HOW TO BEAT THE WINTER HEAT
TCM Approved Tactics For Hydration
It’s that time of year. The temperatures have dropped, and the heat is on full blast. You’re probably equally dreading that heating bill and the cold weather. While no one loves the look of those bills, we can all agree that what’s worse is the effects that dry heat can have on your body.
In winter, we lose much more moisture than during other times of year due to the combination of cold winds and hot, dry air pushing through indoor spaces. Some studies have shown that the skin loses up to 25 percent of its ability to retain moisture during the winter season. Hence, the eternally chapped lips, dry elbows, and morning nose bleeds.
While there’s no magic cure to solving winter dryness, there are several natural methods for keeping your body functioning in a healthy way this season. Many of these practices are developed from the insights of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Eastern medicine has long been observing the connection between various parts of the body and creating holistic plans to maintain wellness. Here’s your step-by-step guide to staying hydrated this winter – the natural way.
As obvious as it might sound, hydration is one of the most important (and most challenging) ways to beat the winter heat. There are many different areas of the body that suffer from lack of hydration. Your skin, mouth, and lips often show the first signs of dehydration, but over time your internal organs can have issues as well. Issues such as asthma, bronchitis, colds, sinusitis, and nosebleeds are more likely to occur due to the reduced amounts of body fluids. These usually act as a barrier, preventing bacteria and pathogens from remaining in the body.
A quick way to check your level of hydration is by the color of your urine. If your urine is pale yellow like lemonade, you should be good to go. But if you’re seeing something darker and more concentrated like movie theater popcorn butter, you should definitely be drinking more water. While drinking enough water is the most important way to maintain hydration, there are several other supplemental tips to keep in mind. Many TCM practitioners suggest that their patients take a warm foot bath each night before bed to help boost hydration and circulation in the lower part of the body.
You’ll want to avoid making your showers too hot (or staying in them for too long), and might want to add humidifiers to your home to add moisture in the air. Other tips for maintaining moisture and hydration during winter include regular application of chapstick, applying lotion to the skin after showering, and sticking to a hydrating skincare routine.
Eat Flax and Sesame Seeds
We know what you’re thinking, “Why seeds?!”. While this tip might seem random, both flax and sesame seeds contain vitamins and nutrients that address many of the main issues caused by winter heat. By the practice of TCM, these seeds contain high amounts of yang energy. Yang is associated with internal heat, and helps create a balance when the body has too much winter-related yin. You know how oil floats on water? The fats in these seeds help protect water-based fluids from the equivalent of evaporation.
Beyond creating a balance of energy, these seeds contain antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, healthy fats, fiber, and magnesium. These vital components can help soften the skin, heal any blemishes or sores, boost your energy, and regulate blood pressure. Adding flax seed and sesame seed to your diet won’t by any means replace the need to drink water throughout the day, but they can support healing the skin and keep you looking bright and fresh. Want to add flax and sesame into your diet this winter? Consider tossing a handful into your smoothie, in your yogurt or oatmeal, or over rice or noodle dishes.
Drink Tea for Better Circulation
Traditional Chinese Medicine relies heavily on herbal treatments to help all kinds of conditions. Using the healing power of nature, under the concept of yin and yang, you can brew several types of tea to increase warmth and circulation. Here are a few popular options:
- Ginger (shēngjiāng) and ginseng (rénshēn)
- Goji berries (gǒuqǐ zi)
- Cinnamon (ròuguì)
- Jujube (hóngzǎo)
- Green tea
- Rose tea
These teas can help warm you up from the inside out, and provide additional benefits like anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants. Many tea-drinkers also like to combine their favorite types of tea for flavor or specific benefits. If you’re concerned about more serious and complex health issues, be sure to consult with your doctor or TCM practitioner to create a treatment plan that’s best for your needs.
Keep Your Muscles and Joints Warm
When the cold has made its way into your bones, even a cozy, heated home sometimes can’t get rid of it. To combat this issue, try to incorporate more frequent, low-effort movement into your days to keep your muscles and joints nice and warm. Consider practicing gentle yin yoga in the mornings or evenings and adding a walk and stretch breaks into the day.
Another way to infuse more warmth into your limbs is by using menthol ointments like Tiger Balm or Zheng Gu Shui. These treatments are said to reduce inflammation and improve circulation. They are also often infused with minty essential oils that can help you breathe clearer (if you’re experiencing congestion from the cold) and create a sense of calm. You can rub these treatments directly on muscles and joints, particularly those that are sore or stiff. Many people suffering from cold symptoms will also rub a bit of ointment on their chest to help clear their sinuses before wrapping up with a warm scarf and coat.
But, Skip the Hot Yoga
While your icy cold fingers and toes might say “no”, we say “yes” to staying active in the winter time. Most health professionals agree that maintaining a consistent exercise schedule is important to maintain a healthy body, there are a few adjustments you might want to consider as the temperature drops.
Remember that pesky issue with maintaining hydration? Certain exercises can actually add to this issue and dehydrate you even more. Sweating is our body’s way of keeping us cool, but it takes water to create sweat. So the more you sweat, the more hydration you’re actually losing. In the language of TCM, you’re also reducing the amount of yin in your body, upsetting the natural balance. This can make you more likely to catch illnesses.
Try to avoid activities that really make you sweat or take place in especially warm environments. That means you may want to opt out of hot yoga and practice in a non-heated room for a while. Whether these adjustments mean you get to try a new form of exercise, or simply adjust the thermostat in your workout space, your hydrated skin and organs will thank you.
Do you have a favorite way to beat the winter heat? Let us know in the comments below!