11 tips for a healthy win­ter – make your win­ter whim­si­cal, not woe­ful

Does win­ter leave you feel­ing con­gested or cosy? Sick or strong? Does the cold crisp air leave you de­vi­talised, or in­vig­o­rated? Grab a hot mug of golden milk, rug up and read on to dis­cover how to get through this sea­son flushed with health.

Living Now - - Health & Healing - By Casey Con­roy

Still­ness. Si­lence. What emo­tions do these words con­jure up in you? These words de­scribe the en­ergy of win­ter. For most mod­ern-day folk, these are un­com­fort­able con­cepts. “Oh yeah, I should med­i­tate, but I’m just so busy!”

Ad­dicts to any kind of do­ing, many of us have been con­di­tioned to think that if we aren’t mov­ing, achiev­ing, or ac­quir­ing, then we are wast­ing time. We value our­selves only if we are do­ing some­thing, and we may think that peo­ple who don’t do much are less valid mem­bers of so­ci­ety. We are ori­en­tated to­ward pro­duc­tiv­ity and the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of wealth and pos­ses­sions, rather than to­ward the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of wis­dom, self-knowl­edge and spir­i­tual strength.

We live in such an ex­tro­verted so­ci­ety that it is hard for us to imag­ine how we would ac­tu­ally man­age to find some time to be in si­lence – but be (some­what) still and quiet we must, be­cause this is win­ter, folks! If we don’t take heed and fol­low the with­draw­ing en­ergy of this time of year, our bod­ies will force us to rest with some form of ill­ness – a cold per­haps, or aching joints that groan at the thought of that an­nual ski trip you metic­u­lously planned.

Now ob­vi­ously, it would un­bal­ance us in the other di­rec­tion if we all laid down and de­cided to just ‘be’ for the next three months, but per­haps we could use a lit­tle more still­ness in our lives, and I don’t mean sit­ting in front of the telly, watch­ing peo­ple kill each other and cheat on their spouses. I’m think­ing more of sit­ting in front of a camp­fire, or a lake, or a tree, and just be­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine, win­ter is ruled by the wa­ter el­e­ment. It is the time to take heed of the

yin prin­ci­ple and be­come more re­cep­tive, in­tro­spec­tive, and stor­age-ori­ented. Cold, damp­ness (from rain or snow) and dark­ness drive us to ‘rug up warm’.

It is a time to soothe, pro­tect, and heal our spir­its; a time of rest, deeper med­i­ta­tion, and stor­ing phys­i­cal en­ergy – yes, that means you may gain a lit­tle weight!

In our fat-pho­bic so­ci­ety, it seems a her­culean task to re­mem­ber that sea­sonal fluc­tu­a­tions in body weight are healthy, and nor­mal.

In Ayurveda, the kapha (the wa­ter and earth prin­ci­ple) nature of win­ter pre­dis­poses us to dis­or­ders of ex­cess mu­cus and con­ges­tion such as colds, ‘ flu, pneu­mo­nia, bron­chi­tis and pharyn­gi­tis. Con­sump­tion of warm­ing foods and herbs that are dry, pun­gent, hot, bit­ter, and as­trin­gent will help bal­ance kapha.

Your lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment must be con­sid­ered. Although cold, damp win­ter is a kapha sea­son, for some of us liv­ing in cold and windy cli­mates, Vata (the wind prin­ci­ple) may be ag­gra­vated. Joints can get stiffer in win­ter, and if we al­low the cold to leech into our bod­ies, poor cir­cu­la­tion, aches and pains, arthri­tis, asthma and col­i­tis may show up.

In the Chi­nese sys­tem, the or­gans ruled by wa­ter – the kid­neys and blad­der - are most vul­ner­a­ble to im­bal­ance dur­ing win­ter. Think of the dilemma you face when you need to pee in the mid­dle of a freez­ing cold night – do you con­front the cold or do you hold it in? There is a ten­dency to wait un­til morn­ing to empty the blad­der to avoid leav­ing the warmth of our beds. Hold­ing in urine can pre­dis­pose us to uri­nary tract in­fec­tions and ir­ri­ta­ble blad­ders. Bit­ter and al­ka­lin­is­ing foods and herbs help clear out these types of in­fec­tions (1).

Both TCM and Ayurveda place an em­pha­sis on bit­ter foods dur­ing win­ter, as these pro­mote a sink­ing, cen­tring qual­ity that height­ens our ca­pac­ity for stor­age. These foods cool the ex­te­rior of the body and bring body heat deeper and lower; with a cooler body sur­face, we no­tice the cold less. Salty foods, too, are sug­gested in TCM, for this rea­son.

With this in mind, here are my top tips for cre­at­ing health this win­ter, and en­sur­ing you greet Septem­ber with stores of strength and vi­tal­ity.

Warm­ing, pun­gent foods and herbs. Cook foods longer, at lower tem­per­a­tures, and with less wa­ter. Roast­ing, stew­ing, and slow cook­ing are ideal cook­ing meth­ods. Fo­cus on eat­ing warm, cooked, slightly oily, well-spiced foods.

Warm, hearty soups, whole grains, and roasted nuts are nour­ish­ing win­ter­time foods.

Hearty, warm­ing veg­eta­bles like radishes, cooked spinach, onions, car­rots, and other root veg­eta­bles are gen­er­ally well re­ceived this time of year, as are warm­ing, pun­gent herbs such as gin­ger, gar­lic, and chilli. I keep a pot of caf­feine-free chai tea on the stove, con­tain­ing cin­na­mon, cloves, car­damom, nut­meg and black pep­per in wa­ter. Boil it up, strain and add a lit­tle honey and milk of your choice to re­tain in­ner body warmth and bring de­light to a dark, cold win­ter’s night.

Bit­ter, as­trin­gent foods. The most com­mon bit­ter foods are ac­tu­ally com­bi­na­tions of bit­ter and other flavours, and in­clude rocket, cos let­tuce (es­pe­cially the outer leaves), wa­ter­cress, cel­ery, as­para­gus, al­fafa, rye, oats, quinoa and ama­ranth. Strong doses of bit­ter food are not needed ex­cept in the case of cer­tain im­bal­ances, but “small, reg­u­lar amounts in win­ter nur­ture deep in­ner ex­pe­ri­ences and pre­serve joy in the heart” (1). A side of steamed win­ter green leafy veg­eta­bles such as kale, cel­ery, and broc­coli, with a lit­tle but­ter, salt and lemon juice adds nu­tri­ents and bal­ance to any meal. Dried beans and lentils are as­trin­gent, as are cau­li­flower and tea.

Salty foods in­clude miso, soy sauce, sea­weeds, Celtic sea or Hi­malayan rock salt, olives, and ca­pers.

Salt is al­ready overused in the typ­i­cal Western diet, while we get nowhere near enough bit­ter foods. Small amounts of salty foods have a strong ef­fect; so use them re­spect­fully.

Be care­ful not to eat too much meat, mu­cus-form­ing dairy, greasy food, and re­fined car­bo­hy­drates, which all ag­gra­vate acidic con­di­tions such as gout and arthri­tis. The heartier qual­ity of win­ter foods should come from longer cook­ing times, high qual­ity pro­duce and legumes, low GI whole grains, and meats such as slow cooked chicken, turkey, veni­son, rab­bit, and poached or hard­boiled eggs, if you eat an­i­mal foods.

Drink plenty of wa­ter. Aim for around eight 240ml glasses of clear fluid (wa­ter or herbal teas) per day. When it’s cooler we tend to for­get that our bod­ies are 50-65% wa­ter, and that we need to keep our fluid in­take up.

Foods and herbs that sup­port the kid­neys and blad­der, es­pe­cially if you are prone to uri­nary tract in­fec­tions. Like many animals, in win­ter we spend more time in bed,

hi­ber­nat­ing and hav­ing sex, which spells UTIS for many women. To avoid and treat blad­der in­fec­tions and op­ti­mise kid­ney func­tion, in­clude unsweet­ened cran­berry juice (which pre­vents the ad­her­ence of bac­te­rial to the mu­cosal lin­ing of the ure­thra and blad­der) and herbs like net­tle leaves (Ur­tica dioica), ju­niper berries (Ju­nipe­rus com­mu­nis), dan­de­lion leaves ( Tarax­acum of­fic­i­nale), flaxseed, marsh­mal­low root (Althea of­fic­i­nalis), fenu­greek ( Trigonella foenum-grae­cum), and corn­silk (Zea mays) (2).

Anti-in­flam­ma­tory foods and herbs. To keep colds, slug­gish di­ges­tion, and achy joints at bay, en­joy lots of fruits, veg­eta­bles, fish, legumes, and whole grains in place of ex­cess in­flam­ma­tory meat-based foods. Go for anti-in­flam­ma­tory bioflavonoids (e.g. quercitin), Vi­ta­mins C and E, and zinc for an­tiox­i­dant sup­port. Botan­i­cals like turmeric (Cur­cuma longa) and gin­ger (Zin­giber of­fic­i­nale) sup­port arthritic joints, and also as­sist di­ges­tion. Although dairy is best re­duced in the win­ter months, a cup of hot golden milk (see recipe) be­fore bed can help to en­cour­age sound sleep and should not be overly con­gest­ing.

Bit­ter herbs har­bour the strong­est bit­ter qual­i­ties of any ed­i­ble plant, and get the di­ges­tion primed for heav­ier win­ter meals. Com­mon ex­am­ples are bur­dock root (Arc­tium lappa), dan­de­lion leaves and root ( Tarax­acum of­fic­i­nale), horse­tail (Equise­tum ar­vense), gen­tian (Gen­tiana lutea) and the King of Bit­ters, an­dro­graphis (An­dro­graphis

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