Navigating Winter with Chinese Medicine

Photo by Nikoli Afina on Unsplash

Today is the perfect winter day. It is snowing, cold, dark, damp and quiet. These are the adjectives that describe the most yin season in Chinese Medicine. This is the time to slow down, replenish our energy reserves, conserve our strength and spend time reflecting on our health and meditative pursuits.

The associations of winter in Chinese Medicine are Kidney Meridian, Bladder Meridian, adrenal glands, hair, and ears. The element is water, the taste is salty, and the emotions are fear and depression. In other posts, I’ve spoken about Kidney and Bladder Meridian, symptoms of imbalance and the foods which are recommended to improve health this time of year.

The most important role of the season of winter is to slow us down so we can nourish and replenish our energy for the coming activity of spring.

If you are less active in winter, you may want to reduce the quantity of food you consume. It is also advisable to eliminate raw foods and eat warming foods.

To avoid colds and flu during the season:

  • Get plenty of sleep – recommended 7- 8 hours a night
  • Wash your hands regularly, carrying disinfectant wipes and wiping flat surfaces, handles, and phones in public places can also go a long way during flu season.
  • Dress for the weather, be prepared with gloves, scarves or hats for drops in temperature.
  • Reduce your stress daily. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, walking or whatever exercise helps to release tension.
  • Take vitamin c, elderberry syrup, zinc lozenges to boost your immune system and drink plenty of water.

If you do become ill, take time away from your schedule to rest and heal.

More Chinese Medicine Tips for Winter

The Bladder Meridian is the longest and most influential of all the energy pathways since it crosses all the other meridians. During winter the energies are most active in Bladder and Kidney Meridians; this is the time of the water element. When the Bladder Meridian is out of balance both physical and emotional symptoms can occur.

Some physical symptoms associated with an imbalance in the Bladder Meridian are: headaches, urinary problems (i.e. frequent urination, incontinence), back pain, eye pain, colds. Emotional symptoms of Bladder Imbalance include: being fearful and inflexible, low energy, resisting change and a persistent negative attitude.

The Bladder Meridian is closely aligned with the autonomic nervous system because it runs down the entire length of the spine with two branches on either side of the backbone. These four branches directly influence the sympathetic and parasympathetic trunks of the autonomic nervous system which regulate our flight or fight response and all the body’s basic functions.

In today’s stressful world many people have overly stimulated sympathetic nervous systems; creating a constant state of fear or anxiety. Over time this anxiety tightens the muscles of the spine creating pain. Back tension and pain can be relieved by stimulating the energy flow along the Bladder Meridian.

Opening the energy channels of the Bladder Meridian will create a state of total relaxation and switch the autonomic nervous system over to the restful parasympathetic mode. Having your energy balanced with acupressure or acupuncture will positively affect both body and mind.

Chinese Medicine Tips for Winter

The energy pathways most active during winter are kidney and bladder. Winter is a time for quiet, self-reflection, meditation and nourishment of body and soul. It is also important to get plenty of sleep, eat locally grown, organic, well-cooked food, stay warm and stay hydrated.

Some foods that support the body during winter are:

  • Celery, asparagus, lettuce, endive, turnip
  • Rye, quinoa, oats, barley, salt, millet
  • Soy sauce, miso, roasted nuts
  • Hearty, warming soups, black beans
  • Steamed greens, bone broth

The kidneys hold our body’s most fundamental energy and rest is the best way to strengthen them. Kidney energy is important for the maintenance of vitality and to prevent premature aging. It also governs energy reserves which allow adaptation to life’s constant changes.

The body parts associated with the kidneys are the ears and bones. Bone broths are exceptionally nourishing for the kidneys.

Multitasking and constant stress break down kidney energy creating exhaustion and predisposition to hypertension. A major life challenge for all of us is adapting to change and maintaining body-mind balance.

More Tips for Maintaining Health in Winter with Chinese Medicine

winter scene

Photo by Johny Goerend on Unsplash

The Winter Solstice is less than 2 weeks away, and the subtle energies which transform fall into winter can be felt in the changing weather.

Chinese medicine is based on the belief that living in harmony with the seasons of nature can prevent disease and promote health. Winter is the most yin season when the flow of energy is cold, damp, slow and inward. The days are shorter, and darkness comes early.

The organs associated with winter are the kidneys and bladder. Today, I want to discuss the kidneys. The kidneys hold our body’s fundamental energy, the Jing chi or essence. To strengthen kidney energy, it is important to get adequate rest and spend time in self-reflection and meditation. Practices such as Tai Chi and yoga help to relax body, mind, and spirit, and connect us to our inner selves.

The kidney energy is also associated with our ears and bones. Our hearing ability is connected to the health of the kidneys. We can hear more clearly in the stillness of winter than in the activity of the spring and summer.

Bone broths are a good way to tonify kidney energy and nourish the bones which produce Jing chi. Other foods which support the kidneys include: rye, oats, miso, quinoa, seaweeds, salt, warm, hearty soups, roasted nuts, black beans, black rice.

Prolonged extreme stress harms the kidneys. It is also recommended to avoid excess salt, and anything in excess.

Treating Piriformis Syndrome with Acupressure and Myofascial Release

glutes piriformis syndrome sciaticaOn my trip to Savannah last week, I had a very nice conversation with the woman sitting next to me. When I told her that I was a bodywork therapist; she asked if I knew of Piriformis Syndrome. Though I knew something about treating it, I was intrigued to do more research.

The piriformis is a flat, band-like muscle deep within the buttocks that runs from the front of the sacrum to the hip joint (head of the femur). It functions to laterally rotate the hip and is a core stabilizing muscle. The piriformis is important because the sciatic nerve runs under it, and in a small percentage of people, the sciatic nerve runs through it. Therefore, injury or inflammation to the piriformis can irritate the sciatic nerve and cause sciatica. When this occurs, it is called piriformis syndrome.

Piriformis syndrome is different from true sciatica which is usually the result of herniated spinal discs, physical trauma, osteoarthritis or years of prolonged sitting and bending. True sciatic pain also takes longer to treat.

The symptoms of piriformis syndrome are pain deep in the buttocks that may radiate down the back or side of the leg through the knee. This pain can present in many ways, sharp or dull and achy, or nagging with numbness and tingling. Symptoms are like true sciatica, but with piriformis syndrome pain usually stops at the knee and there are tender trigger points in the butt. It is best to consult a doctor for a definite diagnosis.

This syndrome is common to runners or people who sit for long periods of time commuting or at their job. My friend on the plane had recently run an extreme marathon. Overuse can create spasm in the piriformis, pinching the sciatic nerve. Piriformis syndrome is more common during the winter when people have been out in the cold. Treatment in Chinese Medicine would include acupuncture, acupressure, heat, bodywork, stretching and at-home care. The home care treatment would be applying heat to the area, applying sustained pressure to the trigger point by sitting on a tennis ball and gentle stretching.

“A simple stretch for the Piriformis muscle: sit in a chair with both feet on the floor. To stretch the right side, place your right ankle across the top of your left knee. Then gently lean forward until you feel the stretch in your butt. Repeat on the other side by reversing the action”.

It may take weeks to achieve pain relief from an acute problem, a chronic problem will take longer, but of course, everyone is different.

Tips for Staying Healthy While Traveling

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

The change of weather from summer to autumn many times brings colds, flu, and respiratory infections.  In Chinese Medicine this is the time of the metal element when lung and large intestine meridians are most active.  I’ve mentioned in a previous post that if your lung or large intestine meridian’s energy is blocked, especially at this time of year, your immune system is compromised, and it is easier to get ill.

If you are traveling by plane during this season it is a really good idea to support your immune system.  Days before traveling you can begin taking any one of these: probiotics, vitamin c, zinc, elderberry syrup, echinacea, essential oils (Doterra’s On Guard or Young Living’s Thieves) garlic,
oregano oil or combinations of all of them.

I’m traveling by plane this week and I’ve purchased an immune support oral spray called Myco Shield which was recommended by a friend.  It includes a combination of mushrooms including Reishi and was formulated for people who are traveling.  It is also important to have your energy balanced, get plenty of sleep and stay warm.

Chronic Cold Condition

Woman feeling coldThis is the season of the metal element in Chinese Medicine. It’s a time when nature pulls back its energy into the earth and roots of the trees and plants to prepare for winter. I’ve spoken about the importance of getting more sleep, eating local, seasonal, cooked food and keeping warm to stay healthy during fall. Today I want to address a chronic cold condition.

Chinese Medicine considers cold to be a cause of disease. It is one of the six “Pernicious Influences “along with heat, dryness, damp, wind and summer heat. Where western medicine considers viruses and bacteria as causes of illness; “the Chinese observed that our body mirrors certain climatic conditions” (1) when we are ill. Cold weather causes contraction and slowing down of activity in nature and creates the same symptoms in the human body.

A chronic cold condition is different from what we call the “common cold”. The common cold is an external disturbance which makes you uncomfortable for a week or so and then passes.

A chronic cold condition is internal cold which makes you feel chilled to your core and can’t be corrected by warmer clothing. Our bodies have heat at our core which keeps our digestion and metabolism running smoothly. When you are chilled to your core, you may have digestive problems, water retention, and feel sluggish and tired a good deal of the time.

This condition is created by an energy imbalance, usually yang depletion, and takes considerably more time to heal than the common cold. It takes a combination of acupuncture, food therapy, herbs and keeping the body warm. A chronic cold condition is created over time, so the correction will also take time.

The third way that cold can manifest in the body is called a cold strike. This occurs when the body is exposed to cold and damp over an extended period (i.e. camping out in cold, rainy conditions). It can create muscle cramps and pain and joint pain. Treatment involves acupuncture and heat.

If your body is always cold, ways to help are:

  • Add warming herbs such as ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, mustard and cinnamon to your diet.
  • Keep your core warm, use a heating pad or hot water bottle to warm your abdomen below the navel or use on the small of your back.
  • Apply heat to joints that ache more with the cold weather.
  • Dress for the weather, keep the entire torso and head and ears covered during cold, damp weather.
  • Seek help from an acupuncturist if all else fails.

Chinese Medicine tips for staying healthy during Fall

Photo by Kristijan Arsov on Unsplash

Photo by Kristijan Arsov on Unsplash

As nature changes from the heat and expansiveness of summer to the cooler temperatures and pulling back of energy during fall; we also experience natural changes in our physical bodies, health, and moods. During autumn we are more inclined to stay home at night, get more sleep and spend time in more serious pursuits. Living in harmony with the changing seasons will boost your immune system and help to maintain health.

The energy pathways of Lung and Large Intestine are most active during this season. The emotions associated with Lung, grief, and sadness, will stagnate Lung energy if they are not processed by the body. When our Lung energy is stagnant we are more susceptible to colds, and respiratory infections.

When Lung energy is flowing freely, there is clarity of thought. We can also experience a positive attitude and be able to find peace regardless of our circumstances.

Imbalance in Large Intestine (LI) Meridian can manifest an inability to flow with life, stubbornness and difficulty letting go (i.e. difficulty letting go of summer). A balanced LI meridian can result in a sense of relaxation and the ability to flow with life’s changes.

Some ways to balance Lung and LI energy are:

  • Acupressure or acupuncture sessions. These modalities can move stagnation and balance the body’s energy.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Let go of old wounds. Practice forgiveness of self and others.
  • Clean house let go of what is no longer needed.
  • Get more sleep.

Large Intestine Meridian – the Energy of Fall

autumn leavesThe season of Fall reminds us to let go of that which is no longer needed. This is the metal season in Chinese Medicine; the time when Lung and Large Intestine Meridians are most active. I’ve spoken about Lung Meridian the last few weeks and would like to focus on Large Intestine Meridian today.

The Large Intestine (LI) transports waste to be eliminated. It is closely aligned with the lungs and skin, which are also organs of detoxification. The LI “absorbs liquid and releases anything that is no longer needed in the way of food, toxins, emotions, thereby cleansing the body, mind and spirit.”

Since the LI is closely related to the lung meridian; it is also affected by the emotions of grief, sadness and worry. When LI energy is balanced, we can express grief, let go of thoughts and emotions which no longer serve us and move easily into the season of autumn.

Imbalance in LI energy can bring mindsets of stubbornness, rigidity, confusion, compulsiveness, regret and hanging on. Physical signs of LI imbalance include constipation, age spots, slow metabolism, diarrhea, colitis, diverticulitis, bloating and issues of control to name a few.

To nurture LI energy during this season:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Chew food completely
  • Exercise such as Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and yoga are very helpful
  • Deep breathe
  • Have massage or bodywork sessions
  • Meditate
  • Express emotions, especially grief
  • Eat an alkaline diet rich in steamed fresh vegetables and greens
  • Include onion, cinnamon, basil, rosemary, turnips, raw honey, nutmeg and fennel in your diet.

Living in Harmony with the Fall Season

Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) considers man part of nature.Therefore, if you live in an area of changing seasons, the changes taking place in nature are also being mirrored inside of you.

To maintain health and prevent illness during fall, TCM recommends that we eat foods which grow locally this time of year and prepare for the coming winter. Transition from the salads of summer to hearty cooked meals.

The Lung and Large Intestine Meridians are most active during this season. Keeping ourselves warm will help to prevent the colds, flu and virus that appear this time of year. If you suffer from chronic cough, bronchitis, skin rashes and eczema you need to support your lung energy. A licensed acupuncturist can prescribe herbs which can help you to heal.

The emotions of sadness and grief are associated with the Lung Meridian. “Suppressed sadness and grief can damage the lungs and make us prone to disease.” Bodywork sessions can assist you to get in touch with these emotions and offer an opportunity to express them. “The issues are stored in the tissues.” When we acknowledge these emotions in constructive ways, we allow ourselves to heal.

We can also access our emotions through meditation, support groups, journaling, taking long walks, praying and talking to a therapist or close friend. This is a time for self-reflection and awareness of body, mind, and spirit. We need to be aware of all parts of ourselves in order to maintain optimum health.