Staying Healthy Through The Holidays

A Christmas market in Clifton Mill, Ohio, Unit...
   Most of us see the Winter season as a time to be very active. We're buzzing around here and there seeing family and friends... shopping and cooking for Christmas and Thanksgiving... and trying to get so much done in such a few short months.  Often we end up indulging our appetites as well. Stuffing ourselves with copious amounts of food, desserts, candy, and sometimes alcohol. Although this seems normal and to most is nearly essential, especially in the fast paced culture of the United States, it might not be the most beneficial way to spend our Fall and Winter seasons.
Old Chinese medical chart on acupuncture meridians

   According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM -- the foundation for acupuncture as well as a very advanced form of herbal medicine and holistic arts -- Fall and Winter are seen as Yin seasons... and Spring and Summer as Yang seasons. Fall and Winter are times for less strenuous, restorative activities, balance, and reflection.  This is easily recognized in nature, where some animals store up food and take extremely long naps -- hibernating through the Winter to store up energy for the Spring and Summer months.  In essence, according to the ancient Chinese Taiost philosophy -- which is the basis for Tai Chi, Qigong, and TCM amongst other highly valued health and spiritual philosophies -- being too active in the Fall and Winter seasons causes us to fall out of sync with the natural cycles of the Earth and nature.
Way of the Celestial Masters

   The principles of Yin and Yang are an essential part of the Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine) -- the earliest Chinese medical book, written over 2000 years ago. The Yellow Emperor is regarded as the founder of Chinese civilization.  His Classic of Medicine is considered the basis for Traditional Chinese Medicine and is highly regarded by physicians all over the world.  He also invented the first classical Chinese writing system as well as a myriad of other important things. Regarding the principles of Yin and Yang, The Yellow Emperor says:

   ''The principle of Yin and Yang is the foundation of the entire universe. It underlies everything in creation. It brings about the development of parenthood; it is the root and source of life and death. It is found within the temples of the gods.  In order to treat and cure diseases one must search for their origins... Heaven was created by the concentration of Yang, the force of light. Earth was created by the concentration of Yin, the forces of darkness. Yang stands for peace and serenity; Yin stands for confusion and turmoil. Yang stands for destruction; Yin stands for conservation. Yang brings about disintegration; Yin gives shape to things...."

  Winter Solstice, just a few short days before Christmas, is seen as the most Yin day of the year. It is the darkest and shortest day of the year. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar established December 25th as the official day of the European Winter Solstice. The day when the Earth's axial tilt is furthest away from the Sun.

   Holistic experts agree that to conserve one's energy in the Yin seasons is to nourish oneself and restore their energy for the coming Yang seasons of activity and action. To nourish Yang energy in the Yin seasons is a great way to stay balanced and to keep from depleting one's energy, and to stay in balance with the cycles of nature.

   Some great ways to keep our energy balanced and to stay healthy through the holiday seasons are:
      - Eat cooked, spicy Yang foods
  • Yang strengthening soups
  • Slow simmered stews
  • Beans and roasted root vegetables
  • Warm drinks
  • Yang spices such as Garlic, Ginger, Black Pepper, Clove, and Basil
      - Minimize intake of Yin foods
  • Raw vegetables
  • Salad greens
  • Cold drinks
      - Restorative Yoga
  • Hatha Yoga (Sun/Moon) - one of the best introductions to Yoga which has many static postures suitable for beginners as well as advanced practitioners. 
  • Sun Salutation - A basic series of Asanas (poses) which forms the basis for Hatha Yoga. Most effective when practiced daily in conjunction with deep breathing exercises.
      - Tai Chi, Qigong - Ancient Chinese movement and stillness exercises.
      - Rest, relaxation, meditation

   The key to staying healthy relies on a balance between the concepts of Yin and Yang.  In every season we need to be aware of the cycles of nature as well as the cycles of our own bodies. Often this requires an intuitive awareness of our needs and an ability to respond to our instincts without losing control. This is one of the biggest challenges facing us all and is no easy task.

  Hopefully we can all find more time to nourish our bodies with Yang energy while maintaining the balanced, restfulness of Yin. Even taking a small portion of our day to ponder these concepts and put them in action in the smallest of ways can make a world of difference.

   May you find balance, peace, and health, and have the happiest of holidays...