How to Preserve and Persevere in the Winter Months

by Erin Kumpf

In Chinese theory, the passing of seasons is a reflection of the oscillation and interchanging of yin and yang: from the utmost yang (the brightness and heat of mid summer) to the utmost yin (the quiet, inward, solitude of winter.)  We are now deep into to winter.  Energetically, winter is associated with slowing down, of storage, and of contraction.  This is the season of conservation, of turning inward, and the end of the life cycle.  All the fruits that we have cultivated, grown and harvested during the summer and autumn are stored away in our reserves, mindfully tapped into in order to survive the deep recesses of winter.  It is through deliberate, conscious lifestyle decisions do we use up only what we need and preserve the rest to ensure we have enough to weather out the harshness of winter and ensure we emerge strong and vibrant in spring.  Ways to cultivate preservation in the season of winter include getting adequate rest (going to be earlier and getting up later than we normally would in other times of the year), maintaining proper amounts of activity in which we participate, maintaining good eating habits can help to ensure we are not depleting too much of our reserves.


In Chinese theory, cultivating an awareness of the nuances between seasons, understanding the energetics of the season and adhering to lifestyles that reflect the  current season brings us in harmony with nature and minimizes the potential for illness and the mental and physical depression that afflicts so many of us during these months of limited warmth and sunlight.


Winter, those most yin time of the year, is associated with the WATER element in Chinese Medicine, the element that is by nature, most hard to define.  Water resists definition, yet appears to have boundaries when it is held by earth or vessel.  It can find a passage through any obstruction and it can shape and mold itself in any manner.  That is why the Water element is associated with the spirit  of the “Zhi” or “The Will”; it embodies cleverness, stamina and strength; the cleverness that sparks innovative ideas on how to get around obstacles and to “survive”, plus the strength and stamina that it takes to respond properly and adequately to both physical challenges as well as mental and emotional challenges.


Water is also our most vital resource.   It makes up 50-60% of the human body, is integral to every single cell in our body and requires constant supplementation and proper movement.   Without adequate amounts of water and without proper flow, we would have no movement and without movement things become stagnant.  Proper filtration of the toxins we need to excrete would not occur and the toxic sludge would build up and eventually be reabsorbed into our bodies.  Signs of dehydration will also ensue such as dry skin and fatigue or water retention such as edema and feeling bloated.  Lethargy, difficulty in concentrating, lowered libido, weight gain and depression can weigh in on us.


The Water element is associated with the Kidneys which are responsible for storage; in Chinese Medicine the Kidneys are the source of our prenatal jing: the ancestral energy that was bestowed upon us when our mothers’ egg and fathers’ sperm joined and formed an embryo.  The jing is essentially our constitution; and the amount we are allotted like a trust fund, is set at birth…a reserve to be protected and thought of as our most precious asset.   This essential Qi dictates much of our physiological processes and is the storage and power of our other organs.  We may supplement our reserves and limit how much we tap into our stored Qi with proper food, purified air we take in, and proper rest,  but once depleted, the trust fund of our prenatal jing is very hard to replace.  When we need energy that goes beyond the food and air we take in, we draw upon our Kidneys and stored jing.  Over work, inadequate rest, improper physical activity, excessive use of recreational drugs and too much sex can all deplete our reserves.  If we can achieve a balanced level in these areas, by following the flow of nature, we are better equipped to preserve our most precious asset. This is most true during the winter season: a time of rest and contemplation, of strength gathering, a time when we need to preserve.


How do we preserve and persevere!?


  1. Eating food that are heavy on soups, hearty stews, congee and warm drinks. Specific foods that are particularly good now are black beans, black sesame seeds, bone marrow, cabbages, chard, ginger, kale, miso, mulberry, turnips, walnuts, eggs, Chinese yam, dates, black fungus, and leeks.
  2. Avoid eating too much or too little.
  3. Ensure you are properly dressed when going outside is important as well, such as wearing a hat, hood or scarf.
  4. Get adequate rest; if you can only get limited hours of rest during the night, take some breaks throughout the day to recharge.
  5. Exercises to help open up constricted joints and tendons from the cold such as yoga (think restorative!) is perfect.
  6. Staying healthy by signing up for an acupuncture treatment, which can help boost immunity, is also recommended.

And remember…this is the season where we are resting up and building strength to burst open wide the seeds and ideas that will be born and cultivated in the spring!


Winter…a recap

  • Associated with the Water element
  • Slowing, storage, cold, yin
  • Reserves, adequate flow, cleansing
  • Preserving reserves and adequate rest
  • Associated with the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder
  • The spirit is the “Zhi” or “The Will” which is our stamina, endurance and strength
  • Emotion of “fear” which is associated with our basic instinct to survive and evokes cleverness and innovation
  • A time to eat nourishing, warming foods and getting adequate rest
  • Reflection, solitude and silence
  • Contains the seeds of Spring and the potential for life


Erin Kumpf L.Ac, is a leader in her field, holding a Masters of Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is slated to complete her doctorate in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in mid 2016. She incorporates various facets of Chinese Medicine including acupuncture, herbal, tui na (massage), gua sha, Chinese diet therapy and moxibustion into each treatment. While working as a general practitioner, she also has additional clinical training at the Lutheran Medical Center, working in the Labor and Delivery Ward as well treating substance abuse and addiction at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers. She approaches and respects each patient as a unique individual with unique ailments and strives to help them to wellness with personalized strategies.


Book a consultation with Erin here.