Staying Healthy in Winter
We have reached the Solstice and the Winter season is officially here.
Chinese Medicine suggests that to maintain optimum health we should live our lives in Harmony with our environments and the seasons. Winter is a time of darkness and stillness when nature seems to be in a state of hibernation, rest and recharging. It is a reminder that we should do the same, slow down, conserve your strength allow your yin energy to be restored.
Winter is associated with the element of Water. Water is the most yin of all the five elements. The organ systems associated with Water are the Kidneys (yin) and Urinary Bladder (yang), which rule water metabolism and maintain homeostasis, a dynamic continual rebalancing. The Colors associated with Winter are black and blue, its flavor is salty and the Emotion is fear. Traditional Chinese Medicine says that excess fear injures the Kidney energy while a dysfunction in the Kidney energy, in turn, further increases our fear.
The peak qi flow hours for bladder are 3 to 5 p.m.; kidney is 5 to 7 p.m.
The kidneys govern our vital life force energy. Our kidneys regulate water metabolism, our sex organs and fertility, bones, teeth, hair and hearing. In other words, kidney energy is incredibly important to our health. Most Americans have some imbalance in their kidney energy because of our diets and high stress lifestyle. Excesses and addictions of all kinds (sex, drugs, work, over-training in sports), constant stress and trauma can all lead to kidney depletion.
On an emotional level, unsteadiness, fear and an unwillingness to face our spiritual pain are all symptomatic of disconnection from the deep wisdom of our bodies and our relationship to life itself.
If we deplete ourselves acupuncture, herbal medicine, proper rest, attention to diet, exercises like yoga, qigong or tai chi and meditation can help restore healthy organ function.Here are some suggestions on how to eat and exercise for Kidney Health.
Traditional Dietary Suggestions to Strengthen Kidney Qi
• Do not eat too much fruit or raw food.
• Eat warm hearty soups, root vegetables such as turnips, onions and potatoes are good, also dark leafy green vegetables, asparagus, and celery are helpful, whole grains, and a little meat, if appropriate, is also helpful for this time of the year.
• Use warming condiments, garlic and ginger.
• Herbal teas such as nettle, juniper, ginseng, burdock, comfrey and marshmallow are good examples.
• Water – The Kidneys are associated with the Water element. Drink ample water at room temperature throughout the day.
• Kidney Shaped Foods – Black beans and kidney beans are excellent examples of kidney shaped food that nourish and benefit Kidney Qi.
• Blue and Black Foods – The colors blue and black correspond to the Water element of the Kidneys and are thought to strengthen the Water element. Include some blueberries, blackberries, mulberry and black beans in your diet.
• Seeds – Flax, pumpkin, sunflower, and black sesame seeds increase Kidney Qi.
• Nuts – Walnuts and chestnuts have been found to be especially effective for increasing Kidney Qi.
Qigong to Clear the Meridians and Strengthen Kidney Qi
In TCM being healthy is about staying balanced, so avoiding extremes. But it is also about having a, free flowing, unobstructed flow of Qi energy through your meridians. Try these simple Qigong movements designed to clear the Kidney and Bladder meridians and nourish the Water element.
1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, arms gently relaxed by the side of the body and lift your head gently as if it is being pulled upward by a string. Feel the (Yongquan) Bubbling Well point just behind the pad on the sole of the foot. This is the first point on the kidney meridian and the point through which we connect to the Earth’s yin energy.
2. Take long, deep breaths in through your nose, out through your mouth and relax your body, releasing any tension.
3. Clear your mind and release all worries.
4. Continue with your deep breathing and relaxation. Connect with the energy of the universe.
5. Take a deep breath.
6. Raise both of your hands up to your collar bones (K27 end point of the kidney meridian). As you exhale make the “Chooooo” sound and allow your palms to travel down over your chest, abdomen, down the inside of your legs, to your ankles. This will clear the Kidney meridian.
7. Take another deep breath.
8. As you exhale make the “Chooooo” sound and allow your palms to travel up the back of your legs to the kidneys. This will clear the Bladder meridian.
9. Take another deep breath.
10. With your hands placed over your kidneys. Exhale and again make the “Chooooo” sound as you visualize sending a flow of blue light energy out your palms into your kidneys.
11. With your hands still over the kidneys, move your hips in a wide circle like working with a hula hoop first clockwise, then counter-clockwise, nine times in each direction. This will strengthen the Kidney Qi.
12. Allow your hands to relax back to your sides.
Staying Healthy in Spring
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sprang from the observation of Nature and is organized around the interaction of the Nature’s 5 Elements; Water, Wood, Fire, Metal and Earth. Each of these 5 elements is associated with a specific season. According to this model remaining healthy is about keeping these elements in balance and living in harmony with the seasons
In Asia they believe Spring begins in February with the Chinese New Year. Here in the west we recognize the Vernal Equinox (March 20) as the first day of Spring.
After this year’s harsh Winter many of us are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Spring; that time of renewal when the sap begins to flow and the seeds that have lain dormant beneath a blanket of snow become reactivated. It is their time to break free of Winters icy grip, worm their way up through frosty soil and place their tender green faces in the warm light of the sun.
According to TCM, the season “Spring” is represented by the element of Wood, the color Green, the emotion of Anger and the taste of Sour. It’s related organ is the Liver.
Be Aware of your Emotions
As the organ responsible for the flow of blood and qi (pronounced “Chee”) energy the liver is most affected by excess stress or emotions. When the liver is healthy the qi flows smoothly and our emotional state will be happy, we will feel kind and generous. When the liver’s qi energy becomes stagnant we become more susceptible to anger, depression, jealousy and envy. Our emotions can be a diagnostic tool. If we are experiencing these darker feelings it could be an indication of liver imbalance.
Eating with the Season
One important aspect for staying healthy this Spring is eating right for the liver.
Green is the color of the liver and springtime, so eating young plants, sprouts and leafy greens will aid in liver qi flow. Green smoothies make a perfect Spring tonic.
It is believed that sour foods calm the body, help ground the emotional charge and support liver health. Some recommendations for liver friendly foods are; bamboo shoots, broccoli rabe, brussel sprouts, dandelion greens, egg plant, fennel, scallions ginger, kiwifruit, lemons, limes, oranges, pickles, tomatoes, and vinegar.
Milk thistle tea is also excellent for liver health as it helps protect the liver cells from toxins and encourages the liver to cleanse itself of damaging substances such as medications, alcohol and other harmful toxins.
Move your Body
Another key to Spring health is being more physically active after the dormancy of Winter. Shoveling snow aside, if you have been relatively inactive, ease back into exercise. Take walks outdoors. The air outside helps the liver qi flow. Enjoy Nature and observe the new growth, the shoots and buds of the changing season. Do gentle movements like Tai Chi, Qigong or Yoga. Exercises that involve turning the trunk are particularly good for the liver.
Stretching is important too as the liver controls the tendons. TCM tells us that our strength comes not from our muscles but our tendons. Our agility and flexibility are a result of healthy tendons. The liver stores blood during times of rest and releases it during times of activity, so stretching daily can help maintain the flow of blood and Qi needed for tendon health.
Look to your Liver
The sensory organs associated with the liver are the eyes. If you are having problems with your eyes, be it blurry vision, dry or itchy eyes you may have an imbalance of qi energy in your liver. Bringing the liver back into balance can improve these conditions. One exercise for the eyes includes working the full range of motion by following an infinity symbol or sideways figure eight pattern with your eyes, another blinking rapidly a few times to refresh the eyes.
Qigong for the Liver
For those unfamiliar with it qigong is a form of moving meditation that synchronizes a series of gentle movements with your breathing to stimulate the qi (life force energy) in your body. It is considered more than an exercise routine. As a part of TCM it is considered a healing art. There are a variety of qigong sequences designed to nourish the wood element and massage the liver. Here are a few simple movements you can try.
Massage the Liver
The liver is located on the right side of your body. Place your left hand over your ribs to the right of your solar plexus and visualize sending cool energy to your liver as you massage the area in a counterclockwise direction for about 3 minutes.
Energize and Vibrate the Liver
With your left hand still over your liver, take a deep breath. As you inhale visualize sending bright green light from your palm to fill the organ with peaceful and compassionate energy. As you exhale make the sound “Shuuu” and tap lightly on your ribs 5 times, visualizing any dark stagnant energy, anger or frustration being released. Annunciating the “Shuuu” sound will cause it to resonate in the throat and chest and combined with the tapping will vibrate the organ stimulating qi flow.
Clear the Liver Meridian
The meridians are the pathways through which the qi energy in your body travels. Tracing of the liver meridian will help to clear any energetic blocks.
Place one hand on either side of the front of your rib cage. Take a deep breath and as you exhale brush downward. (Making the “Shuuu” sound is optional.) When you get to your hips bend over and continue down the inside of the thighs, knees, calf, ankle, then over the top of your foot and off the big toe. Repeat 3-5 times.
The liver is responsible for the flow of Qi energy in your body, so for optimum health this Spring, eat green, taste sour, go outdoors and get your Qi moving!
Staying Healthy in Summer
With the arrival of the solstice, the longest day of the year, we welcome the official first day of Summer. Summer is that time when warm weather returns, growth and expansion are at their peak, helping us to manifest our fullest potential and find our greatest joy on these bright sunny days and warm evenings.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), remaining healthy is about keeping elements in balance, having neither too much nor too little of any energy. Health is also dependent upon living in harmony with the Earth’s natural phases, the seasons. The season “Summer” is represented by the element of Fire, the color Red, the emotion of Joy, and the taste of Bitter. It’s related organ is the Heart.
Be aware of your Emotions
Summer is connected with the Heart, the organ associated with both Joy and our spirit. Summer therefore is the best time to release old emotional hurts making room for more Love to take their place. Avoiding anger is key. When you feel anger arise change your perspective, open your Heart and go immediately to an attitude of gratitude embracing the lesson this trigger provides as the gift that it is.
Eat Right to Keep Your Balance with the Season
Food is medicine and in TCM foods are used for their healing properties. One important aspect for staying healthy this Summer is eating right for the Heart.
Too much Fire can be counteracted by eating Bitter foods like, romaine lettuce, dandelion greens, almonds and scallions. An excess of Fire means too much Heat so to return to balance Cooling foods like fruits and vegetables must be consumed. Some examples would include cucumbers, sprouts, watermelon, apples, lemons and limes.
Conversely a deficiency of Fire means not enough Heat. This can be repaired by eating Warming foods like, peppers, ginger, citrus, butter, meats, corn, cherries and basmati rice.
Move your Body
In Summer the energy of the planet is high and the time is ripe to be more active and get plenty of cardiovascular exercise, because the Fire element rules the heart and circulatory system. Get outdoors, go for a run, a swim, a hike, a bike ride, dance around the fire, whatever gets your blood pumping.
Energize and Follow your Heart
Qigong is a healing art, a form of moving meditation that synchronizes a series of gentle movements with your breathing to stimulate the qi (life force energy) in your body.
The Heart is located in the center of the chest behind the sternum and between the lungs. This is also the location of the Heart Chakra and the acupressure point CV 17 known as the Sea of Tranquility. Pressing or tapping on this point relieves anxiety, anguish, depression; boosts the immune system, and regulates the thymus gland. The meridians are the pathways through which the qi energy in your body travels. Tracing the Heart meridian will help to clear any energetic blocks.
Try these simple Qigong movements designed to nourish the Fire element and the Heart.
Place your right palm over your sternum. Close your eyes. With your spine straight, take a deep breath. As you inhale visualize sending bright red light in to fill your Heart with Joy and Love. As you exhale brush your palm across the chest, down the inside of the left arm, over the palm and off the pinky while entoning the “Haaaw” sound. This brushing moves the Qi clearing the meridian and helping to release any tension in the arms that may be blocking Heart energy or emotion. It also helps if you visualize any dark stagnant energy, anger or frustration being released. Annunciating the “Haaw” sound causes it to resonate in the throat and chest and lightly tapping the sternum will vibrate the organ and stimulate qi flow energizing the Heart.
Now repeat on the other side of the body. Place the left hand over the sternum. Take a deep breath and as you exhale brush across the chest, down the inside of the right arm, over the palm and off the pinky. Repeat sequence on both sides 3-5 times.
In summary, a healthy summer can be had if you stay in a headspace of Joy and Gratitude, Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, be physically Active, and Energize your Heart.
Staying Healthy in Late Summer
Late Summer is Chinese Medicine’s Fifth Season. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) being based on Five Element theory has 5 Seasons rather than the four most of us recognize. We are just coming into that 5th season now. Late Summer / Harvest or what we in the west would call “Indian” Summer, begins in late August and goes through September 23rd, the Autumn Equinox.
The Late Summer season is associated with the Earth element, the color Yellow, the Yin/Yang Balance Organs are the Stomach and Spleen. Other related organs are the Pancreas, Muscles, and the related sensory organ is the Mouth. The mouth is not just related for eating it is the vehicle for our voices and the Sound of this season is Singing or Chanting. The related Emotion is Worry, the flavor Sweet and the condition is Dampness. Its direction is the Center.
Late Summer is a time of transition, from the heat and Yang energy of Summer, to the cooler temperatures of the Fall. Because it is associated with the Stomach and Spleen this season is particularly important for people who have digestive issues. In TCM the Spleen equates to the Pancreas that produces enzymes that aid in digestion and regulates blood sugar by producing insulin and glucagon.
Eating for the Season
To stay healthy and balanced in Late Summer a little taste of sweetness will stimulate the Stomach and Spleen. However, too much may cause the digestive system to be overworked and will leave you feeling lethargic and perhaps a little foggy. A better choice would be locally grown fruits and vegetables, foods that are moist and slightly sweet such as watermelon, melon, cantaloupe, apples, cherries, peaches and plums. Other foods considered lightly sweet and moist would include corn, cucumbers, beets and zucchini. In the later part of this season as the weather cools more warming foods such as freshly harvested squash, pumpkin, mustard greens, fennel and ginger that will aid your digestive system.
In early Summer the weather was warm and you were likely more active taking full advantage of the Summer Fire. However, this may have led you to struggle with fatigue, low energy and/or motivation due to over-exertion, or emotional stress. Late Summer is a good time to get proper rest and nourishment. Relax, meditate to reduce worry/stress, exercise, enjoy family and friends, eat fresh food to boost your energy in this Earth time.
The Spleen is also associated with the muscles so work them but also take time to stretch and relax them. To get the most out of your exercise try working out when the Stomach and Spleen are at their energetic peaks 7-9a.m. and 9-11a.m. respectively.
The Earth element is associated with the direction Center that is about grounding. We humans are perfectly centered between the energies of Heaven and Earth. Centering is about finding balance in all things. The Yin and Yang, masculine and feminine, your inner and outer worlds, etc. One way to ground is to send roots out the “Bubbling Well” points in the soles of your feet deep into the Earth. Another simple way of grounding oneself is by “Earthing” or walking barefoot outdoors on the dirt or grass. Whichever of these techniques you choose you can release any dense energy, worry or stress through your feet and into the Earth.
Another trick for Centering yourself involves acupressure. The physical center of your body and your center of balance is located in the abdomen approximately 2 inches below your navel. In the world of Qigong this is known as the Lower Dantian (energy center), in yogic traditions it is referred to as the Sacral Chakra. TCM has named this acupressure point the “Sea of Qi” because it is thought to be where all of the Qi energy in the body collects. Pressing and holding this point can help relieve stomachache, abdominal cramping, constipation, gas, and digestive headaches. It is a good point for developing emotional stability. It is also ideal for Centering your energy.
While we are on the subject of using acupressure you can also help solve digestive issues by pressing on the Stomach and Spleen points on your back. These are located in the middle of your back, on either side of the spine, between the last two ribs, at the bottom of the ribcage. The easiest way to access these points and keep constant pressure is by putting 2 tennis balls in a sock and lying down on them.
Clearing the Meridians
In TCM being healthy is about staying balanced, so avoiding extremes. But it is also about having a, free flowing, unobstructed flow of Qi energy through your meridians. Try this Qigong sequence to clear the Stomach and Spleen meridians. It can help your digestion and energetically ground you.
Place your palms over your eyes. With your spine straight, take a deep breath. As you inhale visualize sending golden light in to fill your Stomach. As you exhale brush your palms down your face, along the sides of your neck, over your chest/pectorals, down the abdomen, and out to the hips. Bend over as you continue brushing down the front of the legs to the feet while intoning the “Hoooo” sound. This brushing moves the Qi clearing the Stomach and Spleen meridians. As your hands reach your feet release any feelings of Worry into the Earth. Inhale, lifting your arms, drawing energy up from the Earth and repeat the process 3 – 5 times or as much as you feel intuitively guided to do so.
Late Summer Summary
Eat sweet, clear your meridians, walk barefoot on the Earth, sing or chant and find your center. Do these things and you will remain healthy in the Late Summer season.
Staying Healthy in Fall
One of the most beautiful aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine is its harmony with the natural cycle of the seasons, and their relation to 5-Element theory. To stay healthy one must harmonize their own energy with that of their environment. With the arrival of the Autumn Equinox (September 22nd), we welcome the official first day of Fall.
It is a transitional time from the Yang energies and heat of summer and late summer to the Yin energy and crisp temps of Autumn, the traditional time of Harvest represented symbolically by the cornucopia of Abundance related to the Thanksgiving holiday. Fall is a time that ushers in harvesting apples, pumpkin and squash, preserving food, enjoyment of the colors of the changing leaves and beginning to prepare oneself both physically and mentally for the upcoming colder months.
The season “Autumn” is represented by the element of Metal, the color White, the emotion of Grief, and the taste is Spicy or Pungent. It’s related organs are the Large Intestine and the Lungs. The Qi energy in the meridians of these organs is at its peak from 3am to 7am. The related sensory organ is the Nose. Its direction is the West.
Be aware of your Emotions
Fall is the turning point when the Yang, or active energy turns into its opposite, the Yin, or passive energy. Just as the weather in Autumn turns cooler, so do the emotions. The emotion associated with Autumn is Grief. This makes it important to stay calm and peaceful, avoiding depression so that our transition into the Winter months ahead is a smooth one. It is the time to focus on strengthening our spirit, accomplished by stimulating the Qi through breathing exercises such as meditation, and Qigong. The same dry winds that strip the deciduous trees of their leaves can affect our skin as dryness, itchiness or can get into our lungs and cause dry cough. A conscious breathing practice not only enhances lung Qi but has the added benefit of keeping the lung energy free full, clean, and quiet which is vital to remaining healthy in the Fall. Since the sensory organ for Autumn is the Nose focus on breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Eat Right to Keep Your Balance with the Season
Food is medicine and in TCM foods are used for their healing properties. One important aspect for staying healthy this Autumn is eating right for the Lungs.
It is recommended that your foods should moisten and clear the Lungs, get rid of wind and support the digestive system.
Foods that moisten the Lungs, include apples, pears and persimmons that contain a lot of water. Lima and navy beans are also good for the Lungs. To stimulate and clear the Lungs you can use spicy/pungent foods and herbs such as horseradish, white pepper, onions, garlic, sage, raw onion and hot chili peppers. More gentle pungents would include basil, coriander, bay leaves, cabbage, chives, cinnamon, cloves, dill, fennel, ginger, oregano, nutmeg, rosemary, thyme, turmeric, turnip and wheat germ.
Autumn is also associated with the Large intestine and it is a time when the digestive system can become deficient. For health it is advised to eat dark green and orange vegetables that assist in harmonizing digestion.
Soups rather than salads are good Autumn food for various reasons, including the fact that longer cooking times at low temperatures mean the ingredients are easier to digest, and the wateriness nurtures Yin. Thick stews and soups help build energy reserves for the colder months ahead. Salt helps moisten dryness so use small amounts of salt in Autumn cooking. Because steaming also nurtures Yin it is a good technique for Fall.
Take a Hike
There is really nothing better for your health than connecting with Nature and Autumn during peak foliage season is perhaps the most beautiful time of year to do so. Admiring the brilliant colors of the trees is good for your emotional health and taking long deep breaths of cool clean air is one of the best things you can do to strengthen the lungs. However the Fall is also associated with Wind thought to be the cause of a hundred different diseases in TCM. So while you our out enjoying your walk in Nature wear a scarf that can keep you warm and protect your neck an easy access point for cold.
Clearing the Meridians
In TCM being healthy is about staying balanced, so avoiding extremes. But it is also about having a, free flowing, unobstructed flow of Qi energy through your meridians. Try these simple Qigong movements designed to clear the Lung and Large Intestine meridians and nourish the Metal element.
Place your right palm over your left cheek beside your nose. With your spine straight, take a deep breath. As you inhale visualize sending bright white light in to fill your belly. As you exhale make the “Ssssss” sound like a tire that has sprung a leak while brushing your palm down your face, along the side of your neck, over your shoulder, down the outside of your arm, along the top of the forearm, the back of your hand and pull the energy off the end of the index finger. This brushing moves the Qi clearing the Large Intestine meridian. Repeat on the other side of the body.
Now place your right palm over the ball joint of your left shoulder. Take a deep breath. As you inhale visualize filling your Lungs with pure white light. As you exhale make the “Ssssss” sound while brushing your palm down over the head of the bicep of your left arm, along the inside of the forearm, and pulling the energy off the end of your thumb. This brushing moves the Qi clearing the Lung meridian. Repeat on the other side of the body. Repeat the process 3 – 5 times on each side of the body or as much as you feel intuitively guided to do so.