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Each season the natural world gives us important clues as to what is happening within our bodies and how to best adjust to the changing weather. Traditional healing systems, such as traditional Chinese medicine, provide a structure to help us discern what foods and lifestyle choices will best support us as we cycle through the seasons. When we heed natureâs cues and allow our life practices to mirror the seasonal transformations, we tend to not only feel better, but are also better able to prevent the kinds of illnesses and disharmonies that typically occur during seasonal transitions and extremes.
On the March 26th episode of Holistic Healing with Herbs and Chinese Medicine, we describe how you can use the seasons to not only understand the types of ailments you are more susceptible to during season change and extremes, but also how you can use nature to guide food and herb choices throughout the year to maximize your own health and well being. In this article, we provide a quick reference of food, qi gong, and food choices for each season.
Spring is a time of beginnings when energy is starting to ascend after the still, quiet time of winter. New green buds push their way through the earth with renewed vigor to begin life. In Chinese medicine, Spring corresponds to the liver and the wood element. The liver functions as our filtration and detoxification system to eliminate toxins, be they environmental, emotional, hormonal, etc. In Chinese medicine, the liver is responsible for regulating the smooth flow of Qi in the body. It rules the tendons and muscles in the body, and you will often see in folks that have stuck liver Qi that they also have sore muscles, especially of the neck and shoulders. The energy of spring is expansive and ascendant. Here are some tips for navigating spring energy:
- Eat plenty of Greens which is the color associated with the liver and wood element – this includes dark green leafies, are perhaps the most excellent springtime tonic food. Kale, bok choy, spinach, swiss chard, dandelion greens (perhaps one of the best), beet greens, mustard greens are all wonderful foods to eat in great abundance. Also, other green veggies like broccoli and brussel sprouts are excellent. Be sure to cook your greens, either steaming them or sauteeing them. It is still cold outside, meaning your body may need some extra assistance metabolizing your food. Cooking them helps your body better digest them.
- Eat foods that strengthen the blood, such as seaweeds, beets, and berries. Seaweed contain the same minerals found in our blood and are a great blood tonic. Beets are an excellent liver tonic and enrich the liver blood. Berries such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries are also great blood nourishing options.
- Herbs that strengthen the blood like goji or lycii berries are an excellent tonic for the liver and the eyes. They can increase energy levels, libido, reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, improve vision, and are high in antioxidants.
- Herbs that improve liver functioning likeDandelion (taraxacum officinale), milk thistle (silybarum marianum), and chamomile (Matricaria Recutia or German Chamomile and Anthemis nobiles or Roman Chamomile) are all excellent, easy to find choices. Dandelion root helps remove metabolic waste from the blood, thus supporting liver functioning. The leaves in particular, are have a high content of Vitamin A (almost as much as carrots) and B, C, and G, as well as iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium, manganese, copper, choline, calcium, boron, and silicon. The leaves are a diuretic can help detoxify the system through urination, while not depleting your mineral levels. Please note that you should avoid dandelion root if you have a blockage of your bile ducts, gallbladder inflammation, or intestinal blockage. Milk thistle aids the liver in processing toxins, as well as reduces liver inflammation and fibrosis. Chamomile flowers are anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, carminative, and sedative, helping to settle the stomach, relax the body and mind, and can help alleviate digestive upset, menstrual cramps, and tension headaches.
- There is a sound meditation in qi gong called the healing sounds. These sounds can help you release emotions and energy that have been stored in your organs (either recently or a long time ago), consuming useful energy, that can be then freed for other functions. To make the liver sound bring up a green color to nourish your liver. As you inhale raise your hand palm up, stretching the right hand up slightly higher to give your right side and your liver a nice stretch. As you exhale, bring your hands down as you make the âShhâ sound, expelling any stored emotions, like anger, frustration, or rage that your liver has been holding or carrying. Then smile to your liver, embracing it with unconditional love and acceptance.
Summer is a time of activity when the energy of nature is at its most expansive. The light-filled hours of the day extend to manifest in the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. As winter is the most yin time of year, summer is the most yang, or active time of year. Nature reaches its zenith and full bounty during the summer, when plants seeded in the spring begin to bear their fruit. The energy that was stored underground during the winter months has not only burst forth, but is now at full bloom, and nature is abuzz with noise and activity. In summer our physical energy is at its most outward expression, meaning our ability to participate in the external world is at an all time high. In Chinese medicine, the natural element of fire represents the summer season, which is expressed in the emotion of joy. Our inner fire is burning at its brightest, mirroring the heat and intensity of summer. Here are some tips for managing summer energy:
- Spend time outside gardening, walking, or enjoying weather
- Spend time socializing with friends and family but remember to pace yourself during active times to maintain your energy reserves. For example: rest during the heat of the day, donât overdo exercise and outdoor activities, prioritize social activities and tasks, and eat healthily and regularly.
- Use cooling and drying herbs â chrysanthemum, lemon balm, mints, catnip, hibiscus, hawthorn berries, burdock root, and chamomile
- Heart strengthening foods â watermelon, papaya, cherry, mung beans, adzuki beans, amaranth, eggplant, dark green leafies (collards, kale, spinach, chard, etc.)
- Cook with the fresh herbs from your garden like basil, cilantro, parsley, dill, and oregano can help you to better assimilate your food
- Use Spicy herbs (chiles and peppers, as well as chrysanthemum and mints) in small amounts, as they help to open the pores and eliminate excess heat from the surface of the body. An excess of spicy foods and herbs can disperse too much of the bodyâs heat to the surface, reducing the reserves available for the cooler seasons.
- Use the Heart healing qi gong sound â Bring up a bright red color from the center of gravity to fill the heart and nourish the heart. Bring your hands palm up from your navel to over your head as you bring up the red color. Then turn the palms outwards and release hatred, bitterness, predjudice, impatience and intolerance. Make the sound âhaâ as you release the negative emotions of the heart. Then smile to your heart unconditional love and gratitude and fill it with love the positive emotion of the heart.
Fall is a time of moving inward as the energy of Summer begins to descend in preparation for Winter. The cycle has reached itâs peak and it is time to let go of the excess that was generated in the summer cycle and use the heat to warm the insides until Spring. Leaves turn brown and begin to fall, blanketing the ground in a compost to warm and protect it until Spring. Fall is traditionally the season to harvest, to hone what you have produced and refine it into a final, mature product. The days are shortening and becoming darker. In Chinese medicine, Fall is the time of the lungs, as well as the time for culling what you have produced during the creative fire of spring and summer and releasing what no longer sustains and nourishes you.
Here are some tips for adjusting to the Fall season:
- Breathing fresh air â be sure to get outdoors and do some relaxed breathing, or do some exercise such as swimming and consciously bring awareness into the breath. Breathing into the center of gravity while relaxing the muscles of the chest is also helpful.
- Do stretches to open up the chest and the lungs, as well as singing and or playing wind instruments like the saxophone, trumpet, flute etc.
- Lung healing qi gong sound â Inhale and guide the color white up from your center of gravity to nourish and bathe the lungs. As you exhale, make the lungs sound âSssssâ releasing clearing out any grief sadness and depression which can clog the lungs. Then smile and embrace the lungs with unconditional love and acceptance.
- Dry brushing the skin (which is considered to be a part of the lung system in Chinese medicine), using a natural bristle brush to lightly brush the skin before showering.
- Wear comfortable clothes and natural fibers to give more freedom for the lungs to breath.
- Get moderate sun, avoiding excessive exposure, as it can damage the skin.
- The virtues of the lung are integrity courage and respect. Being able to appreciate and value yourself and your surroundings is an important way to satisfy and please the intelligence of the lung. Expressing our values nourishes the lungs.
- Pay attention to the physical aesthetics both in terms of personal appearance and in terms of the home environment to support the energy of lung.
- Use the Fall to reflect and to be grateful for the harvest of your life and the year and to let go of all that isnât serving you in life.
- Eat foods that support the lungs â pears are good for the lungs. Leafy green vegetables like mustard greens, kale, and green and red cabbage are good for the lungs. Also green and yellow and bell peppers, daikon radish, carrots, yams, pumpkin, squash, figs, sesame seeds, apricots, ginkgo nuts, tangerines and other citrus foods.
- Eat plenty of mushrooms, like shitake and maitake â they are also good for the lungs and boost the immune system.
- Avoid dairy as the phlegm produced by dairy can negatively impact the lungs, as phlegm is stored in the lungs and can contribute to congestion and coughs.
- Use herbs like American ginseng (Panax cinquefoils) â this is a great herbs for the lungs and for strengthening the kidneys as well. Astragulus (astragalus membranaceus) and codonopsis (codnopsis pilosula) are two are other herbs that are excellent for lung health. You can buy astragalus and codonopsis powdered from sources such as Mountain Rose Herbs and add them to soup stocks and foods like oatmeal for added immune support during Fall.
Winter is the time of year when the natural world becomes still, cold, and quiet and retreats underground. The energy of plants becomes dormant and is grounded and stored deep in the earth in the plantâs roots. The sun sets earlier and rises later, leaving us with longer nights, and more time for rest and stillness. The energy of the earth is literally going underground to germinate and restore itself. In Chinese medicine, the element of water is associated with winter and is associated with the kidneys, or what we in the western world associate with the endocrine system. The kidneys are associated with winter and the water element and are the source of our constitutional or inherited energy, literally our energy reserves.
In Chinese medicine, winter is also the most yin time of the year. Yin is the feminine energy, the quiet, dark, internal, nurturing, lubricating, moist, energy, often associated with the earth. This yin transforms to the active, substantial, intensity of the yang, or masculine energy (summer). Thus, in order to experience the fullness of richness of summerâs intensity, we need to allow ourselves the stillness and quiet of winter. It is important to remember that we all need regular periods of quiet, as well as activity, be it summer or winter, that winter signals a time to explore these needs in a deeper way than at other points in the year.
Here are some tips for harmonizing winterâs energy:
- Eat deeply nourishing foods, like soups and stews, being sure t0 get enough protein. A popular Chinese soup are bone marrow soups, in which the soup is cooked with a cracked bone to add in the deep nourishment of the bone. Vegetarians need to make a special point to get adequate protein by eating beans and whole grains, and making sure to cook vegetables. Vegetables such as peas , greens, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and any root vegetables.
- Use spices to warm up the energy of a dish and aid in digestion. Spices like garlic, onions, cinnamon, ginger, cardamon, nutmeg, and fennel are all good choices.
- Get plenty of sleep and rest during this time of year â take advantage of the longer hours of darkness and get enough sleep each night.
- Take time for quiet, stillness, introspection and reflection, as you will be richly supported during the winter as you undertake these practices.
- Dress warmly, making sure to cover the lower back (the area over the kidneys) and the back of the neck (wearing scarves). Chinese medicine teaches that the external wind responsible for colds, flus, and infections enters by a point on the back of the neck known as the windgate.
- Use herbs that are warming and tonifying, such as lycii berries, angelica sinensis (dong quai), astragalus, ashwaganda, ginger, cinnamon, and garlic are examples of this type of herb. Herbs that help build and maintain the blood and Qi are especially beneficial (astragalus, dong quai, lycii berries), as well as herbs that strengthen digestion (ginger, ginseng, fennel, cardamom). These herbs are great to cook with or to make hot teas with and will help preserve the bodyâs reserves of blood and Qi through the cold winter months.
- Kidney healing qi gong sound â the healing sound for the kidneys is chuu. Imagine a blue color filling the kidneys from your center of gravity, release fear, fright, trauma and shock. Hug your legs below the knee or put your hands and your knees as you make the sound and release the emotion of fear. Continue making the sound chuu and releasing fear. Then smile to your kidneys, send them unconditional love and acceptance. Then fill with wisdom, a sense of gentleness and stillness.
Michele and Andres have a CD with extended guided meditations for each of the five organs (liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys) which represent the key functions of the body mind spirit in Chinese medicine. For more information on health and wellness podcasts or to order, please contact them firstname.lastname@example.org or call Andres at 336-508-1121.