In Chinese medicine, winter is the season of water. Seasons have specific rhythms and each season represent a part of our bodies. This is tied to nature's seasons and cycles, corresponding to the 5 elements.
Winter is the season of slowing down. It's all about rest, preparing our bodies and minds to be ready for growth and expansion again when the season of spring arrives.
This season provides amazing opportunities to rest. If you look at nature, you'll see clearly that stillness and rest is what's going on.
It´s the Yin part of the year.
The Connection Between Winter and Meridians
Winter is connected to our kidneys and urinary bladder. The related emotions are fear, but also the wisdom that is said to be held by our kidneys in Traditional Chinese Medicine theory.
Color: Dark blue
Organs: Kidneys, Urinary bladder
Meridians: In a functional yoga perspective, we get access to the Kidney meridians through our adductors, groin, and spine. Urinary bladder runs from the top of the head all the way along the back side of our bodies, to our feet. Functionally, we get access to the Urinary bladder meridians through for example forward bends, as well as hamstring stretches.
Looking Ahead: Rest in the Winter to Prepare for Growth in the Spring
This is a time of allowing our bodies and minds to rest. To treat our bodies and minds with movement of course, but no vigorous activities that can drain our bodies of energy. Just as most animals, we need to allow ourselves some time to rest enough, so we can be ready to meet spring when it´s time to grow again.
Have you ever thought about why there is such a thing as spring depression? Well, according to Chinese Medicine theory, this is simply because we don't rest enough during rest season.
When spring arrives it's time to plan, grow, expand and look ahead. Nature will start to awaken again. Nature will start to awaken and go green, thanks to the season before, the water season of winter. The ice of winter will start to melt, and by doing so it will give nature what it needs, water to grow and start all over again.
Do we humans live like this? Not much, but we should, if we want to meet spring with fresh energy to meet the new cycle of Yang again. If we have depleted our bodies and minds during winter season, we can't meet the energy of spring to rise like a growing tree. Instead, we get depressed and tired.
How does nature behave during winter? Go out and look. Study the water, trees and everything around you. Can you see how nature is in stillness, resting? Can you feel how nature is trusting what is. Trusting that everything will grow again in spring?
Even if nature is in rest, of course it's okay to move our bodies. Many people love skiing and snowboarding, and it´s all good. As long as we balance it out with… yeah, you know it: rest.
Winter teaches us that the only way to fully enjoy the powers of the season is to surrender to it and learn from what it has to offer us. In winter the earth lies fallow; nature appears frozen and dead. In this deep stillness of nature, winter calls us to look into our depths, to reconnect to our inner being, to befriend the darkness within us and around us. In winter—like the seeds that are beginning their metamorphosis and starting to manifest their destiny in the deep recesses of the earth—all of our energies are being called to examine the depths of our being.
From Fear to Wisdom
The main emotion for winter is fear, and it's connected to the color of dark blue, just like the deep ocean. The organs is connected to water metabolism in our bodies. In Chinese Medicine as well as Western medicine, kidneys are connected to stress. If we get stuck in stress, we're going to produce stress hormones over and over again. We need to slow down and back off to allow our bodies a chance of recovery.
It is said that our kidneys hold our deepest wisdom, our blueprint as well as our deepest fears. But just as all our other organs, which are all connected to different emotions, fear doesn't have to be bad. We need to be able to feel fear. We need to be able to kick off our fight or flight response in our bodies, to be able to save ourselves in case of danger. This danger isn't too often a dangerous animal these days. The danger and fear we feel is stuff like not being good enough, talking in front of audience and so on.
Fear is the emotion associated with the Water Element. In a healthy way, fear is an emotion that moves and directs us to remain alert and attentive to our surroundings and situation. When confronted with danger, constructive fear can guide us with a message of caution and restraint and fill us with a sense of readiness and courage to face whatever situation might present itself.
We're hardwired to feel fear; but like everything else in Chinese medicine, it's neither good nor bad. We must know how to let it pass, and to understand the profound difference between actual fear and fear that isn't necessary according to the situation.
Working with deep Yin yoga poses can help us tap into this emotion and shift fear to wisdom. By working on trust, using the energy of the season to rest, and getting in contact with our deep wisdom we hold in our bodies, we can learn to live with fear rather than constantly trying to escape it.
Yoga Poses for the Season
During your practice try and target your kidney and urinary bladder meridians, i.e. your adductors, hamstrings and spine. The calming effect of Yin yoga is amazing, where you´ll target your fascia (where your meridians flow) to help regulate Qi and blood in your body.
Keep Warm: Prepare for the weather, and dress accordingly. Chinese medicine says that the neck and shoulder areas contain the “Wind” points through which pathogens can enter, so keep these areas protected; wear a scarf and keep your neck covered. Meanwhile, enjoy everything that winter has to offer, within nature and within your inner self.
Good yoga poses to stretch your adductors through Yin yoga are Butterfly pose, Dragonfly pose and Frog pose. To target your spine, do forward bends, back-bends and rotations, as well as poses for lateral flexion such as ½ Butterfly pose and Bananasana. In need of some inspiration? Go check my separate page for Yin yoga.