Winter Begins

In the Chinese system of qi nodes, we are in the middle of “Winter Begins.”  Liu Ming, who I used to study and sit with, taught about the qi nodes as we cycled around the calendar.  Every two weeks is like a different season with slightly different recommendations for diet and lifestyle to best be in sync with the larger cycles.  So I listened to an old recording from the Da Yuan Circle website (you can also learn more about Ming here) about “winter begins” over the past few days and thought I’d share something about it.   In the system of qi nodes, the winter solstice is the height of winter and when yin is most vast and quiet.  This time of year is considered the beginning of winter–the days are quite noticeably shorter, the temperature significantly cooling down, yin is very much predominant.

Ideally now is the time to consider slowing down.  Consider the pull to withdraw, stay in, and relax.  Meditation practice can feel more natural, more still and deep.  Yet here we are at the cusp of the season when America amps up all sorts of activity–family visits, shopping, holiday parties, tying up all the loose ends to run out of town to relax for a minute (whilst recovering from what has been this year, around the bay area at least, a collective trauma of sorts).  Feeling into what winter asks of us is not always so easy in our culture.

Learning how to relax in a way that is neither exhaustion nor contraction is one of the best things we can do for ourselves.  Winter is a good teacher of this.  So is meditation, yoga, being in nature…and acupuncture too.  Try to balance the harried holiday season with relaxation and withdrawal in whatever ways you resonate with.

It is wise to be especially mindful of your yin and fluids in the winter.  This is both in terms of not choosing exercise that causes excessive sweating and in choosing more nourishing things to eat.  One of the best things you can do now and into the winter is to start supplementing with bone broth.  To deeply nourish your yin and fluids in this way and at this time of year fortifies the body, prevents heat from penetrating too deeply the following summer, which makes you less vulnerable to colds next winter (as well as this one)!

I’m on the verge of making some bone broth with a bunch of caracasses that were leftover from a potluck with many roasted chickens in attendance.  Chicken, however, tends to be hot and drying–if you mainly have chicken bones to work with, it is ideal to add some pork or beef bones as well.  Pork is more cooling and beef is neutral and harmonizing–either of these bones alone make a good stock too.  So I went to berkeley bowl and got a beef soup bone (a femur I think) and some pieces of oxtail (my first oxtail purchase ever…kind of exciting!).  My plan is to soak these in a stock pot full of water with a little bit of vinegar and then bring the whole show to a boil, skim the scum, and then let it cook for eight hours.   Ming recommended no more than eight hours, with the lid off at least some of the time, and at a little more bubbly than a simmer.   Previous times I have made bone stock with somewhat different instructions (longer cooking, lid on, etc), so this will be a little bit of an experiment.  When it is done and cool enough to handle, it is good to put it through a fine sieve or cheesecloth–it will keep better and longer the fewer particles there are.  You can skim the fat if you want to after it has cooled in the fridge.

The stock can be used diluted as a base for soup, you can put some with the water in the rice cooker for regular rice or cooking congee, or just use it as some extra nourishing moisture to sautee your veggies.  It is nourishing on its own, but also helps with assimilation of the food it is prepared with.

Planning to make this chicken and beef bone stock tomorrow, so perhaps some exciting photos or cries for help to come…



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