Winter Wisdom of Chinese Medicine

The Nei Jing/Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, which presents the cutting edge medical wisdom of its time, is full of brilliant advice for both prevention and cure.  Chapter 2 describe how to adjust our lifestyles to match the natural rhythm of the  seasons.


Winter is the season for “storage” in Chinese Medicine.  It is the storage of winter that allows for the “bursting forth” of Spring. As in nature so in humankind. Storage of what?  Storage of Qi, Blood, Yin, and Yang.  How? To store means to hold on to what you have while accumulating more. 


We accumulate energy through proper breathing, food, and sleep. One aspect of propriety (heaven on earth) is matching our food and sleep to the temperature, humidity, and available sunlight of the season. In the modern world we call this medical chrono-biology.

Winter Wisdom: Chinese Medicine; In Late Autumn and Winter–

Sleep and Rest More  In winter go to bed early and wake up  late.  Nights are longer in winter, the sun sets early and rises late. So we go to sleep early and rise late, not asking our internal sun to do the job of the external sun. If you feel like you are fighting off a cold,  go to bed especially early.  Ditto when you are sick.  Take a day off work and rest really well, and you will save on lost days later.

Protect Your Body from the Elements   Catching a chill weakens your resistance to the rhino-viruses that cause colds. Wind makes us chilled; that is why we run fans in hot weather.  So match your dress to the weather.  We protect ourselves from the rain with rain gear. We also have to protect from the cold and wind with warm clothing.  Especially keep your head, neck, upper back, and belly warm and safe from wind. Wear a hat and a jacket with a warm collar or a scarf.  If you sweat with exercise, dry off as quickly as possible.If you do get a chill after being outdoors,  drink hot ginger or cinnamon tea when you come in.  Boil water, add 3 slices ginger root and simmer a minute. If not available get some masala chai at the cafe. The following culinary herbs are great mixed with ginger as tea: cinnamon, clove, black pepper, fennel, ajwain, black cumin. Add a little milk if you like.

Stay Hydrated/Push Hot Fluids  If you feel like you are coming down with something, besides getting lots of extra rest, really push hot fluids which hydrate mucus membranes in the sinuses, nose, throat, bronchia, and lungs.  For a dry cough nothing beats Pear Juice because of its slippery, moistening quality. Dilute it with water to reduce sugar intake.  Knudsen’s at Whole Foods is 100% pear.  Elsewhere on my site is an Ayurvedic remedy to drink at first sign of a cold when you are feeling chilled or phlegmy. Drink hot soup. Hot soup helps loosens mucus from the lungs, and is the most digestible way to take flesh foods. When you are sick you need easy to digest food, like rice soup, or tea and toast. Chicken soup has a lifting energy in Chinese medicine, which is one reason its good when you feel run down.

Take the Right Herbs  In Classical Chinese Herbal Medicine there are all kinds of herb formulas to treat colds, bronchitis, flu, even strep throat, that work really well and that help your body get better faster. But they need to be matched to your individual pattern, otherwise they might actually weaken your resistance. Many of the over the counter herbal formulas for cold are actually much too bitter and cold energied for most cold conditions that actually need to be warmed. Its all about matching the formula to your unique pattern of disharmony

Avoid antibiotics Unless You Really Need Them   Colds, flus, and the majority of bronchial and ear infections are viral so antibiotics are useless and harmful to your gut and overall resistance to infection.  Sinus infections can be bacterial, but they can also be fungal, especially if chronic. If your M.D. feels you may have a pulmonary bacterial infection, ask her to culture your sputum like they used to do.    At this point in time I feel that Chinese herbal medicine does a better job treating ear, nose,  throat, and lung infections than drugs do, and without the side effects. I have had great success with bronchitis and even walking pneumonia.  Overuse of antibiotics is an international problem, and even when you take them appropriately they damage the beneficial bacteria in your gut. We now know from science that even a single use has the potential to permanently alter the state of your gut, which is integral to your immune system. If you do have to take them, at the very least take a high quality Pro-biotic acidophilus/bifidus supplement

Eat well   Eat freshly cooked food with lots of vegetables. Now we can get grass fed dairy and meats and free range pastured chicken and eggs. Eat it less often, but let it be fresh and with out toxic hormones and pesticides and from animals that live a normal, healthy, natural life with normal food, fresh air, and exposure to the sun. Freshly cooked food is just that; freshly cooked. Frozen food, Trader Joe’s ready meals, etc are not fresh food. They do not have the same Qi. In fact, in Chinese medicine they are called “wrecked” food. Don’t believe me? Boil Rice. Notice the smell. Defrost frozen rice and microwave it. Compare. Which smells better? The difference is the Qi. Restaurant food, too. One, it tends to be very high in fat and salt. Two, you have no way of knowing how fresh the ingredients are. Three, the stress energy of the cooks who are working for a living. Four, if its flesh foods, how about the hormones. Not saying never eat out, but some people always eat out. Sure, east out once in a while, but you cannot have good health without home cooking. Just not possible. Its the truth and that’s life. Be aware of the trade offs.

Eat Seasonally  In cold weather we eat more warming food: more cooked vegetables; less salads and raw veggies. Raw vegetables drain your body’s heat, which is why they are great in summer. In winter we eat more root vegetables, hard squashes, sea vegetables, foods that draw energy in and down. Balance heavier foods with lighter foods, for example Christmas turkey with steamed broccoli and baked butternut squash, rather than stuffing and gravy. Early winter can be quite dry actually, so we take more moistening food, ergo soups and sauces as opposed to a dry sandwich. If you have sushi, have miso soup with it, for example. Eat fruits that are in season, like pears, persimmons, pomegranates, apples. Don’t eat chilling fruits that are out of season like melons.

Manage your stress  Stress weakens the immune system, full stop. Its our response to stressors  that we call stress, just as much as the stressors themselves. Some of us make everything stressful. Winter is a time for introspection as well as celebration. How can I achieve better storage this winter? Celebrate your festivals of light, but contemplate their meaning. Drink wine, yes, but meditate and do Tai Qi or Yoga, too. My favorite Mindfulness Meditation book is Calming Your Anxious Mind

Follow the above and you greatly improve your chance of resistance. And if you do get  a cold, flu or bronchitis, treat it properly and you will get better quicker.  You will have to take lots of rest and push fluids, number one thing. If you want to see the silver cloud in the lining, its that its actually good for your immune system to have this “exercise.”

And here is more info from Ayurveda:…-flu-in-winter/ ‎

Copyright eyton j. shalom, oct, 2012, san diego ca, all rights reserved use with permission.


Pin It on Pinterest