Judy Bowen-Jones

On Winter & Old Wives Tales

Living in Harmony with the Seasons According to the Wisdom of Chinese Medicine

As a teenager I remember my mother saying ‘don’t go out with wet hair’ or ‘don’t sit on the cold stone steps’. At the time I thought it was much ado about nothing. It was only when I trained in Chinese Medicine that I came to appreciate the wisdom of her advice. Today we talk about ‘feeling under the weather’ but generally underestimate the impact of the seasonal climate on our health.

According to ancient Chinese principles, all things in life (including the seasons) correspond to one of the five different energies or elements: Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal.


The seasonal element for Winter is Water. Water takes many forms. In nature we see water emerging as springs from the ground, flowing as streams, merging into powerful rivers running to the sea. Water has an invigorating quality.

In Winter seeds are stored, protected in the ground ready to release their power and germinate in the Spring. Winter is a time for us to conserve energy and recharge our batteries.

The climate associated with Water and Winter is Cold. Cold slows us down and makes us contract inside. Constitutionally we are all different. Some of us are more sensitive to the cold than others. The elderly and frail are particularly vulnerable. If you really hate the cold or easily get cold hands and feet, then chances are that you are more likely to ‘catch a chill’ if exposed to the cold. So it makes sense to protect yourself.

The parts of the body associated with Water and the Winter are the Kidneys and Bladder. Environmental cold can invade the body through the uterus, the lower back or abdomen – that’s why my mother told me not to sit on the cold steps.

Today, cold is one of the most common causes of infertility. In recent years it has been fashionable for young women to wear crop tops leaving their tummies exposed. Medical professionals have reported increases in kidney problems as a consequence. Cold is also a common cause of low back pain and arthritic pain. Pain from cold is sharp, stabbing and intense. Cold can make existing pain worse. Acupuncture with warming moxibustion is often used to help relieve ‘cold’ conditions such as back or knee pain.

Cold can also invade via the stomach, so if you are susceptible to cold avoid cold drinks and food. Wrap up warmly, limit heat loss from your extremities by wearing a hat and gloves and make sure your living environment is well heated. Check on elderly neighbours to make sure they are warm enough too.

So next time your mother says ‘don’t forget your gloves’ when you are going out – you might want to take her advice. Happy Christmas Mum!