Despite some flurries, we’ve been fortunate with a relatively mild winter and more sunshine than the  Pacific Northwest typically offers during this time of year. And yet, there are many natural and unavoidable changes that our bodies undergo during seasonal shifts. Winter is the perfect time of year to bring a focus back to your center, and this season we invite you to be aware of your abdomen and to see it as the wellspring of your health and wellbeing. While this practice may be an extra nurturing experience during the Winter months, it is also a powerful practice year-round. A valuable and therapeutic way to support yourself in returning to your center (physically, spiritually and emotionally) is called Chi Nei Tsang: a form of abdominal and pelvic internal organ massage that supports the natural shifts that are constantly occurring within us.

The Organs, the Five Elements and Their Seasons

The Five Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, upon which Chi Nei Tsang is based, helps us to understand how our organ systems are related to nature’s seasons and its elements (fire, earth, metal, water, and wood), and what this means for recurring shifts in our health. These five elements are interpreted and referred to more as patterns and phases of change rather than as physical substances. They are seen as existing in dynamic balance with one another throughout our bodies and the cosmos alike.

Each of the Five Elements, which are connected to the body’s organ systems, are most prominent during a particular season.  Winter is the season of water, which is related to the functions of the kidney and bladder. In Spring, we experience the wood, which is related to the liver/ gallbladder and expresses as new growth and a sudden manifestation of potential after long periods of rest. The season of Summer emphasizes the fire element, which is of the heart and small intestine organ systems. Late Summer, or Harvest, is the season of the earth element and is related to the spleen and the stomach. Finally, Fall’s element is metal and its organ systems are that of the lungs and large intestine. The understanding of the organ systems in Traditional Chinese Medicine is very layered as they represent much more than the just the physical functioning of individual organs. The patterns of the elements and natural seasonal shifts within our organs are also related intimately to emotional health, spiritual expression and overall energy levels.

Winter: When the Digestive Fires Wane

Winter is the time in which the body struggles most with digestion. The water element of Winter dampens and subdues the flame of digestion and thus the fire of the small intestine, which thrives during summer months, is at its all-time low. This means a much slower transit time for the food we eat, often resulting in feeling fatigued. The longer it takes for our food to travel through our bodies, the more difficult it is for the organs, especially the liver, to do their jobs of detoxifying. (If elimination is not efficient, the liver must re-process toxins that ideally would already have been released from the body.) This difficulty is compounded by the tendency to reach toward “comfort food” when it is cold outside, especially during the holiday season when it seems to be everywhere! Our bodies can take weeks or longer to get back into balance after the holidays. For those with chronic digestive or immune challenges such as candida or yeast-overgrowth, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel conditions, etc, the cold season and its effects on digestion can present increased health challenges.

To help support your digestion during the Winter, try sticking to healthy, warm foods including sautéed vegetables, homemade soups and sprouted seed-like grains such as quinoa (unless, of course, you are on a diet or protocol that requires otherwise). Do the best you can to avoid cold foods and beverages, dairy, and sugar during this time. Try warming teas, like ginger and turmeric, and liver supporting herbs such as nettle and dandelion root.

Working with Chi Nei Tsang practitioners during this time can help immensely in  “kick-starting” sluggish digestion and its accompanying sense of heaviness while also taking a large burden off of the immune system by increasing local circulation and toxin release. Abdominal massage assists greatly in flushing out stagnant toxins that the body struggles to release on its own. As a specialized and advanced form of abdominal massage, Chi Nei Tsang works directly with major organs of digestion and elimination (stomach, liver, gallbladder, small and large intestines, kidneys and bladder and more) to help them find a state of optimal function. By doing direct internal organ massage, tiny but strong adhesions of the local tissues as well as larger physical and emotional blockages are freed, creating enhanced flow and resources for the body.

A Special Organ: Respecting the Kidneys during Winter

Winter is the season of the water element, which rules kidney and bladder function. The kidneys are particularly prone to damage from stress and overactivity during the cold Winter months. Our bodies are naturally designed to rest more during this season, and if we do not intentionally reduce activity levels then the kidneys will be forced to overwork (this is one organ system that truly requires ample rest and prioritizing it will most certainly result in elevated whole-body health). It becomes necessary to slow down our pace, taking intentional effort in our hectic culture. Receiving massage is very nurturing for the kidneys as it allows us to rest and move into the restorative parasympathetic nervous system state, taking a large hormonal burden off this organ.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the kidneys are of extreme importance. Not only are they tied to sexual health and brain function, but they are known to be the primary and most potent reservoir of Jing in our bodies. The concept of Jing is not present in Western Medicine but its significance cannot be understated; Jing is the powerful substance of life essence that nourishes the body and maintains its longevity. Anything that support the kidneys will help to preserve this vital essence within you.

The kidneys are also known to be related to the emotion of fear. Both sudden fright and chronic fear in the form of anxiousness can be very stressful for them. One of the most effective ways to access personal power and calm fearfulness is by connecting with your central core, the abdomen, and the wisdom which resides within it. This center, the focus of Chi Nei Tsang massage, introduces us to our vast inner strength and personal resolve when it is invited to do so.

The Season of Lowered Immunity

Being in lower outdoor temperatures can suppress the body’s immune system, which puts people at greater risk of acquiring bacterial or viral infections. If you are someone who seems to regularly contract colds or airborne viruses during the winter months, abdominal massage may be helpful for you. It has been shown that up to 80% of the immune system resides and functions within the digestive tract, thanks to the gut- and mucosa- associated lymphatic tissue of the gastrointestinal tract.

Please note that if you are if you are currently suffering from an acute cold or infection, you should wait until your body recovers to receive treatment as your symptoms may otherwise become aggravated. The release of toxins from tissues, a major effect of massage, may also be overwhelming for an immune system that is in the midst of fighting acute infection.

Connecting to the Source of Your Vitality

Wearing heavier clothing and multiple layers of clothing, reduced bodily motion, compromised digestion, less sunshine and generally feeling more muscular stiffness are all obstacles that may prevent our feeling energized and vital during the Winter. Chi Nei Tsang practitioners help bring our awareness deeply into our bodies, activating the inner senses that bridge the gap between environment and inner sanctum. The abdomen is widely acknowledged as the source of energetic potency, physically and emotionally. If we are disconnected from our core, we are only working with a fraction of the energy that we otherwise could be. Freeing physical restrictions through Chi Nei Tsang practices can easily and effectively increase the vital energy immediately available to us.

Neurologically balancing the cranial brain with the “gut brain” allows for new levels of emotional health to naturally flow into your life. Vast reservoirs of emotion are stored in the abdomen. Think of the last time you were told startling or unfortunate news; it is likely that you felt a sudden tightening of your stomach. Although we may be unconscious to this, our viscera remembers and holds these emotional patterns until a time in which they can be healthily released.  As with the clearing of physical adhesions, emotional knots are unwound through abdominal massage, allowing frozen or unprocessed events to thaw. This emotional warmth alone elevates an individual’s wellbeing in a profound manner.

Self-Care and Self-Discovery

One easy way to integrate this new awareness of your power source is to give yourself an abdominal massage while lying down in bed before sleeping. It can be as easy as a quick belly rub, or even just placing your own hands on your belly to connect with this area energetically. It only takes a few minutes to step into this practice of renewing yourself through intimately connecting to the dynamic center of your body. It is a jumping-off point not only for greater health but for an explorative entry into the greater mysteries of your Being.


To learn more about our Chi Nei Tsang abdominal massage treatments, click here –