I come from a country where it’s ‘summer all year round’ – Singapore. Hence, going away for a winter vacation to a cold country always feels like a special trip, even though I know that in other countries, people actually go away to escape from their winter, such as Santorini, which was pretty much very empty when I went in winter.
Wait a minute. Is there even winter season in Singapore?
Well, actually there is. Just like in China, the start of the winter season (立冬) typically starts on 7 Nov every year, even in Singapore. Some people who are sensitive to seasonal changes in the surroundings might even feel some strange sensations in their body, such as headaches. Even though we don’t have things like snow in Singapore, the bigger environment is still categorized as ‘winter season’, with a drop in temperature.
Often falling sick in winter or at the end of the year?
For my previous trip to Stockholm & Norway (in their spring season but still low temperatures), I actually didn’t fall sick – a miracle! Last week (Nov 2017), however, I returned from a cold, autumn trip to Japan and once again, returned with flu and a bad cough in tow.
Update: I went skiing during winter in Niseko (Hokkaido) in Dec 2019, and was completely ok!
So, after some consulting with a TCM clinic I trust, I’ve put together some Traditional Chinese Medicine health tips for you (and myself) and your loved ones!
Disclaimer: By reading this post, you accept that the content is intended to be educational, not to be used as diagnosis or treatment. The information provided is not a substitute for a physician or any form of medical care. If you have specific health issues, consult a trusted, professional medical practitioner, before using any of the information here.
Health & Wellness Tips from the Traditional Chinese Medicine Physician, on
How to Stay Strong & Healthy in Winter, or on Your Winter Trip!
Yang and Yin elements co-exist to form a balanced relationship.
However, within the human body, the Yang and Yin energies are NOT equal in ‘volume’. Yang energy will always be the foundation and dominating (commanding) factor. The Yang energy in the human body must be strong (solid / 实) and sufficient, in order to maintain the healthy balance between Yin and Yang.^
In TCM context, each person has a life force that keeps him going, in the form of what we call:
Yang energy / Yang Qi (阳气).
Generally speaking, to stay healthy in winter and in fact, across all seasons, the Yang energy in your body needs to stay at a supple level. The lower the Yang energy drops, the more prone to illnesses a person will be. A TCM physician with a strong understanding of Yang energy’s relations to the human body and ailments, will advise appropriate lifestyle habits for you to protect your Yang energy within your body.
When Yang Qi drops to a dangerous level all the way till nothing is left, a person’s life ends. (Ever heard of the Chinese term, “断气”? It means the person’s qi has stopped flowing and life has ended.)
Lifestyle Habits to Adopt for Staying Healthy in Winter Season
1. Don’t wake up too late. Wake up before the sun.
In TCM theory, the Yang energy on Earth is brought about with each sunrise. Wherever you are, no matter the season, you should wake up 1-2 hours before sunrise (that sunrise timing stated in your Weather app), and go to sleep about 2 hours after sunset.
If you wake up too late, or if you don’t move when the sun is rising, the Yang energy in your body will not rise too. You might end up feeling sluggish and lethargic the whole day.
2. Raise your Yang energy with a *light* workout in the morning.
When the sun rises, Yang energy on Earth will slowly rise too. The human body needs to be in harmonization with nature. Therefore, after you wake up, move your body, so that your Yang energy within the body can rise gradually too.
In winter, start your day with some light exercise. Think of simply walking around your hotel room, or simple stretches. Skip hardcore workouts. In fact, in winter, skip any exercise that makes you sweat significantly, because you’ll use up too much energy (over-exhaust Yang qi, also called 耗气).
In winter season, you should be conserving energy, just like how some animals hibernate all through winter.
If I’m in the mood, I’ll do a maximum of 1-2 sets of yoga sun salutations in the hotel room, especially if I’ve brought along my travel yoga mat. Or I’ll just do some easy warm-up stretches to loosen my muscles.
3. Take as few showers as possible.
Shower only when necessary.
We all know how chilly and dreadful it can be to think of showering when the weather is sooooo cold. In winter, as an alternative to actual showering, use a warm towel for a quick wipe-down of your body. Shower every other day instead of every day.
4. Only shower in the daytime.
If you must shower, take moderately hot showers in the DAYTIME.
The best time to shower would be in the afternoon, followed by morning. Early morning showers right after waking up are not that good, give it at least 15 minutes after waking up before you step into the shower. This is because the Yang energy in your body is rising up, but with too-early (as in, too soon after waking up) a morning shower, you’ll douse that Yang energy.
The worst time to shower would be after the sun has set, the later it gets. As above, this has to do with the Yang energy on Earth in the daytime, vs the Yin energy that increases after sunset and before sunrise.
If you really, really, really can and must shower at night…
Take a moderately hot shower really quickly, like, keeping it under one minute. Good luck!
5. Get dressed immediately after your shower.
As soon as you’ve dried yourself, put on your clothes immediately. Ensure there’s no wind circulation in the room. That is, make sure the windows are closed tight, and the room’s aircon or fan has been switched off. This is especially important advice for parents who bring their small kids overseas to cold places in the highlands, such as Cingjing Highlands in Taiwan, and the room’s temperature is not watched closely.
Ps: The most damaging wind to the human body is artificially created wind, such as the wind from an electrical fan, and especially aircon.
6. Don’t wash your hair every day.
Cut down the number of times you wash your hair, such as washing it once every two days or even longer.
This is personally very difficult for me to follow. Because, being a cleanliness freak, I wash my hair everyday! Update Oct 2019: Guess what? Never thought I could succeed but now, I’ve managed to adopt a new habit of washing my hair every alternate day! My TCM physician would be proud of me, oh yeah!
Blow-dry your hair *completely* after a shower.
After a shower, if your hair is wet and also covers &/or surrounds two important acupoints at the back of your head (风池穴, Feng Chi GB20), dampness (湿气) will enter your body. This will make you even more susceptible to falling sick. Therefore, after a shower, no matter day or night, as soon as you can, use a hairdryer to dry your hair *completely*.
No matter the season or temperature, always blow-dry your hair immediately after a shower.
7. Keep your feet warm at all times.
Wear bedroom slippers indoors. Wear socks to sleep.
There’s another important acupressure point at the soles of our feet, called 涌泉穴. Coldness from the floor and ‘cold air’ can enter your body through the feet.
At night, wearing loose socks to sleep is also a good idea. How loose, you ask? As loose as those long, loose socks that airlines (Singapore Airlines) provide in their amenities bag when you’re taking red-eye flights. Tight socks will hinder blood circulation.
8. Slow down your actions. Take your trip really slow.
Everything in nature slows down in winter, in order to conserve energy for the next season’s arrival.
I get tired easily in winter, especially when I’m wearing layers and feeling the bulk of their weight on my petite frame by trying to conquer too many places in a day.
Conserving energy is something you need to do in winter in order to stay healthy, by taking your trip slower than usual. Again, this has to do with harmonizing our energy in accordance with the cosmic energy that surrounds us. You might reference this conserving of energy to the farmers in cold climates in olden days. They don’t do hard work in their fields during winter – the most ‘taxing work’ they do is make babies!
How to Dress for Winter
“If I’m not afraid of the cold, why should I still wear so much?”
It’s a common misconception that if you’re naturally like a polar bear that isn’t afraid of the cold, or if you think you have more ‘insulation’ in the form of body fats, you won’t need to wear so much in winter. This is wrong. In fact, it’s likely that your body’s ‘internal thermostat’ is malfunctioning, giving you wrong signals that you’re not cold compared to your travel companions who’re wearing a lot more layers than you. The outcome is, your body actually loses more thermal heat from the lack of protection.
8. Ensure that your entire body is wrapped warmly.
You know how some girls like to just keep their upper body wrapped warmly, while wearing little for the bottom? I tried that too, having only the torso wrapped in thick clothes when I was in Nice (end-November), in few degrees cold, as seen from the photo on the side. The upper part of my body had many layers on to keep warm, while I wore only shorts, thin stockings and low boots for the bottom.
At that time, my legs and the entire of me didn’t feel as cold as I should. I thought this was because all my most vital health organs had been kept well-protected above. In concept, this was true, because the protected organs above ensured that body heat got distributed to my under-protected legs below. However,
My TCM physician told me this wasn’t the correct thing to do. In cold weather, you should wrap your entire body in warm clothes. This will help to slow down the speed of heat being dispersed and lost from your body.
How to dress for winter
These are the 2 options I use for dressing for winter:
Method (a): Wear many layers and cover with a thin jacket.
• Sleeveless tank +
• thin wool cardigan +
• knitted thicker wool sweater +
• maybe a faux fur vest (to keep my torso super protected) +
• maybe a longer wool coat +
• thin jacket.
• Uniqlo Heat-tech inner layer +
• thicker wool sweater +
• a thick, quality down jacket.
Just 3 layers for Method (b). If it’s gonna be even more cold outdoors at night, I’ll add an additional wool coat before my down jacket.
I actually prefer (b) now because it always gets really warm indoors. All I need to do is to remove the down jacket and I’ll be fine, instead of sweating from the many layers and not having enough hands to remove and hold them. The downside is, my thicker down jacket is actually pretty heavy.
9. Always wrap a good scarf around your neck and the lower back of your head, especially if you’re outdoors.
In TCM theory, wind is very damaging to the human body.
Keep the back of your head and your neck protected in the cold.
To me, the neck’s skin is very thin and cold temperature will get to my throat directly. In TCM theory, there are some vital acupressure points at the back of your head (风池穴), and below the back of your neck (大椎穴), where cold wind enters your body. The wind you need to avoid in winter/cold weather also includes the actual, cold wind in nature. This cold wind creates havoc in the human body, including headaches, aches, illnesses. The cold will also get to your lungs and it won’t be fun.
10. Don’t expose your navel button.
It’s probably the most important acupoint in the entire body – 神阙穴 – which is located where your navel button is. Before winter even comes, across all seasons and weather, you should always keep this spot well-covered.
11. Keep the back of your knees covered.
There’s a very important acupressure point (委中穴) at the back and center of your knees where the cold will enter. In TCM, the knees are referred to as the ‘house of tendons’ (筋之府). If any tendons in your body are hurt, the knees will get affected. If the knees are injured, other tendons will be in trouble too. Therefore, no matter what you choose to wear, make sure the back of each knee is kept covered.
12. Keep feet warm by wearing thick socks.
The temperature of your feet plays a big part in influencing your body’s temperature. I like Uniqlo’s HeatTech socks – fashionable and comfortable.
Dietary Habits for Staying Healthy on Your Trip to A Cold Place
13. Should you drink a big cup of water after waking up?
I previously wrote this earlier but had to remove the paragraphs because, drinking a full cup of warm water or even ginger tea after waking up might do your body more harm than good. If your body belongs to the “damp” type in TCM diagnosis, drinking more than what your body needs will result in an over-supply of moisture – which means more health problems.
As for myself, I drink a small cup of hot ginger tea every morning after waking up. Drinking hot ginger tea, other than helping to warm the tummy, will also help your Yang energy to raise, outwards. After 3pm, avoid any ginger tea intake already, as Yang energy will need to gradually return to your vital organs to help your system unwind and prepare for a new day.
14. Avoid ‘cold stuff’ like salad, and iced drinks.
Skip the “cold stuff” like raw salad.
TCM philosophy sorts veggies and fruits into hot-based (热) and cold-based (寒) items. Hot-based fruits are durians, mangoes, lychees, longans, jackfruits, and rambutans. Avocado, watermelons, oranges, and the majority of fruits belong to the “cold” series. Most vegetables are “cold”, especially if raw. But should you avoid all veggies? Not if they’d been cooked with ginger or garlic added.
To avoid trouble and also diarrhoea, I generally skip all salad on my trips.
Fun fact: There’s a generic TCM saying that you can eat ‘hot’ stuff in summer and ‘cold’ veggies (like carrots) in winter. This saying is only applicable for a super healthy person, defined by a good TCM physician, not by your medical checkup records.
Avoid chilled things or iced drinks.
When I was younger, eating ice-cream in cold weather was a wonderful feeling. However, my TCM physician told me this is the wrong thing to do. You shouldn’t be eating anything cold or iced even in winter, unless again you’re super healthy. I suspect it was the chilled Coke I drank after hiking Mt Takao that brought about a full-blown flu right away. Oh well, now I’ve learned.
Avoid alcohol, especially beer.
Some countries have super low temperatures in winter, such as Finland, and you might think of drinking hard liquor such as whiskey, to keep warm. Whiskey should be consumed only if you’re in a life-and-death situation, such as you need to do some hard activities like travel on horseback like how they show on TV. The hard liquor might prevent hypothermia in that situation, by heating up your body and improving blood circulation. Otherwise, to drink whiskey in winter is very harmful to your health.
(None-TCM) Hot honey water will do wonders for a dry throat.
If you feel your throat’s getting dry and warning you of a sore throat arriving, take some honey water. But who actually brings honey with them on their travels, right? Here’s another tip: If you’re travelling in Europe or staying at a hotel, keep a lookout for those little tubs of honey at your hotel breakfast that they provide for going with toast. You can use them and make a quick cup of hot honey water 😉
I know some of these points might be pretty challenging to implement in the modern world with our current lifestyle habits, but still sharing this post for you to have a deeper understanding of TCM philosophy and its relation to your health! Hope these TCM tips will be of use to you and your loved ones the next time you plan and pack for your trip to a cold country =)
Credits: The TCM information in this post is generously shared by a very established TCM clinic in Singapore.
^This paragraph’s information is extracted from the book: 《人体阳气与疾病 》 by 李可.
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• How Learning TCM Completely Changed the Way I Travel!