“In the three moons of winter”

Pause • Reflect • Sundays on Pianodao

As Autumn turns to winter, dead leaves wither on our pathways, migrating birds have headed off in search of warmer climes, insects are crawling into holes, and many animals are settling down to hibernate until the spring thaw.

In Chinese medicine and Qigong practice, the human metabolism also slows down in the Winter, and our energy can become dormant. And yet we seem to largely ignore the challenges of the season. Instead, we work and play even more frenetically than usual as we head towards the Christmas season at breakneck speed.

There is a real danger that our over-exertion in the early winter leaves us physically depleted, mentally and emotionally exhausted, and more susceptible to infection, illness and a general sense of feeling “run down”. We need to take stock…

Huangdi, an ancient Chinese text translated by Deng Ming-Dao (quoted from The Lunar Tao) advises:

Most of us can’t follow these instructions in full, but among the strands of common-sense advice here there are several take-away points to consider.

At the approach of the Winter Solstice it is dark in the UK from around 4 pm until nearly 8 am the next day. Sleeping for 16 hours daily isn’t generally an option, but most of us will benefit from earlier nights through the winter months.

And sleeping in at the weekend, switching off the alarm and letting our bodies wake when ready, can help redress the balance, giving us a chance to conserve energy and revitalise.

Again, most of us aren’t in a position to choose solitude for three months, even if we might want to! But we can choose to use the winter months to be more circumspect, postponing major new projects until the spring, focusing on doing what is essential.

Amidst the hyperactivity of the coming season, time spent alone, given over to stillness, reflection, mindfulness practice, and Qigong will surely give us more strength, patience and insight as we deal with our daily challenges.

There is an ancient folk tale in which a Qigong master is left out in the freezing cold overnight by a harsh overlord, with the assumption that he will be dead come the morning. Instead he is just as he was left, glowing with energy, sat patiently in the same spot!

Our warmth, the story suggests, is not simply kept inside by wearing jolly jumpers, but maintained through cultivating our Qi energy through healthy diet, stretching and breathing exercises. For pianists, I have provided a simple video explaining how to warm the hands and fingers based on these old practises. You can check it out here.

So long as we are in touch with ourselves and our surroundings, we will know that Huangdi is simply underlining common sense observations.

Let’s also do all we can to look out for the needs of those less fortunate than us this winter, too, helping those less able to apply this good advice and care for themselves. When empathy and knowledge come together, great things are possible.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based in Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.