Welcome back to Part 2 of our blogs on the water element and winter wellness.
There are many ways to support our bodies and wellbeing holistically on a daily basis – through food, nutrition and natural self care. The most important thing, particularly in winter, is to try not to take on too much, especially if it involves a big change. It is much better to go for the little changes and small details, gradually allowing them to fully integrate; rather than creating for ourselves a self care schedule, attempting too much too soon and becoming dogmatic or obsessed with any new regimes and practices.
Nourishing the kidney ‘Qi’ is the priority during winter, as it is the time when we can become the most depleted. Be kind and gentle and tune in to what the body actually needs rather than what we think, or might have read, is good for us. Maybe choose something that feels important to you to start with such as prioritising a nutritious breakfast, or creating a morning self care routine, or ensuring you have healthy nourishing snacks for when you are on the go. Whatever is right for you, right now, is the best place to start, letting things grow and evolve from there.
See the time that you set aside for yourself as a gift rather than another in a list of things to be done and cherish every second, even if you have only 5 minutes a day! This is precious time for YOU so fill it with things that make you feel good and alive. Soon enough you will begin to appreciate this time and witness the ripples of positive benefits that emanate out into other areas of life.
The water element loves to be nourished through self care and being able to prioritise our needs is not a selfish act, it is necessary!
Our retreats are an excellent way to immerse yourself fully in time for self. Five element theory lies at the core of our retreats and we love sharing the many practical and profound ways that this theory can be bought to life each day. Click here for further info.
Overcoming fears – the emotional aspect of the water element
Fear is the emotion associated with the water element and winter is the season of depth and feeling. This time of stillness in nature is often a busy time for us; one that we pack with social engagements, things we need to do, parties and celebrations….and plenty of food and drink! This keeps our attention fixed outwards in moving and doing mode, whereas this time is naturally about turning inward and returning in direction of the core.
Our deepest self can be a scary place and we find many distractions to avoid going there, sometimes to the point we lose touch completely with what our real needs and feeling are. Harnessing the natural energy and flow of winter to use this time as a period of self-reflection and inner listening can be a perfect moment for facing fears and addressing patterns of behaviour or self-beliefs that are limiting our full potential and expression.
A healthy level and response to fear and stress is normal, it keeps us safe in times of danger and threat. However, when fear creeps into our every thought, feeling and decision and the smallest challenges in life create stress, it can become an undercurrent theme in our general being and be an obstacle to movement in life. This manifests as inertia, paranoia, anxiety, insomnia, tight chest, shallow breathing, tight muscles and even heart palpitations. It stops us creating, manifesting, dreaming, daring, trusting and being present in our lives.
Fear is balanced with courage and calmness. To face our fears requires courage. Not in a ‘right, I’m going to tackle and beat this thing’ kind of a way, but with a grounded, calm and loving approach. Fears quickly dissolve and lessen their grip once we find the courage to accept them and move into them. Cultivating an attitude of curiosity and interest around our fears can help us with this journey.
‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it’ – Victor Hugo
Here are a few ideas for daily practices:
* Remind yourself that feeling fear is normal and there is nothing we can do to stop it. Embrace fear from a place of love and tenderness, knowing that eventually, you will move through it
* Journal or write down a list of fears, give time for this as some may not be so obvious and be buried deep beneath layers of disguises. Get to know and understand your fears. Can you see where they might have originated from? Gradually make your way through the list, fear by fear, finding ways to face them and work through them. Maybe visualise yourself first doing this and being on the other side.
* Sit quietly in a comfortable position and tune into the breath. Allow the ‘felt’ sensation and somatic experience of fear to arise. Sense where it is in the body, any shape, colour, texture that comes to mind and if the body wants to move let it move. Notice any images, stories, emotions or memories that come up without engaging them, just watching. Breath into them, create space around them and feel their presence fully. Inhale courage, exhale fear.
NATURAL SELF CARE TIPS FOR WINTER
* Take long soaks in a bath with Epsom salts – or make your own blends adding kitchen staples such as oats, cinnamon, ginger or clove
* Spend time near the sea or large bodies of water, pools, ponds, streams etc. Let water teach you. Watch how it moves and adapts to its environment and circumstances
* Fill glass bowls with water and add crystals/precious stones, rose petals or floating candles
* Try and keep your schedule as reasonable and stress-free as possible. Don’t try and cram in too much. Allow yourself space and time around the things you need to do
* Create space in the day for some ‘yin’ time, just being and doing nothing – even if for only 5 minutes. Or lie in savasana (corpse pose) as this is a very effective pose for balancing the nervous system and rejuvenation
* Massage K1, the bubbling spring point on the meridian channel, to stimulate kidney qi – located beneath the ball of the foot in the region between the 2nd and 3rd toe (see image)
* Tie a sash or scarf around and above your waist area or purchase a kidney warmer band to keep lower back and kidneys warm
* Receive treatments such as acupuncture, shiatsu, myofascial massage and cranial sacral therapy
* Take regular saunas to bring deep heat into the body and gently eliminate toxins through sweating
* Avoid ‘pressure’. Pressure in Chinese Medicine is said to be the origin of any urinary infection or symptoms, so minimise pressure in life, in whatever source
* Make nettle and cranberry tea infusions as both are diuretic and strengthen the urinary system
* Be mindful of the products being used on the skin – the skin is like a sponge and easily absorbs toxins and pollutants from toiletries, cosmetics, laundry and household products
* Use colour – through whatever medium we choose such as clothing, home furnishings, food etc to nourish the element. For winter bring in hints of blue, black, dark purple and grey
* Include black and dark coloured foods – such as algae, micro algae such as chlorella and spirulina, black beans, adzuki beans, black sesame seeds and tahini, aubergine, poppy seeds, blueberries, black mulberries, purple cabbage, purple plums, beetroot, black/purple grapes, black rice, black quinoa, molasses, raisins, dark leafy greens
* Focus on foods that tonify and moisten like chia, linseed tea, goji, oats, beans, broths, eggs, honey, apples. Supplement with foods that are cooling for balance such as cucumber, aloe vera, persimmon, pears and grapefruit
* Avoid foods packed with refined salt and sugars such as sausages and cured meats, pickles (make your own!), grab and go snacks, ready meals, table salt, commercial breads, pastas and baked goods
* Seeds relate to fertility and growth so include plenty of soaked pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, chia, flax and hemp and nuts such as walnuts and chestnuts
* Include only small amounts of animal products if you eat them as heavy meat consumption is depleting for the kidneys
* Pickling and preserving are the cooking methods associated with the water element. Make fermented and conserved foods at home to be sure you getting a truly raw nutritious product
* Use naturally salty foods such as miso, tamari/namu shoyu, seaweed, celery, homemade sauerkraut and kimchi, replace table salt with natural sea salt (being sure to not have too much salt)
* Simmer soups, sauces, broths, stews, vegetables and use baking, roasting and slow cooking methods
* Make bone broths and rich mineral stocks
* Use warming spices such as garlic, ginger, cinnamon, clove, cardamon and nutmeg
* Drink linseed tea and use the cooking liquid from adzuki and black beans as a medicinal tea
* Drink room temperature or warm water first thing in the morning and throughout the day, listening to your body. Avoid cold drinks.
* Make porridge, congee and kichadi from barley, quinoa, brown rice, millet and amaranth
* Infuse dried cranberries and fresh or dried nettles as tonics for the bladder and urinary system
* Mushrooms – particularly medicinal mushrooms such as chaga, shiitake, maitake, cordyceps and reishi
* If we decrease our activity during winter then we should think to decrease the quantity of food we eat to be in balance with this
3 Healing Winter Recipes
1. Millet & Amaranth Breakfast Congee with Baked Apple
* Congee is very much like porridge and is traditionally made with rice often including stock and meat or vegetables. It is cooked for a long period of time (the longer the better!) allowing the grain/cereals to practically dissolve into the water or stock.
Ingredients – no set quantities, if you make too much just save it until next day!
Millet – approx 50g per person
Amaranth – approx 25g per person
Cinnamon, Clove, Ground Ginger
Apples – 1 large per person
* Optional topping combinations: molasses with hulled hemp seeds, chopped soaked brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds or with honey, ground flax seeds, sour cherries, inca berries and mulberries or simply with freshly ground dried cranberry powder
* Soak the millet and amaranth in plenty of water with a squeeze of lemon overnight, wash well and drain before use
* Add soaked millet and amaranth to a saucepan. Add cold water to cover by double the amount
* Add cloves and a pinch of sea salt. Bring to the boil, cover and reduce to a simmer
* Leave to cook for approx 35 minutes, stirring only occasionally as amaranth has a tendency to stick to the bottom of the pan, add more water if it becomes absorbed quickly
* After 35 mins stir well and check the congee, taste to see how the ingredients are softening
* Add enough water to cover the ingredients and continue to cook for a further 30 minutes, again stirring occasionally and being sure to obtain the consistency you want
* In the meantime you need to be baking the apples. Cut them in quarters and take out the core. Add to a baking dish with plenty of lemon juice, cinnamon and ground ginger. Mix together well.
* Cover with foil and bake for approx 30 minutes at 170 degrees until soft. Mix well before serving on top of your porridge with toppings of choice.
2. Lamb Casserole
Ingredients – makes approx 4 portions
175g stewing Lamb per person – cut into large cubes approx 4cm sq, try and get some pieces still on the bone
16 Shallots – peeled
10 Tomatoes – cover in hot water and leave for a few minutes so the skin is easy to peel off, take out the core and seeds and chop the flesh
1 large sprig Rosemary
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Spelt flour – enough to generously coat the meat
* Optional – add carrots, potatoes, swede, squash if you would like
* Coat the lamb in the flour
* Heat a saucepan on a medium to low flame
* Add the lamb a few pieces at a time and cook until just brown on all sides
* Take out the lamb and put to one side, then add olive oil
* Immediately add the shallots and garlic, saute for approx 3 minutes
* Add the bayleaf and rosemary, stir together
* Add the lamb back to the pan and stir together
* Add the tomato and mix well. Add enough water to just cover the contents and mix well.
* Leave to simmer for approx 2-3 hours, checking occasionally to be sure the stock is not reducing too much. After 2 hours check how the lamb is doing, you want it melt in mouth texture and falling apart to the touch. Continue to cook until the lamb is done
* When the lamb is cooked, taste and season to your taste
* Stews often taste much better the next day. If you leave overnight you may also notice the excess fat has solidified on the top, you can just skim this off with a spoon
Note – If you want to add vegetables to your stew add them after about an hour and a half of cooking. If you add them at the beginning cut them quite big otherwise, they will have disintegrated by the time the meat is cooked!
3. Kombu Dashi with Miso and Shiitake Mushrooms
Ingredients – serves 2
1 strip Kombu seaweed
1/2 cup dulse seaweed – cut into small pieces
1 tablespoom red or brown Miso
1 inch piece of ginger – thinly sliced into matchsticks
8 dried shiitake mushrooms – soaked for approx 1 hour in warm water to rehydrate, drained and chopped
1 medium leek – thinly sliced
1 large carrot – thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 medium courgette – thinly sliced half moons
1/2 cup broccoli florets
1 hand fresh Spinach or kale – roughly chopped
* Add approx 2 litres water to saucepan with the kombu
* Bring to the boil on a low flame, take as much time as you can for the water to boil
* Reduce to a simmer and add the leek, ginger, carrots, dulse seaweed and shiitake mushrooms
* When the carrots are just al dente add the courgettes, simmer for a further 4-5 minutes
* Add the broccoli (and kale if using) and simmer for 3 minutes
* Take out a ladle full of stock and add to a cup. Mix with the miso paste and disolve completely before adding back to the pan and stirring well
* Taste to see if the miso strength is enough for you, add more if you like it stronger
* Add the spinach if using, turn off the heat and cover the pan. Leave for a minute or so for the spinach to wilt
* To finish season with tamari to taste
3 Quick Sweet Snacks
We know that feeling when you get that mid-afternoon or evening dip and you need something sweet and you need it now! Fear not, by stocking your cupboards with a few essential ingredients you can satisfy the sweet craving with natural foods, that get to the point AND provide a whole host of nutrients. These recipes take just a few minutes to prepare.
1. Black or white tahini, water, raw honey/maple syrup or date syrup
Simply add a tablespoon of tahini to a bowl and add a little water. Stir well, going past the point where the tahini splits until you start to get a creamy consistency. Add as much water to make it as thick or thin as you prefer. When satisfied with the consistency add your sweetener of choice and mix well. You can enjoy this as it is, or spread on crackers or sourdough toast, apple pieces or banana, or add in a mix of chopped nuts, seeds and dried berries
2. Warm almond or rice milk with carob and dates
Make sure you have stock of a plant-based milk. Simmer gently in a saucepan until hot but do not let boil. Add chopped dates and a good quality carob powder. Blend in a high-speed blender or with a hand-held blender. Be careful of putting hot liquid into the blender and be sure yours can handle it before you do so! Taste and adjust the carob and sweetness to your preference.
3. Raw nut butter on apple slices
Making your own nut butter is as easy as 123! You just slow roast your nut of choice and grind in a food processor for around 5-10 minutes until the nuts have turned into butter. make this in advance and have a batch ready in your fridge. Of course you can use shop bought but when you make your own you know what you are getting! Simply cut up an apple into slices and spread on the nut butter.
* Keep a look out for tomorrow’s blog and part 3 of the water element series, to discover ways you can adapt your yoga practice to the season.