Preserving Energy in the Winter: Food, Drink and Mindset

Chinese tradition thinks winter begins after “Li Dong”. Famous Chinese medical specialists Naiwen Hu said that ancient Chinese thought that spring should “sow”, summer should ”grow”, autumn should “harvest”, and winter should “preserve”. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) thinks the key of health maintenance in winter is how to “preserve”. In other words, you should pay attention to “preserve”. Keep your windows closed, and stay away from cold winds.

Learn to “preserve” after winter and prevent the body from cold winds

Doctor Naiwen Hu said ancient Chinese determined the beginning of each season based on “Four Lis”, which are “Li Chun”, “Li Xia”, “Li Qiu” and “Li Dong”. “Li Dong” is the beginning of the winter. In winter, creatures have to hide and preserve. People have to “preserve” at this time. Stay warm in winter, and people should stay in tight compartment, wear heavy clothes and sleep with a thick quilt. It prevents people from cold winds and a consequent cold. Additionally, having the right food is important. “Yinshan zhengyao” claims that wheat is for spring, mung beans for summer, sesames for autumn, and millet for winter. The book explains millet is the sticky rice. “The Compendium of Materia Medica” says it is better not to eat much because having too much millet will produce internal heat. But having it in winder is a great choice, for it keeps the body warm. In winter, people have the custom to make food with high calories such as rice cakes and mochi. Tea is also a great drink for the winter.

Doctor Hu quoted from ”Huangdi Neijing” that in winter people should go to bed early and get up late, based on sunrise and sunset. This makes the “Zhi” in the kidneys hide behind, and can be preserved afterwards. Don’t show off the “Zhi”, and avoid the cold and look for something to keep the body warm. Never let the skin exposed to cold winds, or your “Qi” is consumed. This is the principle of “preserve”. If you disobey it, the kidneys hurt, resulting in muscle atrophy and bone pains in the coming spring.

What to eat for health maintenance in “Li Dong”?

Naiwen Hu said that spring, summer, autumn and winter are respectively related to Wood, Fire, Metal and Water, four phases in the “Five Phase” theory. Winter is the season of “cold water”. Water corresponds to the kidneys. Supplementing water in winter means maintaining the kidneys healthy. But from perspective of TCM, maintaining the kidneys healthy is divided into two ways: supplementing the “Water” of the kidneys and the “Fire” of the kidneys. People lacking “Water” should supplement the “Water” of the kidneys, while people lacking “Fire” should supplement the “Fire” of the kidneys. Material with “Water” includes ”Liu Wei Di Huang Wan”, and the material with “Fire” includes “Gui Fu Ba Wei Wan” or “Ba Wei Di Huang Wan”(Liu Wei Di Huang Wan plus cinnamon and monkshood). Whether a patient needs to supplement “Water” or “Fire” based on pulse taken by a traditional Chinese specialist. Tea supplements both of these.

He said health maintenance with diet is to supplement “Wood”, “Fire”, “Metal” and “Water”. But when it comes to “Li Dong”, we need to make “Shiquan Dabu Soup”, “Sijunzi Soup”, “Bazhen Soup”, “Guipi Soup” with the most nutritional materials such as giseng, atractylodes and tuckahoe. Additionally, you are suggested to have food with sweet taste such as “Mutton hotpot”, “Ginger Duck”, “Sesame Oil Chicken”, and “Siwu Chicken” as supplementary food. Actually, having these is not to maintain the health of the kidneys, because the “Earth” in the Five Phases is evenly distributed into four seasons. You can maintain the health of the spleen and stomach all four seasons. The popular ways to maintain health in winter nowadays is to have medicine when you have money, but this is not the traditional custom.

“Preserve” should be maintained in 90 days from “Li Dong” to “Li Chun”, and the winter is the season known as “cold water”. He listed some warm-hot foods for maintenance in winter. For example, adding ginseng and astragalus hoangtchy into the mutton soup helps to tonify ”Qi” and “Xing”; Adding ginger and Chinese angelica into mutton soup makes it warm and tonifies “Qi” and “Xing”. He said in northern China, there are no more crops. Foods available there are only rhizome, almond, grain and millet harvested in autumn. In southern China, there are plenty of vegetables. He suggested not taking medicine with radish when you are ill.

The ancient people nourishing life emphasized on nourishing morality

Naiwen Hu also talked about the maintenance of the mind. To maintain healthy in the winter, you have to store “Zhi”. He explained that “Zhi” essentially means will, meaning that it is best to store your wishes or desires for the upcoming season rather than depleting your energy on accomplishing them in the winter. To calm down, you are suggested to sit calmly. Sitting in meditation is a good way.

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