The Art of Living: Winter, 1/ 3/ 13, written for the Leschi Community News
At the heart of Chinese medicine is seasonal living. This is the concept of adjusting our behavior to reflect our place in the world around us. The universe is constantly transforming, and one way that we understand this change is through the concept of the year. In one year the Earth travels around the Sun, and we go through a set of seasons. Each season has unique qualities and life must adapt to these qualities if it is to prosper and grow. Failure to do so leads to decline. Even today with insulation from nature- clothing, heating and incredible food access throughout the year, we still inherently adhere to some of these principles. We wear a coat in winter to protect us from the cold. In summer we like refreshing drinks to tame the heat. The argument for seasonal living is so obvious we call it common sense. Yet if we develop these principles further and really let them guide our decisions they can help us maintain good health through the year and throughout our life.
In this article I will focus on winter, the coldest season. Winter is what we call a yin season, when qualities like cold, dark, stillness, and quiet predominate. On the surface life looks dead but really the vitality is being stored deep inside so that it will be preserved through the cold. We should reflect this in our activities by spending more time inside, resting, reading, working on art projects or other more internal activities. We should get light movement such as walking to combat the stagnation inherent in the season, but it is not a time for vigorous outdoor physical activity (especially if we aren’t wearing adequate clothing).
Regarding our diet, we should combat the cold with warming foods. One way to make our foods more warming is literally to heat them up, eating soups and stews. We can also add warming ingredients like ginger, cinnamon, pepper, chillies, nutmeg, clove, cumin, garlic and onions. It is also appropriate to eat slightly heavier foods, to eat a little meat or fish, whole grains, and hearty vegetables like carrots, squash, parsnips, turnips etc. Stay away from cold food and drink and try to cut down cooling foods like fruit that doesn’t come from a local, in season source.
One winter breakfast recipe that I like which is quick and easy to prepare is to make a miso broth cereal. I prefer miso that is minimally processed and kept refrigerated so that the probiotics are still alive. Add this paste to hot water but don’t boil it, as boiling harms the probiotics. If you like you can add other vegetables such as spring onion, wakame (seaweed), leeks, cabbage or mushrooms etc. If you need to boil the vegetables, do that first and add the miso at the end after you are done boiling. You can also experiment with spices such as cinnamon, ginger, clove etc. Once you have your broth, add your favorite whole grain- it can be cereal (bran flakes etc), oats, cooked rice, quinoa, or whatever you like or have. And there you go, a quick, warming, nutritious start to a cold winter day