winter sled_fullBy Sara Calabro

Winter officially begins on Thursday. The holiday frenzy surrounding this week makes it easy to overlook the milestone. But winter is the season that sets the stage for good health in the year ahead. It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on.

In acupuncture theory, the move from one season to the next is a significant event. Humans are viewed as microcosms of the natural world that surrounds them, so seasonal changes can greatly influence how we feel. Each season has an associated natural element, organ and emotion. Acupuncturists examine these associations to determine whether a person is appropriately adjusting.

In winter, think water

Winter is the season of Water.

Water as winter’s element is evident all arounds us. Frost forms, lakes freeze, icicles drip. We also notice ourselves constricting—feeling more isolated and introspective, physically curling up to keep warm.

Water also contains the potential for loosening. This is what distinguishes winter from fall, the season of Metal. Fall is about reduction, getting clear on what really matters and letting go of the inessential. Winter is also a time of paring down and pulling inward but these actions are taken in order to make way for expanding outward come spring. Like water, winter is simultaneously still and teeming with life below the surface.

In winter, acupuncturists look for healthy expression of Water-like qualities. Is the person introspective? Is she curious? Careful? Modest?

Since there is a tendency for Water expression to become exaggerated in winter, it is common for these qualities to be more prominent this time of year. However, when introspective starts bordering on withdrawn, careful becomes paranoid, and modest becomes self-deprecating, it may indicate imbalance.

Be kind to your Kidneys

The organ system associated with Water and winter is Kidney.

Physical symptoms that are related to Kidney—and hence, tend to be more common in winter—include low back pain, knee pain, hearing impairment, painful or difficult urination, teeth and gum problems, erectile dysfunction and infertility.

In acupuncture theory, the Kidneys are considered the most vital source of energy, the root of all else. When the Kidney system is out of whack or depleted, it can wreak havoc on any other system throughout the body, and vice versa. All roads somehow connect to Kidney.

This means we have to be especially careful in winter. By nature, it’s a time for rest and restoration. When we ignore that by continuing about our go-go-go lifestyles, the consequences are more damaging than they might be during times of year that are more conducive to activity. In winter, our Kidneys are more likely to get zapped. Be gentle.

Fear is in the air

Depleted Kidneys and/or Water imbalances often appear in conjunction with fear, the emotion associated with winter.

Fear is a normal and expected emotion. We need it in order to measure risks and make wise decisions. In winter, people may feel extra cautious about things that at other times seem less daunting.

Fear that limits a person to the point of severely affecting his ability to socialize or develop trust is worthy of further inquiry. However, the notion that we are prone to a fearful sense of the world in winter can be helpful for weighing treatment options.

Seasonal affective disorder is a common biomedical diagnosis for patients who have a tendency to retract in the colder, darker months. Many of these patients are prescribed antidepressants. Although some people are legitimate candidates for medication, a large number are simply experiencing the emotional predisposition that is normal during this time of year.

Amid the abundances that lay before us this week and next, let’s honor the onset of winter by paying some attention to conservation.

Photo by Sara Calabro

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