In the northern hemisphere, we celebrate the shortest day and longest night on the winter solstice, December 21st. Many of us look forward to the Solstice because it marks the beginning of when the light gradually returns. The daylight hours grow longer.
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In The Five Phase Theory or Five Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is the extreme yin season. Each season has its unique set of qualities and attributes. Winter is associated with the internal organs; the kidneys, bladder, and adrenal glands. The colors are black/blue. The element is water. The sound is chui. Each organ holds emotions. The kidneys have the capacity to hold the spectrum of emotion. An imbalanced kidney or deficient kidney Qi holds fear, depression, paranoia. Balanced kidneys hold wisdom, awareness, and courage.
The practice of qigong in winter helps us fortify our will power and creativity so we can face our fears and raise our spirit.
Winter shows us that it's time to release, go inward, to rest, and restore. Most of the plants, trees, and grasses, go dormant. The animals burrow deep in the earth. Nature's activity is hidden on the surface.
I prefer winter and fall when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it; the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."
- Andrew Wyeth
Our Qigong practice is an extension of nature. It helps us understand and deeply embrace how to live in harmony with the seasons and natural cycles of nature and be physically and emotionally healthy.
We need to conserve our strength and store energy (qi) in winter because we are more susceptible to illness and depression. We 'store' energy by preserving what we already have and by cultivating or making more.
How do we build a strong immune system that protects us and facilitates a faster recovery? When it is so damp, windy, cold, and we are already depleted?
Well, fortunately, the practice of qigong follows common sense and is very practical and simple. Nature forces us to slow down because it is so cold. We have to go inside our cozy homes and sit by the fire and stay warm and dry. One of the best ways to protect yourself from losing kidney qi is to keep your low back, feet, and ears warm. We bolster our immunity in the winter when we eat cooked seasonal foods and drink hot teas and broths. Add Astragalus and Ginger Root to your soups for added warmth and immune support.
In the winter season, you want to strike a balance in your qigong practice. On the one hand, you want your approach to be internal soft and not too physical, so you feel depleted. You don't want to force yourself to go go go. When you enter a state of deep relaxation, your qi flows more freely. And you can enter a state where you feel the qi moving you instead of just moving your muscles. This is an opportunity to find stillness within the depths of your inner being and embrace the "darkness" of the season so you can reflect and prepare for the metamorphosis that will take place in the months ahead.
At the same time, when you spend too much time going so deeply within, you do not strengthen your will and fortitude. Some people succumb to too much fear. One way people cope is by staying overly busy just to keep themselves occupied and distracted.
My suggestion is to have a physical practice where you walk and get your body moving to raise your spirit. Stomp your feet on the ground. Pound your chest, kidneys and gluteus. Use the Ha breath to activate and energize your Qi. You can learn more about these techniques in this video. In the video 25 Simple Ways to Improve Your Mood.
A simple breathing technique that directs your mind inward while increasing your guardian Qi is called reverse breathing. Exhale longer than you inhale. This breath not only strengthens your immune system but has also been shown to make you happier and feel more emotionally stable. This breath technique is best understood by experiencing it. Let's practice it together right now.
If you'd like to go deeper and learn more about winter qigong and more ways to increase your happiness, improve your immune system, feel rested and restored, and then join us every Monday evening at 7 pm CST or Tuesday morning at 10 am CST and we can practice together!
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The key thing to remember here is to honor the wisdom of your body. Listen and notice the signals that tell you it's time to replenish. The practice of self-kindness and compassion is foundational, especially in the deep winter months. Patience and acceptance that you move at a slower pace will restore your vitality.
Be open and receptive to the messages from the 'dark' time. It's part of the dance of yin and yang, dark and light. Good things grow in the fertile depths of your being. Your seeds of creativity planted within will start sprouting soon.
"Winter is a season of recovery and preparation."– Paul Theroux
I wish you radiant Qi all winter season. I look forward to practicing with you.
Until next time my friends, breathe deep and always walk in beauty.