A Self-Care Practice for Winter Using The Wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine

This is part of Alison's 5 part TCM self-care series.

The first piece is in preparation for the Winter season. 

Northern Hemisphere: December to February

Southern Hemisphere: June to August


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) promotes the idea of living in harmony with nature. The belief is that as the seasons change, so does your need for self-care. The organs that are most closely related to Winter are the Kidneys and their paired organ, the Bladder. These organs are associated with the water element and are closely connected to your ears, bones, teeth, hair, and the emotions of fear, and shock. 


Why would you want to care for your Kidneys?

The TCM function of the Kidneys is slightly different from what we know from modern medicine. The Kidneys are thought to store our acquired qi. This means that some of your health depends on your parents' health at your conception - in modern terms, this is your genetic code. So, your parents give you a deposit of health currency that you need to top up. It is important that you conserve your Kidney energy to protect your vitality. 


Why are the Kidneys associated with fear?

Each organ is more closely affected by a particular emotion. The Kidneys are intimately related to fear and shock. This is easy to imagine as your adrenal glands sit on top of your Kidneys, and they release hormones to help you get through dangerous situations. Of course, back in the cave days, the danger was the wolf at the door, hormones would have been released to help us fight or run from that situation, and then we would have a period of calm before the next predator came sniffing. But, our modern stress is relentless. We have external stressors such as commuting, constant emails, or emotional stress such as a relationship breakdown. But we also have perceived stress such as the feeling of not being enough. If we don't get a chance to complete the stress cycle and have a period of rejuvenation then our adrenal glands and Kidney energy become depleted and we start to head towards burnout. 


What causes our Kidneys to go off-kilter?

  • Overwork
  • Not enough downtime
  • Irregular eating habits
  • Excessive amounts of sex/ejaculation (this mostly affects men)
  • Cold temperatures
  • Not feeling safe
  • Long-held fear or shock


Quick Winter Warmers

Bone broth: Your Kidneys govern bone growth and development. It is thought that boiling the bones from the meat will extract the collagen which is good for your bone health. And vegans can get similar benefits from dark-coloured foods like black sesame seeds, green leafy vegetables, or black beans. 


Time near water: Your Kidneys belong to the water element. Getting wrapped up and heading out for a walk to your nearest body of water will benefit your Kidney energy. Extra points if you take some deep breaths and imagine breathing in the water energy and sending it down to your Kidneys.


Pull your ears: Your Kidneys are reflected in your ears. A little trick if you are feeling tired is to gently massage your ears. This will give you a micro boost of energy and is particularly good for online video meetings!


Stay warm: Acupuncturists go on and on about keeping your feet warm. The belief is that cold can enter through the feet then travel along the meridian to the Kidneys. So make like grandma and get your warm socks on, have a long vest or Haramaki, and snuggle down with your hot water bottle. 


Honour the season:

Christmas falls right in the middle of when we should be hunkered down in our cave. It can be a lovely distraction from the long Winter days, but it can also be manic and ex-haus-ting!! This is the time to practice your boundaries, figure out where you want to spend your energy, and conserve the rest.


Forget about New Years' resolutions:

New Year’s Day comes at the worst time for making resolutions. During Winter we should be taking time to rest, retreat, and restore. If you are to honour the seasons then you might want to slow down your exercise practice rather than start a vigorous regime. Movement is still important, but now is the time for slow movements like yin yoga or Tai qi, which will nourish rather than deplete you. 


Support your psoas:

Your psoas muscle is a super deep muscle that connects your trunk to your legs. Your Kidneys glide up and down your psoas (via the fascia) with each breath. Deep breathing, or lower back, and hip stretches will help to keep your psoas and Kidneys mobile.



The Kidney meridian starts on the sole of your foot at an acupuncture point called Kidney 1 or 'Bubbling Spring'. If it is accessible to you, you can massage the base of the ball of your foot, or you can get a tennis ball and use that to hit the spot.


Nature shows us that Winter is about conserving energy, for us humans that means both physical and emotional. It is natural to feel tired during this season, but if you find that you are exhausted, are suffering from cold hands and feet, lower back pain, or knee pain, then book in with your friendly acupuncturist who will check your Kidney qi, and will also give you a personalized approach to supporting your particular constitution. 


To learn more about Alison Williamson and her practice in England, check her contributor bio.