Where did 2017 just go? It seems like only yesterday that we were ushering in the Year of the Fire Rooster.

Now it’s already December, and whilst it might not be nearly as cold as in other parts of the USA, we are aware that winter is upon us.

There’s a chill in the air. It’s the end of another year. Winter is a good time to reflect on our health, replenish our energy and conserve our strength.

If you’re feeling tired, rest assured you are not alone. It’s been an exhausting (mentally, emotionally and physically) for many people. But Traditional Chinese Medicine says it’s ok to feel like you’re lacking energy in winter in order to recharge for the upcoming spring (and summer) months.

Winter is all about storage, rest and restoration and the best way to fully enjoy the powers of this season of hibernation and introspection is to surrender to it and learn from what it has to offer us. Winter calls us to look within, to reconnect to our inner being, and to embrace the cold and darkness around us.

The colder temperatures and darkness encourage us to slow down. Winter has an impact on the human body just as it does on every other part of nature. We function differently and we respond to the change in energy whether we like it or not. But the philosophy of Chinese Medicine promotes our ability to thrive during the wintertime if we know how to observe the natural changes and work with the different energy.

Winter belongs to the Yin in Chinese Medicine – exemplified by cold, darkness and inactivity. Yin is the dark, cold, slow, inward energy compared to the Yang of the summer months. TCM believes in consolidating your Qi through the winter (early to bed and late to rise) and adapting to increasing Yang (circulation).

Winter is the season that rules the Kidneys and the element of water – the most yin of all the five elements.

In Western medicine we know that the kidneys regulate water metabolism and stabilize our heart and blood pressure.

In TCM, the Kidneys are considered the source of all Qi within the body energy. They store all of the reserve Qi in the body so that it can be used in times of stress, to heal, and prevent illness (common in the winter months when our energy can be most easily depleted). Chinese medicine also believes the Kidneys rule over intelligence, reason, perception and memory.

Rest is important for revitalizing the Kidneys, which is why some animals hibernate in the wintertime. It is also a good time to look inward, reflect on ourselves with meditation, and other soul nourishing activities. These practices help us to connect to our inner selves and help support Kidney energy.

Seasonal changes affect the body’s environment. With the drop in temperature come colds, flu, aches and pains. That is why practices that relax the mind, raise our immune system and circulate our energy are so important in the Winter months.

Here are a few tips for keeping healthy and happy during winter:

Exercise: From the perspective of Chinese Medicine, it’s best to change your approach to exercise in the winter. Long, slow movements are recommended. Stretching, yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are great options. It’s also a good idea to balance a physical workout with a mental and spiritual one.

Practice Self-acceptance: Rather than attempting to overcome our fears, we can learn to recognize and accept them. Self-awareness and self-acceptance burns and thaws our fears so that we become “unstuck” and can move on healthfully.

Food as medicine: Avoid raw foods during the winter as much as possible, as they tend to cool the body. During the winter, it’s best to focus on warming foods including hearty soups and stews, root vegetables, whole grains, and small amounts of meat or fish protein. If you are vegetarian, eat more beans, nuts and seeds. Give your body a balance of what it really needs – warming, grounding, nourishing foods. Other foods that are beneficial in winter include winter squash, potatoes, winter greens, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, apples and pears.

Balance stress levels: Make sure you are getting enough sleep. There’s a reason the days are shorter this time of year. Go to bed a little earlier, and aim to also wake up a little later if you can … ideally without an alarm and after the sun’s rays have warmed the atmosphere a bit. This preserves your own Yang Qi for the task of warming in the face of cold.

Acupuncture: Of course acupuncture can help prevent colds and flu by building up the immune system with just a few needles inserted into key points along the body’s energy pathways.

So as 2017 comes to an end, prepare yourself for the year ahead. Be good to yourself. Take time out for yourself. Sit by the fire. Stay warm. Look forward to the spring and summer. Fortunately (or unfortunately) they will be here before you know it.