If you have ever been admonished by locals for forgetting to wear qiuku (long underwear) or drinking anything other than hot water, you have traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to thank. Unlike in the West, TCM is not an “alternative” therapy here but a fact of life. At the core of this set of Chinese medical practices is the idea that good health comes from living in harmony with one’s environment. Each season has a distinct character and brings with it a particular host of ailments.
According to Taoist thought, the universe is governed by the balancing forces of yin and yang. Yin is associated with female energy, passivity, negativity, and the moon while yang is associated with male energy, activity, positivity, and the sun. Winter is the season of yin, when people should conserve and store their energy rather than expend it.
To understand what that means in concrete terms, we contacted TCM practitioner Dr. Mary Ma from Oasis International Hospital for winter wellness tips.
According to TCM, external energies known as the Six Pathogenic Factors are responsible for changes in weather that can cause disease. They are wind, damp, dryness, cold, heat, and summer heat. In winter, people are particularly vulnerable to wind and cold. “Keeping warm around the neck area and lower limbs is especially important, so wearing scarves and long underwear under your normal winter gear is recommended,” says Dr. Ma.
In addition to keeping warm and hydrated, Dr. Ma recommends a warm foot both before going to bed. Staying hydrated is especially important because in the north of China, people are used to using heaters during winter, which can cause people to suffer from dry skin and a dry mouth or nose. In addition, in winter the respiratory system releases more of the body’s moisture when breathing (in the cold air).
Ladies, Pay Special Attention
“Keeping warm is especially important for women because they belong to the yin. The winter season also belongs to the yin, which means that women suffer more from the cold than men,” cautions Dr. Ma. She recommends putting on extra layers ahead of menstrual cycles, taking warming foot baths, and drinking tea made with ginseng and brown sugar to prevent colds and blood clots during periods. As in all seasons, female readers should avoid stressful or frustrating situations before their menstrual cycles, as getting through them smoothly depends on maintaining good qi (energy).
You Are What You Eat
Because winter is so heavy in yin energy, Dr. Ma says that readers should consume nourishing foods and drinks that contain plenty of yang. These include lamb, ginger, spicy foods, dates, longan, goji berries, boiled pear water, lily tea, black tea, hot water, and date tea. “We want to avoid eating raw or cold foods because these foods belong to the yin,” she says. “If you eat them too much, they will negatively impact yang during the winter season.” Many TCM practitioners recommend warming soups, stews, and broths cooked at lower temperatures for longer periods of time.
Warm Heart, Warm Lungs
The lungs and heart are especially vulnerable to disease in the winter, says Dr. Ma. Children and the elderly are especially at risk for respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and bronchitis. She recommends common sense practices like spending more time exercising or socializing indoors, drinking hot water, and dressing warmly for the outdoors. In addition, those who smoke and drink regularly are at a higher risk for heart disease, and should take special care to cover up areas like the neck.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Some people are susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a serious mood change caused by the changing of the seasons. Symptoms include excessive sleeping, low energy, and depression. Dr. Ma urges readers to participate in social activities. “Spend time with friends and family and don’t stay cooped up at home. TCM encourages people to avoid situations that [cause them to become]negative or pessimistic,” she says. “Accepting that winter is cold and a natural part of life is helpful in maintaining a healthy mind.”
Oasis International Hospital
Dr. Mary Ma specializes in treating a wide variety of disorders using TCM methods like herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion, and acupuncture. She speaks English and Chinese.
Mon-Sat 8.30am-5.30pm (some clinics open from 8.30am-12.30pm), daily 24hrs emergency care. 9 Jiuxianqiao Beilu, Chaoyang District (400 UR OASIS) www.oasishealth.cn 朝阳区酒仙桥北路9号
How to Stay Healthy in Winter
Straight Bamboo founder and TCM expert Alex Tan wrote a comprehensive article on health and wellness tips for winter: straightbamboo.com/how-to-stay-healthy-in-winter
This article originally appeared on page 22-23 of the beijingkids February 2016 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email email@example.com
Photos: Carl Wykoff, Dennis Dalton, Joseph Choi (Flickr), courtesy of Oasis