“The wise nourish life by flowing with the five seasons and adapting to cold or heat, by harmonizing joy and anger in a tranquil dwelling, by balancing yin and yang, and what is hard and soft. So it is that dissolute evil cannot reach the man of wisdom, and he will be witness to a long life.” – Huang-di Nei jing
Balancing the yin and yang with correct food choices is important to nourishing the spirit. Winter is a yin time for nature so we balance it with eating more yang foods. It is a common practice among spiritual seekers to eat only vegetables or a yin vegetarian or vegan diet.
If this eating regimen is followed all year long with no attention to the seasons it may be inhibiting the very thing these seekers are trying to achieve. In fact it may cause what Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) calls spirit disorders resulting from the incorrect balance of foods dictated by the seasons.
Spirit disorders can be prevalent in winter. In Traditional Chinese Medicine so called imbalance of the spirit can involve a wide range of western medical conditions such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and many more. Much of this is also related to the western concept called seasonal affective disorder that results from a lack of sun shine and being shut indoors for long periods of time.
From a TCM perspective these symptoms may arise from excess (yang) or deficient (yin) conditions. They are said to often involve the heart and /or liver meridians and organs but can arise from other imbalances. According to the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys are considered the source of all energy (Qi) within the body.
Tradition says winter is ruled by the water element, which is associated with the kidneys, bladder, and adrenal glands. These glands and organs store all of the reserve Qi in the body to be used in times of stress or to heal, prevent illness, and age gracefully. Therefore during the winter months it is important to nurture and increase kidney Qi. Winter is thought to be the time where this energy can be most easily depleted. Our bodies instinctively express the fundamental principles of winter which means the need for – rest, reflection, conservation, and storage. Winter is a time when many people tend to reduce their activity. If that’s true for you, it’s wise to reduce the amount of food you eat, too, to avoid gaining weight unnecessarily.
Avoid raw foods during the winter as much as possible, as these tend to cool the body. Eating warm hearty soups, whole grains, and roasted nuts help to warm the body’s core and to keep us nourished. Sleep early, rest well, stay warm, and expend a minimum quantity of energy.
During winter emphasize warming foods:
- Hot soups and stews
- Sea Salt
- Red Pepper
- Garlic and ginger
- Root vegetables
During winter emphasize warming foods: Hot soups and stews Beef Turkey Fish Sea Salt Red Pepper Garlic and ginger Root vegetables Rice Beans
It is of course possible to eat vegetarian foods classified as yang during this time, however certain flesh foods like chicken, turkey, beef, pork and fish contain the correct bio-chemical elements to spike deeper feelings of being in tune with nature during meditation or other spiritual practices. Eating spicy foods in winter conforms to TCM and can help you to stimulate the production of endorphins. Research showed that when “spicy” food is ingested, a substance called capsaicin comes into contact with receptors at sites on the tongue. These receptors send a signal to the brain; similar to a pain signal. The signal triggers a release of feel-good endorphins that are linked to feeling pleasure and even euphoria.
Tyrosine and Spiritual Feelings Amino acids forming the building blocks of protein play a crucial role in your health. One way to enhance deep feelings in meditations and a reduction in stress is to get plenty of tyrosine in your diet. Tyrosine produces dopamine and other neurotransmitters, including epinephrine and norepinephrine, to boost mental alertness and energy. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter synthesized by your body from the intake of tyrosine. Tyrosine is found in protein-rich foods such as meats and cheeses.
Dopamine is a precursor molecule to two other important body chemicals–epinephrine and norepinephrine, sometimes called adrenaline and noradrenalin. Dopamine plays a role in the pleasure and reward pathway in the brain, memory and motor coordination to support voluntary muscle activity. The brain and nervous system utilize neurotransmitters to send messages in the form of electrochemical impulses throughout your body and, thus, regulate all of your body’s functions including feelings and moods. Other tyrosine-containing dairy foods include milk, cheese, yogurt and cottage cheese but they are a bit too yin for winter consumption according to TCM.
One of the accepted ways to stimulate the production of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine is supplementing the diet with the tyrosine. You get tyrosine by eating protein-rich meats, dairy and some grains and seeds. Tyrosine helps produce epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine, brain chemicals that influence mood. Under certain situations such as stress, your body may not be able to manufacture enough tyrosine, so a tyrosine-rich diet serves as a critical backup.
While protein rich foods are the best sources for tyrosine vegetarians can also stimulate their production from Tyrosine-rich foods such as peanuts, almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.