Winter, Oriental Therapies and Food Choices

I have a love / hate relationship with winter.

I love sitting in front of an open fireplace, and I love feeling the warmth of the sun on my back. I am also one of those people who feels the cold, and I often have to resort to wearing a ridiculous amount of layers, gloves and beanies.

According to Oriental Therapies, winter is a time of rest and repose, a time of slowing down and allowing life to be. The season of winter relates to the kidney energy, the element of water and the colour blue-black. Imagine a dark body of water, deep and mysterious. Kidney energy resides deep in the body, in our bones and bone marrow. There is a sense of introversion with the kidney energy and with the season of winter. Where I live, we are in the middle of winter and it feels like a harsh winter with cold days and even colder nights, as well as lots of rain. Last year I was happily kayaking throughout winter. This year, I’ve only gone out once on the water this winter.

Foodwise, the salty flavour relates to winter. When I get a cold or flu, I find myself craving salty flavours. Miso soup with a sprinkle of seaweed and fresh ginger is usually how I satisfy this craving. Miso soup made from a heaped teaspoon of miso paste, is my version of ‘instant soup’ to which I add whatever is on hand – mushroom, egg noodles, dark leafy greens, frozen peas, rice, in fact any sort of leftovers!

Other salty foods include: chives, parsley, celery, barley, soy sauce, tamari and anchovy. 

Be careful however when adding salt in cooking and to food, as many of our foods already contain added salt. If you are going to add salt, use the Himalayan variety which is full of essential minerals, compared to ordinary table salt.  

Bone broth is particularly beneficial in winter, as it is made from bones and marrow, which are deep inside the body and relate to the kidney / winter energy in Oriental Therapies. There are many cuisines around the world which incorporate bone broth in one form or another, but my favourite would have to be Vietnamese Pho which is usually made from a slow cooked bone broth with the most amazing flavours added to it. If you don’t feel like slow cooking bone broth, there are plenty available on the market, to which you can simply add protein and veggies of your choice. Look for one that has been slow cooked for at least a couple of hours.

The salty flavour tends to draw energy inwards and downwards, thus helping to maintain body warmth. It also has a moistening and detoxifying action which counteracts the drying affects of winter. 

Apart from salty flavoured foods, make sure you include lots of warming flavours such as ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cloves. The perfect excuse to drink more Chai! Also include warming foods such as onion, leek, pumpkin, coconut, cashews, black beans and oats.

Minimise cold foods such as tomatoes, bananas, pineapple, yoghurt. (The mere thought of these foods reminds me of summer!) Otherwise, balance cold foods with warming flavours, for example add basil and garlic to a tomato based sauce, or add curry paste to yoghurt for a yummy sauce base. 

If you slow down enough to be able to hear the soft whisper of the wisdom of your body and being, it will guide you to the foods that you need at any particular time. Also, look around you at any time of year to notice what mother nature is doing and allow yourself to be guided by her example and by her wisdom. This winter, allow yourself to listen without judgement and to honour the wisdom of your body and being.

A time for enforced Self Care!

Image by Anrita1705 from Pixabay

I recently tested positive for Covid. While watching others around me test positive with various degrees of severity, I felt like it was almost inevitable that I would contract the virus at some stage. Somehow I managed to evade it for a couple of years, even though I have worked through the pandemic, closely with Covid positive people.

The timing of me testing positive pointed towards universal and divine timing at play. I had just come back from holiday and it was a day after my birthday (which I spent happily alone recovering from a whirlwind holiday). I hadn’t been at work for a week which meant that none of my work colleagues would be affected.

Forced into isolation for at least 7 days, I had the pleasure of enjoying stunning autumn days in my humble abode, away from the responsibilities of the outside world. I’m grateful that I made the decision to get vaccinated as my symptoms after the first two days were actually quite mild.

As a long time student of Oriental Therapies and Yoga, I felt like I had an abundance of tools to deal with the virus. My children dropped of some rye sourdough, freshly picked lemons and oranges and I was set. This was going to be a lovely opportunity to focus on self care, and simply go with the flow.

Oriental Therapies refers to any sort of negative impact on the body, as a pernicious influence, whether it be bacterial or viral. This can be an external pernicious influence (EPI) which is a superficial attack (such as an upper respiratory tract infection) or if left unchecked can develop into an internal pernicious influence (IPI) which is on a deeper level and harder to treat, (such as a lower respiratory tract infection or pneumonia). I wanted to keep this virus at a superficial level so it wouldn’t enter too deeply into my body.

The body’s natural defense against any sort of attack is the inflammatory response, such as phlegm created in response to foreign bodies in the upper respiratory tract. However an exaggerated inflammatory response can be harmful, as seen in autoimmune disorders. In Oriental Therapies, inflammation is synonymous with the condition of Damp, which makes sense when you think of phlegm – a sticky, damp substance. Damp also creates a sense of heaviness and lethargy, as well as the brain fog so often associated with Covid, or most illnesses for that matter.

Certain foods exacerbate Damp, whereas other foods help to break it down. Foods such as red meat, alcohol, refined sugars, saturated fats, yeast, dairy, bananas, tomato concentrate and orange juice are examples of foods which create damp in the body. This makes sense when you consider the texture of these and how they make you feel after ingesting them.

Other foods help to break down damp. These include just about anything with a bitter flavour (so under-represented in the western diet!), pears, basil, green tea, garlic, seaweed, ginger, lemon, barley, buckwheat, rye.

With this in mind, my drink of choice is green tea with lemon, honey and ginger, (as well as lots of water!) I make a big pot and simply sip it over a few hours.

My lunch of choice is a simple soup with cooked chicken, soba noodles (made from buckwheat), greens, carrot, miso, garlic, ginger and seaweed, all thrown in together. It smells amazing and I’m grateful that I haven’t lost my sense of smell! A toast of rye sourdough with butter is the perfect accompaniment.

My dinner of choice is a simple curry made with whatever veggies I have on hand. At the moment these include onion, choko (thank you neighbours for sharing these from your garden!), potato, mushrooms and greens, and served with rice. Curry is a pungent flavour which is renown in Oriental Therapies for expelling EPI’s.

I’ve also been craving pears and shortbread biscuits. The chocolate easter eggs that I was craving last week, I cannot stand the sight of, this week!

This is hardly the time to be indulging in raw foods as these are harder for the body to digest according to Oriental therapies, which claims that these subdue the digestive fire. On the other hand, cooked foods are already ‘partially digested’. The same is true of drinking cold drinks which ‘put out the digestive fire’.

The beauty of Oriental Therapy is that it is very much about the individual rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach. So if the sound of these foods sounds totally unappealing to you, then by all means find some that do. Tune into your body and listen to what it has to say to you. By all means experiment. If you are craving a particular food, notice how it makes you feel after ingesting it. Your body will tell you.

If you have been forced into isolation through Covid, or any other illness, take this time to practice self care. If you feel like binge watching your favourite series, give yourself permission. If you feel like sleeping in the day, give yourself permission. If you feel like sorting through your wardrobe, give yourself permission. If you feel like sitting and looking for images in the clouds, give yourself permission. This is not a time of ‘shoulds’ but a time of being in the moment and deciding how you want to spend that moment, for after all, life is a series of consecutive moments.

Yoga has taught me to listen to my body, ask what it needs in the moment, and honour that. If I feel too tired to sit upright for meditation, I can do so in a semi reclined position, or in Viparita Kirani (legs up the wall), or in supported Bridge pose, with a bolster under my sacrum.

I ask myself, where do I feel tension in my body, and what can I do to relieve it. If my body is fighting a virus and I am feeling tired, this is not a time for vigorous sun salutations, but a time for gentle stretching and restorative poses. I don’t overthink it, but rather step on the mat and be guided by my body.

So if you find yourself forced into isolation, allow this time to be one of self care and nurturing, whatever that means to you. You are here and now, so you may as well enjoy it! Allow yourself to let go of expectations. Allow yourself to play, to rest, to restore, to be.