For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, we know that the winter solstice is the day with the fewest hours of sunlight. Many of us look forward to this day because it marks the beginning of the gradual increase in daylight hours.
In the Five Phase Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is the most yin season. The attributes corresponding to the winter season are the kidney organ (along with the bladder and adrenal glands), the color blue/black, the water element, and the resolving of fear and depression with will and creativity. Fear is the challenging (often called ‘negative’) emotion of the winter season. Using nature as our guide, we may feel that it is a time to surrender and learn what this season has to offer. Trees have lost their leaves, grasses are brown, and any activity appears hidden as our natural surroundings appear still and at rest.
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ~ John Steinbeck
Nature and our qigong practice help us to more deeply embrace and understand how to live in harmony with the natural cycles of the seasons. The seasonal traits of winter, such as cold weather, dampness, and dark/short days, encourage us to slow down, go inward and enjoy our warm comfortable homes. This is the time of year to conserve our strength and store energy (qi). We ‘store’ energy by conserving what we have and replenishing/cultivating more. To build and maintain a strong immune system and recover from illness, protect yourself from the elements, rest more, be introspective, take time to sit by the fire, eat more cooked (vs. raw) seasonal vegetables, and drink only warm or hot liquids.
In the winter season, keep your qigong practices directed inward with minimal physical effort. Relax deeply and allow qi to support your movements. This is an opportunity to find the stillness within the depths of your inner being. Embrace the darkness of the season by going within. Use this time to reflect and prepare for the metamorphosis that will take place in the months ahead.
During winter, some may experience a kind of fear of traveling into the inner depths and instead become overly busy, stay up late into the night, start new projects, and socialize more often. As a nurturing and replenishing alternative, practice self-acceptance to reduce fear. Take heed of the signals from your body that let you know when replenishment time is needed. Be patient and kind to yourself and keep warm, especially your neck and head. Embrace the information you receive during this ‘dark’ time as part of the dance of yin and yang, dark and light, so that the seeds of creativity you plant inwardly will be ready to germinate in the spring months.
Wishing you abundant qi during this season.
This article was previously published as “Winter Wisdom” in the Qigong for Life blog.