Winter On the West Coast of Ireland
I have been in love with the concept of seasonal energy for decades. After all, it is not merely about just changing your wardrobe; it’s about adapting your diet to suit the environment and ‘Living’ with the Seasons. Here in Galway, when I see people in cafes and bistros eating cold salads and drinking chilled fruit juices during the cold winter months it makes me shiver. Talk about putting out your digestive fire!
My interest in health and nutrition over the past 40 years eventually led me to the macrobiotic approach to eating. When applied with common sense this is a very flexible way of eating. It reflects the connection between humanity and the planet – it is an ecological approach to eating and I love it.
Modern macrobiotic dietary principles have developed over the past 50 years in America, Europe and Asia. They are based on the philosophy of Asian medicine as practised in China and Japan. These concepts reflect physical, environmental and social observations over a period of more than 5000 years. Although the philosophy bears little relationship to Western nutritional science, the conclusions are very similar.
At our MACROVegan Centre in Oranmore, Co. Galway, we teach all our clients and students about the macrobiotic approach to eating. This way of eating focuses on assisting the body to recover from nutritional stress, often the result of the modern diet, and return to a more sensible state of biological balance. The diet helps the body exercise its own self-healing capacity.
Try my healing tea that I suggest below and give your kidneys some T.L.C (tender, loving care) during the cold damp months of winter. Go one step further and have your partner or friend treat you to a ginger compress; it’s heaven on earth. Of course, they will expect a treatment in return, but it’s great to nourish each other through the colder, darker months of winter. Bill and I adore this season of preserving and nourishing our energy that allows us to jump full force into spring.
Note: You will find instructions on how to do a ginger compress in the articles section on the website.
It’s All About Balance! The study of yin and yang energy is useful but is complemented in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) by the theory of the Five Transformations. The dynamic interaction between yin and yang does not produce a universe of simply black and white. Because of the infinite possibilities of yin and yang interaction, each with varying degrees of dominance, a wide variety of energetic qualities is possible. This is just like the water of a river that changes its character dramatically from rapids to waterfalls to silent ponds, before eventually flowing into the sea. The primary energy of nature expresses itself with incredible diversity, but it is the appearance that changes and not the primary reality of the water.
In TCM and Macrobiotics each season of the year is represented by an energy that dominates. Spring is dominated by TREE energy that rises and is the birthing of vegetal life. Summer is represented by FIRE – the energy of the sun and the season of abundance. As the energy of the summer wanes there is a swing season, late summer, when energy starts to settle – this is the time of SOIL. Autumn is ruled by METAL energy, when energy concentrates and settles into the earth. This settling and contracting energy is coiled and then released into WATER, the energy that animates winter before rising to continue the cycle.
The concept of seasonal eating is a basic principle in traditional health care systems from around the world. The truth is that people didn’t use to have much of an option. When you don’t have refrigerators and developed transportation systems, you eat what grows when it grows and learn to naturally preserve it, or you find out which foods can be safely stored.
One of the reasons that more people are drawn to this way of eating is that it supports regional self-sufficiency. If we can eat the foods that are produced closer to home it is better for the environment. Another reason to let the seasons guide us in food choices is that it is healthier. With enough flexibility to make a varied diet, the seasons give us what we need and serve as a guide for better health choices.
Hale & Hearty in Winter;
Winter is when the life energy of the earth settles deep within the soil. It is the time of moving within, both socially and physically. The energy of the body wants to move deeper and we have a tendency to conserve energy needed for warmth. We move indoors more and socialize with family and friends. There is a drift towards contemplation and reflection on the past seasons and making plans for the future.
Winter is ruled by the WATER element, which is associated with the kidneys, bladder and adrenal glands. It is a time when nature is silent and still, and at rest. In order to rejuvenate the body and the mind, we also need rest and warmth. The kidneys are of paramount importance to overall physical health and are considered to be the most vulnerable organs at this time of year.
Exercises that help to generate heat and energy in the kidneys, such as certain Pilates and Yoga postures, are extremely beneficial. The kidney energy is also depleted in the winter by long hours of work, excessive exercise or punishing fitness regimes. Little rest, lack of sleep and eating cooling foods are inappropriate for this time of year. If we dampen the warmth of the body in the winter months we are susceptible to colds and fevers.
Health is greatly enhanced by going to bed earlier in the winter and eating good, wholesome hot foods, such as whole grains, legumes, bean stews, soups and warming dinners. This is the season to give yourself permission for a lie in and to encourage yourself to go to bed early. If we take care of our energy in winter and guard against energy expenditure by cultivating quietness and contemplation, we will find ourselves feeling refreshed and healthy in spring.
The body heals and balances itself more quickly when we are still and deeply relaxed. From a place of stillness and deep reflection, we are able to flow with life and change our attitudes, perceptions and life habits with less resistance and personal drama. Nurturing the WATER element is the best way to ensure a long life.
The cooking and food choices outlined for winter are all about warming the body and strengthening the WATER element. If a person is living on a diet all year round that is better suited to hot climates or warm months, they may suffer damage to the kidneys, adrenal glands or sexual organs. The lower areas of the body or kidneys may feel cold, sexual energy may diminish or there may be a weakness in the bones. How many times have you heard someone say that they were chilled to the bone? Cooking for winter can be helpful when the body is locked into a cold condition.
Marlene’s Winter Warming Tea
A great drink for strengthening the kidney, bladder or adrenals.
1 cup adzuki beans
5 cm (2 inch) strip kombu seaweed
4 cups water
Place the adzuki beans in a pot with the kombu seaweed and soak for 4 hours or overnight. Drain, add fresh water and bring to a boil. Lower the flame, cover and simmer for approximately 20–30 minutes. Strain out the beans and drink the liquid while hot. You may continue cooking the beans longer with additional water, until soft and edible. Use the beans in a soup, stew or burgers.
In good health