The darkest days of the year are upon us! In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is defined as the end of the seasons. It is the coldest most yin time of the year. This year in the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice is December 21. On that day, yin energy in nature will reach its peak before it slowly begins the transformation to yang.
The Chinese Character for the word "winter" is an image of the sun locked up and stored in an upside down bottle (see character on the right.) This is a very clever way to show us that the energy of winter is closing and storage.
During this period, all of nature is in a state of stillness and hibernation. Therefore, it's the best time of year to conserve your energy and nourish your qi. Qigong practices for winter emphasize stillness and inward reflection, sleeping longer hours, taking naps, self-massage and maintaining internal warmth throughout the organs especially in the lower dantian which is your internal furnace.
Physically, winter qigong practices focus on the organs of the water element: the kidneys and the urinary bladder.
In the Five Elements Phases of Traditional Chines Medicine, winter expresses the water element. In your body, the water element particularly affects your kidneys, urinary bladder, fluids, spinal cord, bone marrow and brain. The kidneys are considered the energy batteries of the body. They store the Yuan Qi, the precious gift of qi that we inherited from our parents. They also store the reserve qi, Jing Qi, which effects our general energy and sexual potency. When our kidneys' energy is weak, the whole body becomes weak and we cannot actualize our full potential or will-power. The kidneys also rule the water element by regulating its distribution and excretion through our body fluids, urine, and the blood.
Because the kidneys are so critical to our state of vitality, there are thousands of qigong practices that focus on cleansing, nourishing and circulating the kidney qi. In the winter, the qigong classics suggest that we pay extra attention to conserve our energy and focus on tonifying or nourishing life qigong practices, called Yang Sheng. Qigong Flow for Happy Kidneys, focuses on nourishing the kidneys, and is designed to purge, tonify, and circulate.
Emotionally our qigong will focus on transforming fear or fright into trust and tranquility.
Can you imagine what it was like for the ancient people to survive the winter season? It was a time of danger, scarcity and death. Even today with our modern luxuries, those who live in remote locations are familiar with the trials of snowstorms and the priority of warmth and resources. Therefore, the natural emotion that resonates with winter is fear or fright. Therefore, the natural emotion that resonates with winter is fear or fright.
One of the unique principles of Daoist wisdom is that emotions are not stored in the mind, they are stored in the organs and tissues of our body. In particular, the emotions of fear and fright are stored in the kidneys. As we work with the kidneys in this season's routines, we will be naturally transforming fear into trust and tranquility. As a result of this transformation, the emotional virtue or spirit of the kidneys that arises is zhi, meaning will power. When our will power is in a state of optimal balance, we have a natural sense of confidence that we project into the world to promote peace and connection.
Energetically, winter supports our ability to reflect inward and cultivate awareness.
Winter teaches us to become still and awaken the awareness of our senses. One of the best practices to attune your energy with the yin energy of winter is meditation.
In honor of the conserving nature of the winter season, after each practice I suggest that you immediately take a five to ten-minute nap, or longer, to nourish your qi and allow the body to process the energy work. Then when you wake up you will feel refreshed and revitalized!
The above is an original article by Marisa Cranfill, author of YoQi: Qigong Flow for Happy Organs, a 5-Set DVD, published October, 2020 and YoQi: Six Healing Sounds Qigong, published August, 2020 and YoQi: Qigong for Stress Relief, published by August 2020 by YMAA Publication Center.