Self-care at Christmas
How to not let the holiday season bring you to a standstill
Who doesn’t love Christmas? Well Okay there’s a few grumpy Scrooge’s out there would claim not to, but I for one am not one of those! Maybe passed onto me from my festive fanatic Mum, I need no encouraging come the 1st of December to start popping on the Christmas songs and popping open the bubbles and mince pies.
December is the month when our to-do lists can run away with us; battling through the shops in the search for presents, work projects that need completing before the winter break, kids Nativities/carol performances/craft projects, Christmas parties laden with booze and rich food, family commitments…it’s no wonder that so many of us fall ill come the holidays when we eventually stop!
Winter in TCM
In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) winter is considered the most Yin like period of the year and corresponds with the element of Water in the Wu Xing, the Chinese 5 elemental wheel. Yin embodies the qualities of calm, stillness, dark, cold and the hidden; unlike its extroverted Yang counterpart of Summer and its element of Fire. And whilst there is always a white dot of Yang light within the black swirl of Yin; like the bright lights and cheer of the Christmas celebrations that break up the long cold December nights, it’s important that we also remember to nourish our Yin like qualities in order to maintain balance at this time of year.
The Water Element in TCM
The Water element is associated with the meridians of the Kidneys (Yin organ, or Zang) and its paired organ of the Urinary Bladder (Yang organ, or Fu). Meridians can be viewed as neural highways of moisture-rich connective tissue which stem throughout our whole body, and through which energy (QI) flows. The Kidneys in TCM are said to be the storehouse of our essence/ vitality (Jing), which can get depleted when we push ourselves too hard or beyond our limits both mentally and physically, a trait which we’re all prone to at this time of year. Blockages and stagnations along these meridians can manifest physically as stiff, tight and achy joints and bones, as it is these areas which are lubricated and nourished by the Water element. Emotionally anxiety or fear may arise in place of the balanced characteristics of this element of courage, resourcefulness and will.
Chinese Medicine believes that winter is the most important time to nourish the Kidneys. This can be helped by cooking foods for longer times and at lower temperatures with less water. Foods which are said to support the Kidneys are anything that is grounding, black, bitter and salty: black bean, Kidney bean, watercress, celery, soya, dried ginger, eggs, seaweed, walnuts, quinoa and bone marrow are a few examples of such foods. Warm hearty soups, spiced vegetable chilli, oriental broths and hearty casseroles made from your butcher’s best bone marrows are the perfect food to eat between festive parties when your body feels like it needs some rebalancing.
Time to pause and reflect
More than ever at this time of the year, it is important that we allow ourselves time to pause, reflect and let go of those things which no longer serve us anymore. It is in the darkness of winter that we are presented the opportunity to turn into ourselves to explore the mysterious and murky waters of our deepest selves. It is here in this bleak winter landscape that we let go of things which need to die, resting our fields and ridding them of toxic roots in order that new life can flourish there come the spring. It is said in TCM that Water nourishes Wood, the element associated with Spring, so by adopting the yielding and flexible attributes of Water we can set ourselves off down a flowing winter river that will come to pass fields blossoming with seeds of new opportunity come the Spring. In our Western culture, in the form of New Year’s resolutions, we too recognise the importance of this death and rebirth cycle, by letting go of old habits at the closing of the year.
The North star
The direction governed by winter and the Water element is North. Just as the mythical star of Bethlehem guided the 3 Kings on their journey through the night, so too the North Star shines in our dense winter skies, a beacon in the dark like the Christmas tree lights that glimmer from the windows of our winter houses. So let there be much light cheer and goodwill to all men this Christmas and festive fun had by all! But don’t forget to take some time out to nurture yourself as well as just others and to allow the natural rhythm of the season and its Yin like qualities space to be, in order that they don’t engulf you when you eventually pause for your holidays.
In My Element
Explore how to live in accordance with the Chinese 5 elements and how to apply them to your yoga and mediation practice, with this inspirational book from Flow Publications.