Updated for 2015: The Winter Season and Our Health

A fundamental premise of Chinese medicine is that our bodies are profoundly affected by our environmental circumstances. The main seasonal change which affects us is the length of the sunlight hours and secondarily the temperatures. The ancient book called the Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine is written as a discussion between the Yellow Emperor and his court physician Li Po. One chapter is a conversation about the affects of the seasons on our health and emotions.

Li Po explains that the energy of nature descends into the earth in winter. The plants and some animals are either dormant or hibernating. The climate is colder and the days are shorter, with the Winter solstice on December 21 being the shortest day of the year.

Rest is very important in winter, one should rest more, going to bed earlier and taking it easy. This suggestion is often in conflict with the demands of the holidays, however, the Yellow emperor is warned that if the energy is not conserved, ones health and immunity will be impaired making it easier to catch a virus for example.

Additionally, conserving energy in winter is important for the flourishing of one’s health in the spring when the energy of nature begins to rise and new growth appears.

To cope with the cooler temperatures it is helpful to eat warming foods, such as roast squash, and root vegetables. Soups and stews made with beans or lentils are also good. Garlic, ginger and cinnamon are good spices to help warm the body. Reduce raw fruit and raw vegetables because the raw foods tend to lower our body temperature.

Each season is associated with a different organ, emotion, color, climate, taste, and direction. For winter these are: the kidneys, fear/anxiety, black, cold, salty and north.

There are many Chinese herbal formulae to boost immunity and prevent virus colds. I always have these in stock at my office.

To reduce colds and virus I also recommend taking 3000 to 5000 units of vitamin D daily. Unless your vitamin D levels are high enough your body will not be able to mount a strong immune response to infection.

A seasonal acupuncture treatment is also a good idea to reduce stress and balance or strengthen the system.


Autumn is a transitional season from the height of Yang, which is summer, into the beginning of Yin, which is autumn.

Autumn is therefore called ‘Little Yin’.  Within the five elements theory, autumn is known as the element Metal and is associated with the color white, the emotion sadness, the activity of harvest, the spicy hot flavor, and the organ is the Lungs. Autumn is the harvest time of year and it is an excellent time for reflection on the harvest of our year, which are the memories of things we have done.

Each change of season can be challenging to our immune system as evidenced by people getting colds at this time.  It can be a good time to consider Chinese medicine for acupuncture or herbs to balance or brace up one’s system and address any imbalances.

There are many herbal immune tonics in the Chinese pharmacopoeia.  In addition, if you get a head cold or virus there are effective formulas to treat the symptoms and shorten the duration of illness.

More on Yin and Yang

Yin and yang are the theoretical basis of Chinese Medicine and not coincidentally, the Taoist philosophy.  These two complimentary opposites represent the positive and negative energetic polarities of all matter.  Yin and Yang dance and interact with each other in predictable ways to, as the Taoist’s say, ‘create everything in existence’.

All Chinese medical theories are derived from Yin/Yang principles. These include: meridian theory, six divisions, five elements and the eight principles.

Of these, the five element theory relates specifically to the seasons.  Our seasons are an evolution from Yin to Yang, both in climate and the length of sunlight hours. It is the Earth’s orbit around the Sun that creates the seasons and the energetic signature of the five elements.

Each season has a different amount of yin or yang. When the orbit is closer and we are hotter, the climate is more Yang; when the Earth is further from the sun and we are colder, the climate is more Yin.

The yin and yang theory specifies that:

Yin is female, Yang is male

Yin is cool and cold, Yang is warm and hot

Yin is passive, Yang is active

Yin is inside, Yang is outside

Yin is nutritive, Yang is protective

Yin is hypoactive, Yang is hyperactive

Yin is the Moon, Yang is the Sun

Yin is winter, Yang is summer

Yin is negative, Yang is positive

Yin is substance, Yang is energy

Yin is expansive, Yang is contractive

Yin is Earth, Yang is Heaven

Yin is the lower part of your body. Yang is the upper part of your body

The theorems of Yin and Yang are:

Yin and Yang are complementary opposites

Yin and Yang attract each other

Big Yin can attract small Yin, and big Yang can attract small Yang

The Taiji symbol is the representation of the interaction of Yin and Yang.

All things in the universe are formed from an interaction of Yin and Yang energies.

There is always a bit of Yin in the Yang and a bit of Yang in the Yin.

Small Yang turns into big Yang; big Yang turns into small Yin; small Yin turns into big Yin; big Yin turns into small Yang.

In the body, the organs and the acupuncture meridians are classified into six Yin and six Yang.  Diagnosis is also classified according to Yin or Yang.  There are six Yin pulses and six Yang pulses.  There are Yin symptoms like weakness or Yang symptoms like high blood pressure.  Treatment is also designed to be Yin or Yang; usually strengthening which is yang or dispersing, which is Yin.  Chinese herbs are also classified and prescribed according to Yin or Yang.