and hats, we want to keep the wind chill from hitting the neck or top of the head to keep cold invasion out!
The bottom line is that taking care of yourself during cold weather is extremely important in Eastern medicine. Stick to a warm and nutritious diet, and remember to slow down and take time for yourself!