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Healthy Hibernation

Sync up with the winter weather and address adrenal fatigue by slowing down and focusing your attention inward.

| November/December 2019

Photo by Getty Images/vikialis

The energy of winter is still; there’s so little movement that even a snowfall feels quiet. Aligning ourselves with this energy can help boost our internal health and set the tone for year-round vitality. This concept is based on the notion of “flow” from East Asian Medicine — using the power of nature to fuel our internal rhythms, which promote harmonious energy flow. Aligning with the energy of winter means burrowing in, cozying up, and hibernating against the dark and the cold. It’s a time to take a respite from the hustle and bustle, using the season as an opportunity to go deep within ourselves, take stock, and reflect.

East Asian Medicine, also known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), bases its practices in thousands of years of nature observations. It’s an empirical practice, and can guide us in our day-to-day activities. In this model of wellness, winter is associated with the water element, which aligns with the kidneys and urinary bladder. Water is all about flow; its easy movements change to accommodate the surrounding conditions. Water freezes or slows down in cold weather; it reflects the external environment and adjusts accordingly.

Kidneys and the Adrenal Glands

When the kidneys are strong, they can adapt and adjust to the changing conditions that produce stress. Stress happens when your body remains in a long-term state of flight, fight, or freeze. In other words, it’s a state with no time for rest and recovery.

Anatomically, our adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys, so the two are closely connected in TCM. The adrenal cortex produces the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol is a stress hormone that plays a major role in regulating metabolism, while aldosterone helps regulate blood pressure. When heavily taxed, the adrenals constantly produce surges of these hormones, in an attempt to regulate the body’s response to stress. Over time, if there isn’t relief for the adrenals, adrenal fatigue occurs. Adrenal fatigue arises with long-term stress, regardless of whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional.

Photo by Getty Images/Mladen Zivkovic

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