‘Tis the season! For nourishing your kidneys!
The best gift we can give ourselves IS health. I say this with definitive certainty, for without it, all the other gifts aren’t quite as enjoyable. The source of being able to experience joy and give to others comes from our own wholeness. Once we are whole and healthy, giving to others in any type of way is not only easy, but comes naturally (package deal). During this magical time of sharing and giving, let’s talk about how we can create the foundation to do this with grace and brilliant health. In this article we will explore easy ways to nurture your health this season through diet tips, herbal suggestions, and simple practices. This way we can enjoy all the great benefits of giving to others without the residual depletion and exhaustion that is sometimes paired with both the season and the holidays. There is an interesting parallel with the holiday season and Chinese Medicine that can help us unlock vibrant health during the cold, deeply yin months of the year.
The Chinese Medicinal Overview for Winter:
Nature: Full Yin
Organs: Kidney, Urinary Bladder, Adrenal Glands, Ears and Hair
Emotion: Fear and Depression
The Solstice and Kidney Energy
The shortest day and longest night of the year is approaching. How beautifully this embodies the idea of yin. Celebrate and honor this time, as it is the most powerful time for kidney energy. Kidneys are the source of our life-force, where all chi is stored. It is often thought that yang energy is life, but it is the expression of it. Yin, kidney chi, is the source. It is incredibly important to recognize and nurture both the idea of this, as well as physically recognizing it through daily practices this time of year. This is the storehouse that our bodies feed off of the rest of the year, and now is the time to fill it up.
I actually relate winter to menstruation. It’s the seasonal period. We treat this time of the month to look within, relax, and do yin practices, so using these principles, (at least for women), we can relate these times with each other.
According to Chinese Medicine, we can nourish yin by going inward.
The easiest way to nourish yin is by making sure your sleep is deep and sufficient. Going to sleep earlier and waking up later is a great way to actively nourish your sleep cycle. Making routines such as cutting off electronics at least an hour before going to sleep can really aid in decompression and relaxation. Grabbing a book, taking a bath, light after-dinner stroll, stretching, meditation, or doing a craft or puzzle are all great alternatives to T.V., computers, or phones for night activities. This simple adjustment is sure to get your sleep on a better track. Also, avoiding foods and drinks that are high in caffeine or sugar at least a few hours before bed can also help. If you are able to better prioritize your day, this should be a simple way to kick your yin-nourish into high gear, giving you more energy through your day and untangling your nervous system.
Practices such as qi gong, restorative yoga, walking mediation, drawing, writing, breath-work, listening to music, playing music, or any other type of arts will surely help to nourish yin. We are most receptive this time of year. It’s a great time to re-evaluate, listen, receive, and be in quiet contemplation. Now is the time to release effort in activity and take up more receptive practices, or simply recalibrate your outlook on said activities to a more inward state.
The pathway between your gut and your mind is the shortest now. It is a great time to release mental efforts and move into your gut, like a bear in hibernation. Internal communication is at its strongest, so nurture that and give yourself the time, attention, and energy that’s been going elsewhere all year. Use your gut to feel out your resolutions and direction you would like to take in the coming months. No action need be taken, no pressure need be applied, just look, listen, and feel it out. Lists and doodles can be helpful.
Great Time of Year For Body Work
Treat yourself to an acupuncture appointment earlier in the season, and ask about things you can do for your body to help with optimal health this winter. Any type of body work is great, but acupuncture, acupressure, and tui na can help to align with the points we’re talking about in this article and make it specific for YOUR body. Every body is different, and some of us may naturally be more yin than others and actually get energized during this season. There are general guidelines that we all can benefit from, but the insight into your own body is invaluable. So, if even only one appointment, put aside some money to do that to get a better idea of what your body is doing right now.
Let’s Talk Food
Certain foods are going to have a greater effect on your health this time of year. Winter and the kidneys are associated with the salty flavor, so if you find you are craving warm, salty foods for some reason- that could be why. Having soups with seaweeds and celery are quite possibly the best thing you could eat right now. Also vegetables that are in season and “warming” foods will help to balance the cool, damp nature of the season. Here are some suggestions:
- Root vegetables, winter squashes, potatoes, winter greens, Brussels sprouts, etc: high in minerals, vitamins, abundant and appropriate. Also, readily available at the scantly cladded winter farmer’s markets.
- Mushrooms: These will help with immunity and add a warming, nutritional, and delicious boost to any meal.
- Bone broths: These are quite possibly the highest in yin jing. If you can have bone broth every day, you will be doing yourself a great service.
- Seaweed: You can add it to anything for a serious kidney boost. Snack on it, soup it, roast it, bake it. If it’s not your thing, kelp extract in capsules is the way to go. You can even pop these bad boys open and add them to warm soups for a thicker texture and one of the most powerful nutritional boosts that ever happened.
- Warming spices: Turmeric, ginger, black pepper, cardamom, cayenne (not liberally), cinnamon, GARLIC, and horseradish.
- Stews and Blended Soups: This can be an accumulation of all the kidney foods. Simple, easy, delicious- you can all the appropriate spices, vegetables and kidney nourishing ingredients. That crock pot better come out and stay out until the dawning of spring.
- Black beans: Yummy protein, happy kidneys.
- Pomegranate seeds: high in anti-oxidants and a fun addition to that warm, cinnamon, ginger oatmeal you’re making. Oatmeal is breakfast kidney stew. You can add all your spices and even some of the herbs we will go over next.
- Lower caffeine and sugar intake in general: Sugar intake can harm your white blood count levels, so try moderation this cookie season!
- Mineralize your water, drink it room temp, even warm! Teas are great, as well. Adding lemon is also a great idea.
- Keep it cooked: raw foods in moderation can be fine, but cooked foods are going to go the extra mile.
Herbs, Supplements, Additional Practices
- He shou wu: Quite possibly the most revered of all the kidney herbs, he shou wu can help replenish jing and ground the nervous system, build blood and other fluids, as well as inhibit aging and nurture sexual libido and capability. It’s also one of my favourite-tasting herbs, and can be added into most any foods and yogurts with grace and delicious-ease. Seriously, try it in something sweet.
- Cordyceps: Another kidney-oriented herb, cordyceps is my go-to for getting solid, sustaining energy. This is a great herb for atheltes in the winter time, as it is not a “yang” herb and will not be over-stimulating or cause a burn-out or imbalance. Cordyceps can even replace that cup of coffee and be twice as sustaining throughout the day without frying your adrenalsand with the added serious modulation to the immune system.
- Reishi Spore Oil: What a joy this herb is. The king of all reishi products. The spore oil is especially effective for the wintertime,chock full of jing. Reishi spore oil provides the immunity seal from the inevitable environmental ailments, as well as optimizing sleep and giving you that grounding and relaxed state to carry out all of your yin-oriented practices. Also, as an oil, it can be taken in its capsule, or added into soups, teas, elixirs with a mild barely noticeable taste, in my opinion.
- Kelp Extract: As stated above, seaweeds in general can be extremely helpful this season, but the taste isn’t always for everyone. Coming in capsules, you are able to get all the benefits of seaweed without the taste at a 40:1 concentration! I personally enjoy the taste, so if you’re like me, you can also break open the caps and fully dissolve into warm soups (great way to share with the children, just make sure it’s fully gelatinized before giving it to them!)
- Kidney Baths: Well, not technically. (haha surgically remove your kidneys and soak them in this!) Juuust kidding, but really- taking a warm bath with a crap-ton of Epsom salts and magnesium flakes/oil is the closest thing to actually bathing your kidneys. If you can do one of these a week, you’re in the money. Other variations can be adding baking soda to balance your pH, essential oils like lavender for a calming effect, and rose hydrosol for the skin and, well, it’s rose water, so doesn’t get much better than that.
- Morning Meditation: We are most receptive first thing. 5 minutes, 10 minutes- however long you have, a quick one of these a day will realign your whole day and season!
- Nightly Stretching: A good reason to get away from the day and decompress- literally. Twists and forward folds/bends are great at the end of the day. Anything to get into that spine and core, if you are not warmed up, take it slow and hold the stretched for at least 90 seconds. Supta baddha konasana, (cobblers pose over a bolster) is a nice heart opener for the morning.
- Morning Pages: This is a sort of mediation, but it will help clear the mind before starting your day. Write for three pages about anything at all. Punctuation, grammar, subject matter, etc. need not apply. Just write. And don’t go back a read it at least for a year. Just write. Many creative professionals use this technique and swear by it, as I have personally seen a change in my days by doing them.
- Get Grounded: Grounding pads are available online. Use them when you’re on the computer, or put them in your bed. Or better yet, get your feet on the ground at some point (though, it may be a little cold, so grounding pads are fun and accessible ways to ground during winter).
- De-stressing: Don’t take your troubles to bed with you. Learn to be present and if old patterns and repeat emotions are coming up, take them by the horns and ride them out. Talk it out with others. Take time at the end of the day to clear out and focus on one of the most important things for the whole season, which is a good nights rest.