Ask any acupuncturist in New York City, and he or she will tell you of the many health challenges that come with the winter season. Fluctuating temperatures with cold, damp weather one day, and bone dry conditions the next, frigid nights mixed with over-heated apartments are just the beginning. We also have to contend with the demands and stresses of the holidays, including food and family, not to mention the fact that it is cold and flu season. Because of this, it is especially essential to remeber the season’s essence so that we can stay focused and healthy. With this in mind, here are my tips for making the most of the season and staying healthy this winter.
- Take time to reflect. Chinese medicine recognizes the natural tendency of plants and animals to turn inward with the quiet and cold winter energy at its peak. Trees and fields become bare to reserve strength for the spring growing season, and many animals hibernate. Similarly, we can best serve ourselves and others by drawing inward in both our actions and thoughts, reflecting on ourselves and the past year. It is the perfect time to meditate on which practices and routines make us truly happy and which we can let go. It is not necessary to take action, but rather to store up energy and make a solid, realistic plan that can come to fruition in the warmer months.
- Allow yourself emotional space and compassion. Recognize that it is normal for feelings of fear or anxiety to come to the surface during self-reflection. Fear is the emotion associated with winter because it was traditionally our most vulnerable time of year with food was scarce and temperatures low. Even if we aren’t worried about food or shelter, fear can arise more acutely in the colder months. Knowing that this emotional experience is universal and a natural part of the life cycle can help us to recognize it, accept it, and eventually move past it.
- Stay hydrated! It is easy to forget about hydration in the colder months. Dry indoor heating, sweat from running around in heavy coats, drinking warm, caffeinated or alcoholic beverages can all lead to dehydration. Similar to plants, our cells lose buoyancy with dehydration, and will begin to function at sub-optimal levels. Dry skin, looking or feeling sluggish – just like the wilted leaves of an under-hydrated plant – can be signs that you should be drinking more water. Staying hydrated helps us look our best with beautiful, healthy skin, as well as feel our best, with the energy to make the most of each day. Room temperature or warm water is best to keep us hydrated and our core temperatures stable.
- Keep warm! Even if the temperature is above freezing, be mindful of the more vulnerable parts of your body. Keep your neck, ankles, and low back covered. Haramakis, or Japanese belly warmers, are a great way to stay cozy without adding the bulkiness of heavy layers. Natural, woven materials are best. Eat warming foods and reduce your intake of raw food such as salads and sushi, especially if you have loose bowel movements. You can also add warming spices to your food and drinks. Ginger is a typical example, but other ideas include sprinkling ground cardamom or cinnamon on warm drinks or your morning porridge.
- Limit your intake of refined sugar. Sugar suppresses your immunity by interfering with the production of white blood cells – the body’s protection against disease. To avoid sugar cravings, eat a warm, protein-rich breakfast, stay hydrated, and eat small snacks throughout the day. Nuts, hummus, and lentil soup are perfect!
- Herbal Remedies. Chinese medicine has over 300 regularly used herbal formulas for common ailments. There are great options available to keep the immune system strong throughout the winter season. Herbs taken preventatively before any symptoms are present can help ward off any germs that may be floating around the home, office, or subway. If you already feel signs of a cold coming on, such as sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, headache, or congestion, ask your acupuncturist about the best option for you.
- Get regular acupuncture. Acupuncture helps your body keep in alignment with the seasonal changes by making sure everything is in balance and flowing correctly. Studies also show that acupuncture increases white blood cells in the body, strengthening the body’s immunity. If you do catch a bug, acupuncture can help you recover faster than you might otherwise.
The winter presents us with many challenges we do not see in the other season. However, by following these steps, we can help our chances of making it through as healthy as possible while best able to take full advantage of what the winter months have to offer.