Mirroring our well-being with the seasons
Wellbeing in the New Year, February 2, 2017 introduced the Ancient Chinese concept of Jie Qi. Within this system the year is divided into 24 fifteen-day segments. The Chinese New Year starts in the beginning of February (this is determined on the Lunar calendar so the date on the Julian calendar is not fixed). The Jie Qi then progress throughout the year in fifteen-day intervals. Each of the 24 Jie Qi is named to highlight the main “energetic” present during that period and each provides us with a practical guide to healthy living during that timei.
The current Jie Qi, beginning October 22nd, is Shaung Jiang or “Frost Descends”. It is the first period in which “real” cold arrives ahead of the coldest time of the year. Shaung Jiang is also an important turning point here in the Northwest. There is often a rapid change from the mild and dry months preceding to the current cold and damp conditions.
During Shuang Jiang it is important to bundle up because the light and heat of the sun are in full retreat. The daylight hours decrease by about three minutes with each passing day. For some the rain and the cold are a welcomed change from the progressively longer and warmer summers we are experiencing here in the Pacific Northwest. For many, however, there is a sense of dread for the darker, colder, wetter days.
Best practices for staying healthy during the coldest months
The principles of Shaung Jiang tell us that it is possible to thrive physically and emotionally during these days. The earlier you prepare and adjust your lifestyle according to the season, the better you will weather the next few months and Jie Qi.
In Classical Chinese Medicine, the energetics of Shuang Jiang or “Frost’s Descent” dictate that the most important thing to do is keep the body heat protected. Protecting the lower back, knees and feet from cold is especially important for maintaining good health at this time of year. This is also essential to prevent long-term complications from exposure to cold. As the days become shorter and nights longer, sleeping habits should adjust accordingly.
Early to bed and late to rise, following the visual queue of the sunlight, is what is best for the body during the winter months. This may be difficult to adhere to literally especially given the norms of work and school schedules, but the lesson here is that even a little more sleep (30 minutes to an hour) will be beneficial with the advent of Shuang Jiang.
Shuang Jiang is related in Chinese Medicine to the Kidneys. This is the organ most susceptible to cold, over activity, and to “burning the candle from both ends.” Too many late nights and early mornings draw upon the vital energy, or Qi, of the Kidneys, which the Ancient Chinese knew was a finite resource.
This is the energy that fuels the body’s metabolic processes, controls mood, the ability to relieve stress, contributes to cardiovascular health and plays an important role in immune system modulation. The Qi of the Kidneys, once over-taxed, takes longer to recover the older we get and places stresses on the body that can have lasting effects. The advanced aging of muscles, skin, the senses, bones and even some key body systems (cardiovascular, respiratory, digestion, cognitive, etc) often have their roots in overindulgences and over-taxation of the Kidneys.
Shaung Jiang and your body’s heatlh account
A good way to think about this is how your body reacts to late night “partying” (whatever that means to you) the older you get. At some point you reach an age where it takes your body significantly longer to recover than it did when you were younger. The Kidney Qi is at its most abundant at an early age. It acts as a savings account and whenever your body spends more than it produces (through your daily intake of healthy food, rest, and self-care) it draws upon this savings.
This account becomes less abundant and therefore sometimes doesn’t have enough to repair and recover from damage. The damage comes in the form of too little rest, too much activity, and not eating appropriately for the season. This savings account is much more susceptible to being overdrawn during the colder months than at any other time of year.
Why is it harder in the wintertime for the Kidneys to supply what the body needs? Why can’t the body just supply at the same rate all year round? Two key ingredients are at a premium, especially in the temperate zones during the winter, sunlight and heat. It takes more energy to maintaining equilibrium during the colder months. Keeping the body at a temperature that is conducive to all of the metabolic processes necessary for the body to function means less resources are available for other systems to draw from.
Exercise & Rest during Shaung Jiang
For example, we can consider the musculoskeletal system. We all know that exercising is a vital part of staying healthy. Adhering to the Jie Qi, however, you must detail how, where and when to exercise to best support the body. Exercising outside, no matter how bundled in 30 to 40 degree weather versus 60 to 80 degrees in the summer taxes the body. This deficit is worse in those areas where the temperatures are much colder in the winter.
During Shuang Jiang Chinese Medicine encourages less intense and extreme sweat inducing exercises and more stretching, and core workout exercises like yoga, taiji and qi gong. Why? Sweat is the body’s technique to cool the body down.
Diet, Nutrition & Temperature at this time of year
In addition to getting enough rest, appropriate exercise in appropriate places, and reducing your late night early morning activities, diet plays a critical role in nurturing your body during Shuang Jiang. Apples, walnuts, and lamb are good examples of foods that nourish the Kidney Qi and help to reduce the loss of resources from our metabolic savings account. A dietary staple in many East Asian countries is congee.
Congee, a warm rice porridge fortified with various other ingredients, is often a mainstay breakfast food and sometimes used in other meals too. It is a great way to start the day with a warm very nourishing meal that is light and easy to digest. While it is the best choice, other options for breakfast are slow cooked warm breakfast porridges. Slow cooked because the longer the porridge is cooked the more the grains are broken down and easily digested.
Other healthy foods this time of year are dates, pumpkin, squashes, black beans, peanuts, sweet potatoes and yams, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, chestnuts, and figs. All of these are familiar to many of us as seasonal holiday food favorites. That is another guideline that we should use when selecting food as medicine. If it is local and has been traditionally a seasonal food then it is, in general, a good food for that time of year.
Lamb is a favored food for this time of year because according to Classical Chinese Medicine it is a very warm/hot and nourishing meat. Very little is needed to nourish and warm the body and it is best served in a stew or soup to get the most benefit. As with any dietary advice these foods are not appropriate for everyone and a carefully planned and personalized dietary plan should be formulated for any specific health condition you may have. But in general, these foods are considered very beneficial for most relatively healthy people this time of year.
Another important lifestyle choice to support the body during Shuang Jiang is avoiding cold food and beverages. For reasons mentioned above we want to keep the body from having to work hard to keep its core temperature. Cold, raw vegetables, refrigerated fruits, juices and iced teas, waters and sodas should be kept to a minimum. Warm, cooked, and room temperature foods and beverages are best.
Foods with cinnamon are a great choice and chai is one beverage that is beneficial during this time of year, in moderate amounts. Again, this is assuming you are a relatively healthy individual. If you are seeing a nutritionist, doctor, or East Asian Medical Practitioner (Acupuncturist) for a specific condition check with them with regards to some of the food suggestions.
Shuang Jiang summarized
Shuang Jiang has arrived and for the next fifteen days one should expect to see the cold begin to present itself, manifested in frosted windshields and visible breath in the mornings. These are good reminders that we are now in the cold days of late Autumn and should adjust accordingly.
Shuang Jiang is a great time to retrain ourselves on how to stay healthy in the colder months and transition ourselves away from summertime habits. Stay dry, stay warm, and get plenty of rest. Also remember to modify your activities to support the body in maintaining equilibrium of its core temperature. Be mindful of how the body functions best with the natural progression of the Jie Qi n everything you do. This is the best strategy to staying healthy.
Make an appointment now for health’s sake
Feel free to call or make an appointment online to see us at White Center Wellness Clinic if you have questions about any of this advice or if you are already feeling adverse effects of the colder days and longer nights. We are happy to answer any questions and to help get you moving toward better health and wellness!