Skip to main content

Der Herbst geht in den Winter über…

… Wie der Abend in die Nacht

Der Herbst geht in den Winter über

Dieser Text wird bald auf deutsch übersetzt. Bis dann, lade ich Sie ein, es auf englisch zu genießen!

Yesterday I woke to find the golden glory of the tree outside our bedroom window already shedding to the cold, moist earth below. I wondered, „Can it already be the end of autumn?“ 

And looking more closely at the Chinese calendar (which marks the seasons a bit differently than the western calendar), I realized, indeed, the 2-week Qi node augering the beginning of winter starts already this week – has probably already come and perhaps long passed as you read this. I was already shoulder-deep in the 2-week transition between the seasons before a certain moisture in the air and underfoot, a certain whiff of deepening coolness penetrated my busy monkey-mind and reminded me, „Winter is coming.“

Nancy Legato Heilpraktikerin für TCM in Nürnberg

There may be a certain ambivalence in the western world toward winter, as well as toward its parallel in the 24-hour-cycle, nighttime. On the one hand: Snow! On the other hand: Cold! And all the things we associate with the deepest and longest of colds, of nights, of winters: less warmth and less light traditionally meant (at least before refrigerators and the global economy) also less to eat, less warmth, the question: have I harvested and stored enough food and fuel to get through this winter? And when we think of the analogous wintertime of our older years, that question becomes, to paraphrase the poet Mary Oliver: what have I done with my „one wild and precious life?“ Will my memories be enough to warm me as I lay myself down to my eternal rest? And will my actions and accomplishments, on balance, leave enough living and fruitful behind that the generations after can grow on beyond me?

It’s a natural anxiety, whether we speak of nighttime, of winter, or old age. In the ancient agricultural tradition underpinning traditional Chinese Medicine, the communal rituals and personal comportment recommended for transition into Winter have a lot to do with pulling in the last harvests, storing as much as possible for the time ahead, and making sometimes difficult decisions to pare down, so that we enter the cold dark season with only the most essential things that we know will get us through this time, long enough to emerge, perhaps bleary-eyed and fuzzy-headed but alive, once again in Springtime.

We in the West know this anxiety through our restless attempts to defeat the season. We (and I count myself among „we“) may read or watch movies on our blue-lit computer screens sometimes late into the night. We may hang strings of holiday lights and leave them on until morning – sometimes even year-round. Regardless of the season, we might work the same hours, even if that means getting up before the sun or coming home long after sunset.

There is nothing intrinsically morally wrong with any of this. At the same time, there are certain natural consequences to these behaviors. A recent article in the English-language The Guardian summed up this up nicely:

„Everything from our sleep to our hormones relies on the dark. So why are we so intent on destroying it?“

According to the article,

„Darkness is being stripped at a rate unprecedented in human history – the spectacle of the Milky Way in the night sky is now invisible to 80% of the world’s population (and 99% of the population of the US). … This matters because the dark matters. Not only does darkness offer unique physical and mental benefits to humans, it is vital to plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and insects – and not just the ones that are active at night.“

This is not just a matter of environmental degradation (although that alone might give us pause!) as the article goes on to remind us,

„Our body’s circadian time-keeping system, which allows us to respond to environmental changes, is naturally sensitive to the dark. As day comes to an end, these circadian rhythms prompt clocks throughout the body to take note and prepare for sleep, eliciting shifts in temperature, blood pressure and hormones. But without the signals provided by the arrival of darkness, these rhythms can falter, creating a disruption that distresses our entire body.“

„This is important because the systems controlled by the circadian cycle play a profound role in our physical functions, including ageing, cell proliferation, cell death, DNA repair and metabolic alteration. When circadian rhythms are confused or disturbed, this affects the body’s metabolic system, raising the risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, cancer, obesity or cardiovascular disease. Immune deficiency and high blood pressure – with the accompanying risk of stroke – have also been linked to circadian rhythm disturbance.“

Chronomedicine is a “hot topic” in western medicine these days – so much so that the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to  Drs. Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young, for their discovery of the genes and molecular mechanisms regulating circadian rhythm in all living organisms. The proximal topic of the research was fruit flies – admittedly pretty dry material – but the results had profound implications, illuminating the circadian influences upon various illnesses in humans, including cancer, metabolic syndrome, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and more.

Circadian rhythms are not the only cycles manifesting our body’s relationship with the natural environment around us. Menstruation is an obvious example of a monthly cycle („monthly“ relating to „moon“ and lunar cycles.) There is some western medical evidence of both weekly and seasonal/annual chronicities in our health. And of course there are changes in our bodies related to the „seasons“ of our lives – birth, youth, adulthood, middle age, old age and death.

TCM Akupunktur Nürnberg

But, again, the anxiety is real, and natural, despite the fact that our biological interdependence with daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, annual, and lifetime cycles is also natural. The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön has taught a lot of material on learning to live with impermanence. Yet she also described her experience in a virtual reality simulation where she „saw“ herself on a plank over a deep abyss. Could she force herself to step off the plank, „knowing“ in her rational mind that the abyss was a computer-generated illusion and that nothing in fact would happen? She laughed about how hard it was to do so! But she could train some more and then maybe go back and try again. And this from a woman who at the time of telling this story was already of somewhat advanced age and who evinces quite a bit of equanimity in the face of her own mortality!

But maybe that anxiety doesn’t have to be the last word on the subject.

According to the very first chapter of the Yellow Emperor’s Internal Canon (Huángdì Nèijīng, 黃帝內經 / 黄帝内经), one of four seminal texts of Chinese medicine 1, human beings’ longevity is intrinsically tied to the degree to which we live within the contours of the rhythms around us:

“The people of high antiquity, those who knew the Way, they modeled [their behavior] on yin and yang and they complied with the arts and the calculations. [Their] eating and drinking was moderate. [Their] rising and resting had regularity. They did not tax [themselves] with meaningless work. Hence, they were able to keep physical appearance and spirit together, and to exhaust the years [allotted by] heaven. Their life span exceeded one hundred years before they departed.” 2

In the Chinese tradition, human beings are inevitably, inextricably a part of the universe and therefore subject to the same currents of Qi running through that universe.  When we accept that, and even better, work with that by piggybacking onto the flows around us, maybe we don’t have to work so hard. It’s kind of like the ducks in the video below swimming along the Roter Main – they work their way upriver in the “slow lane” among the border eddies, then they ride the “fast lane” down river where they want to end up. In effect, the Nei Jing seems to be suggesting that we can relax into the Qi of whatever season in which we find ourselves, and in doing so just organically end up feeling better, living longer, etc. because we are living in alignment with the Qi of the time.

Specifically with reference to Winter, the Huang Di Nei Jing explains:

„The three months of winter, they denote securing and storing. The water is frozen and the earth breaks open. Do not disturb the yang [qi].  Go to rest early and rise late. You must wait for the sun to shine. Let the mind enter a state as if hidden, [as if shut in], as if you had secret intentions; as if you already had made gains. Avoid cold and seek warmth and do not [allow sweat] to flow away through the skin. This would cause the qi to be carried away quickly.

„This is correspondence with the qi of winter and it is the Way of nourishing storage. Opposing it harms the kidneys. In spring this causes limpness with receding [qi], and there is little to support generation.“ 3

Whew, there’s a lot to unpack here! But rather than teach an entire seminar on the Huang Di Nei Jing, let me just point out a couple of clarifying points:

Each season in the classical Chinese tradition corresponds with a compass direction; a type of Qi (in brief: a quality of energy); a „Dao“ or „way“ or basic life process; and an Organ system. If you’ve heard/read anything at all about the Five Elements a.k.a. the Five Phases, this is being touched upon here. Winter is the season of:

  • the North (which in the northern hemisphere is the direction of colder climes);
  • Cold, which is a temperature but might also be described as a kind of Qi that tends indeed to make us cold, but also causes things to contract, to ice over, and to go in and down;
  • Water, the Phase or Element that is opposite to Fire, the Phase or Element of Summer; Water tends to go downward, whereas Fire goes up and out;
  • a „Dao“ of storage, which is in contrast to the basic life tasks of the other seasons: Sprouting or Birth in Springtime, Growth in Summer, Abundance in Late Summer, Maturation or Harvesting in Autumn, and Storage, Retreat, Stillness or Death in Winter. Note that „Death“ here has sort of a broad meaning – it could be any sort of becoming still with the intent of then later re-emerging in Springtime, or it could really be ….dead.
  • and Kidney, which is not quite the same as the western medicine structural Kidney but rather a group of functions that have to do with, among other things, the foundational life-energy of our lives, that which we have inherited from our ancestors and will pass along to our descendants, that which inspires us to creativity of all kinds as well as biological reproduction.

All of the advice for how to lead one’s life in Winter have to do with the idea of not disturbing the Yang Qi – Life Energy – at the moment it most needs to go down and in, into storage. Therefore, the idea would be to wake up late (because the Sun rises later) and go to bed early (because the Sun is setting earlier). It’s a good sesason to conserve our energy. If we need to exercise – and those of us who must sit for lengthy periods of time should probably do some sort of daily movement, even in Winter – we can maybe do it in such a way that doesn’t bring out the sweat to the surface, because sweat contains a bit of our precious Yang energy. Walking, hiking, yoga, Tai Ji, or an easy bike ride for example, might help us move our bodies without exhausting or overly stimulating our Qi.

The results of conserving our energy in Winter, from the Nei Jing’s point of view, is that we will have better energy come Springtime to burst forth from hibernation with more ideas, fresher outlooks, and more ease, in the same way that getting a good night’s sleep allows us to rest and revitalize, so that we can then have an energetic day. If we waste our energy doing too much in Winter – like working all night on something that ultimately would have been easier to do well in the daylight hours – then „there is little to support generation,“ which is the task of Springtime.

A teacher from whom I learned quite a bit about the roots of the Chinese tradition and the progression of Qi throughout the year’s Qi nodes, Liu Ming, suggested that the essence of winter was to determine what is of value. In winter, Qi has gone deep; it is less available on the surface, and one has to work a bit more than in summer to obtain it. For example, the abundance of summer’s harvest is no longer with us; we have to carefully pick over our precious root vegetables and cook them long and slow in order to obtain the nutrition deep within. Or think of the stocks and stews over which we labor (or allow our slow cookers to labor for us) for hours, until the savory essence of bones and meat, or perhaps beans and spices and more root vegetables, have steeped and seeped forward, their flavors emerging and deepening with every hour devoted to that cook. When we do this, we’re not just reaching for vitamins and trace minerals but something deep and essential within that vegetable; in obtaining that, we are in turn nourishing something deep within us, which we might never have noticed or been able to nourish with the quick stir-fries and fresh salads of summer. The depths in us are essentially related to and touched by the depths of the foods that nourish us. In the process of doing this, we are discovering what is of value to us, what is essential to our lives, what can we really not do without.

But then, perhaps „labor“ isn’t the best word for the life practices upon which we might better rely in winter. In the Chinese tradition, reflecting its agricultural roots, there is actually relatively little „work“ to be done in winter, at least in the sense of sowing, nourishing, harvesting – these are largely tasks for other seasons; in winter the task is to get by on what we have already stored up, and hope our supplies hold. Maybe that sounds like an exhortation to „do more with less,“ but actually it’s meant to give us – along with all other living beings – a break. Recall that the text says:

„The three months of winter, they denote securing and storing. The water is frozen and the earth breaks open. Do not disturb the yang [qi].“

We’re not really meant to be brimming with new ideas, learning new skills, running marathons, or working long hours of overtime in winter, implies the Nei Jing. We could do these things, but it would take much more effort in winter than would be required in spring or summer, because the Qi is just not available at the surface in this season – and that’s for good reason. By going deep and still, the Qi in us is actually doing exactly what it needs to be doing in order to be able to do all it will need to be doing in the New Year, when that time comes. When we demand the same levels and kinds of activity in winter as we do in spring and summer, it’s comparable to digging up seeds from under to snow and wondering why they aren’t as sustaining as a fully grown plant would be in summer. Worse, if we dig that seed up in winter, there will be no plant in spring or summer to sustain us when the time actually comes for more kinds of activities.

I want to be clear here that I don’t think the Nei Jing is suggesting some sort of radical “movement diet” in which one only sits around all day. That would be an extreme reading that wouldn’t match the Nei Jing’s context culturally or historically. And, as we know, bodies do need movement! I’m only emphasizing stillness in contrast to the kind of fever-pitched “doing, doing, doing” with which modern western culture seems to be obsessed. Even – or maybe even especially – in the wellness community, there seems to be this idea that we must be continually improving ourselves, and we can only arrive at some heightened state of goodness or wellness through always doing the right things, always manifesting the right mental states, whether through diet, exercise, meditation, etc. This is not what is under discussion here. The Nei Jing was not on a self-improvement trip. Rather, the text seems to be suggesting an organic process of allowing ourselves to manifest the Qi of the time, to listen inward and just see what bubbles up. In doing so we might just organically end up feeling better, living longer – or maybe even just living with more ease.

I take it back – maybe we are learning new stuff, but it’s a kind of Yin form of learning. Rather than opening books, studying something new, we are re-visiting deeper truths we thought we had already learned. In sleep, in meditation, in that weird alpha space our brains enter when we pause with sock in hand on the edge of the bed in the gray early morning hours, things have a way of shifting deep inside. That is the kind of „growth“ for which the Qi is abundantly available in winter – more of a settling into ourselves than a growing into ourselves, if that makes sense. Maybe we don’t need to be DOING so much in order to just BE. At least in Winter.


  1. The Huang Di Nei Jing was assembled sometime during the Warring States period (475-221 BCE), at a time when the ancient Chinese had already begun to evaluate both the natural world and the human body as subject to basic, understandable, reproduceable natural laws. Nevertheless, the shamanistic roots of the medicine were still in evidence in the text, and remained a part of the living medicine at least until the 20th Century. The text is framed as the Emperor Huang Di posing questions to his trusted advisor Qi Bo and receiving answers that help explain how the human body functions in alignment with the universe around it.
  2. Unschuld, Paul U., and Hermann Tessenow, in collaboration with Zheng Jinsheng, Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen, Volume 1, (Berkeley, CA, USA: University of California Press,  2011, p. 30-32.)
  3. Ibid., p. 49-50

Kommende Beiträge

Die folgende Themen werden in einem kommenden Blogbeitrag behandelt. Bis dahin lade ich Sie ein, über andere in der TCM behandelte Themen zu lesen oder zu sehen, was in meinem Blog sonst noch besprochen wurde.

  • Autoimmun
  • Chronisches Erschöpfungssyndrom (ME/CFS)
  • Diagnose – Ost und West
  • Haut
  • Unterstützung während und nach Strahlen- bzw. Chemotherapie
  • Menstruation
  • Migräne
  • Psychische und Seelische Beschwerden
  • Schmerzen
  • Stress und Burnout
  • Urogenital
  • Verdauung

Fragen dazu?

Kontaktieren Sie mich oder buchen Sie Ihren Termin online:

Dienstag: 9:00 – 18:00
Mittwoch: 9:00 – 18:00
Donnerstag: 9:00 – 18:00
Freitag: 9:00 – 13:00

09183 / 949 0588

Aus rechtlichen Gründen weisen wir darauf hin:

Wie die meisten Naturheilverfahren wird die Traditionelle Chinesische Medizin in ihren verschiedenen Therapieformen von der Schulmedizin nicht anerkannt. Sie gehört nicht zum allgemeinen medizinischen Standard. Wissenschaftliche Beweise seien noch nicht ausreichend erbracht worden und die Wirksamkeit ist nicht hinreichend gesichert und anerkannt.

Der/Die Patient*in wird darauf hingewiesen, dass die Behandlung des Heilpraktikers / der Heilpraktikerin eine ärztliche Diagnose bzw. Therapie nicht vollständig ersetzt. Ihr Arzt / Ihre Ärztin sollte Ihr *e erste*r Ansprechpartner*in sein, um neue oder wiederkehrende Symptome zu beurteilen. Dies gilt auch dann, wenn dem Heilpraktiker / der Heilpraktikerin aufgrund eines ärztlichen Tätigkeitsverbotes eine Behandlung nicht möglich ist.

Diese Website enthält allgemeine Informationen zu Erkrankungen und Behandlungen. Die Informationen stellen keine Beratung dar und sollten nicht als solche behandelt werden. Sie dürfen sich nicht auf diese Informationen als Alternative zur medizinischen Beratung Ihres Arztes / Ihrer Ärztin verlassen. Wenn Sie spezielle Fragen zu einem medizinischen Thema haben, sollten Sie Ihren Arzt / Ihre Ärztin konsultieren.

Wenn Sie glauben, an einer Krankheit zu leiden, sollten Sie sofort einen Arzt / eine Ärztin aufsuchen. Sie sollten niemals die Suche nach ärztlicher Beratung verzögern, ärztliche Beratung missachten oder eine medizinische Behandlung aufgrund von Informationen auf dieser Website abbrechen.

Winter Harmony